Published September 28, 2009
Yesterday, Swiss authorities detained director Roman Polanski in Zurich at the request of U.S. law enforcement officials. Polanski’s arrest comes 32 years after he was formally accused by California prosecutors of drugging a 13-year-old girl and sexually assaulting her.
Polanski’s arrest is already being protested by French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand who criticized law enforcement officials, saying that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.” Mitterand was obviously referring to fact that Polanski’s mother died in at the notorious Nazi death camp in Auschwitz, Poland and that his former wife, actress Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by members of Charles Manson’s cult.
Despite these painful hardships, and the fact that the victim, Samantha Geimer wants the charges dropped at this stage in her life, Polanski should not be allowed to evade the judicial process.
In 1977, Geimer, who was then 13-years-old told police that Polanski gave her champagne and part of a Quaalude pill during a modeling session at Jack Nicholson’s house while the actor was out of town and that after she was drugged, Polanski performed oral sex on her and engaged in sexual intercourse with her.
Polanski originally made a deal with the prosecution to plead guilty, but the judge presiding over the case refused to accept the terms of the plea bargain and Polanski fled the United States for London and ultimately returned to France where he held citizenship. Because of treaty laws with the U.S., American law enforcement authorities are unable to compel French authorities to extradite fugitives and as a result, Polanski has evaded justice for 32 years.
The victim, Samantha Geimer originally cooperated with authorities, and in 2003 she publicly stated she wanted Polanski to return to the U.S. so the case could be resolved.
In 2008 however, Geimer said that she wanted the charges dismissed to move on with her life because constant reminders of the case were painful for her family.
The circumstances of the Polanski case bear an unfortunate resemblance to the circumstances of the recent Kobe Bryant rape case in Colorado. Bryant, a Los Angeles Lakers Lakers player with incredible superstar celebrity power ultimately evaded criminal charges. The massive media attention and public outrage over Bryant’s prosecution intimidated the alleged victim into dropping charges. Bryant’s alleged victim even received death threats, which the FBI monitored, as they were phoned into her private home.
Like Geimer, Bryant’s victim eventually reached an undisclosed civil settlement with her alleged attacker. This was also the final result of the 1993 sex assault charges levied against Michael Jackson by then 13-year-old Jordan Chandler who claimed Jackson sexually molested him. In Chandler’s case, he also received death threats from Jackson fans and was forced to move several times and leave the country on occasion to protect himself from danger. Jackson was never prosecuted for Chandler’s allegations.
There is no indication Geimer has received such threats, but apparently 32 years of media coverage has taken its toll. There was no indication early on in the case when charges were originally filed that she was reluctant to move forward and allow the justice system to take its course.
The experience has obviously been painful for Geimer and she deserves sympathy, but all people deserve equal treatment under the law, regardless of how wealthy, popular or powerful they may be. Whenever justice is denied, society suffers as a whole and it sends a message to other would-be sexual predators and criminals that they can evade justice as well.
Although Polanski has suffered great tragedies throughout his life and after 32 years the alleged victim’s feelings have changed, there is one thing that has not changed and that is the truth.
Polanski should be not be treated differently than anyone else and should face the original charges he was accused of. Justice delayed does not have to mean justice is denied.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is former Washington, D.C. prosecutor and investigative reporter who covered both the Kobe Bryant rape case and the death of Michael Jackson. He can be reached at email@example.com.