Kevin Spacey pleads not guilty in Nantucket court to indecent assault

Actor Kevin Spacey was arraigned Monday on a charge of felony indecent assault and battery during a hearing in Nantucket District Court, stemming from allegations he groped a teen in a bar on the Massachusetts resort island in 2016.

Next court hearing is in March, and Spacey won't be required to attend in person

Actor Kevin Spacey arrives at district court Monday in Nantucket, Mass. Spacey has pleaded not guilty to a charge of felony indecent assault and battery in case involving a young man in a bar in 2016. (Stephen Senne/Associated Press)

Kevin Spacey pleaded not guilty Monday to groping an 18-year-old busboy in 2016 in the first criminal case brought against the disgraced actor following a string of sexual misconduct allegations that crippled his career.

Spacey was arraigned on a charge of felony indecent assault and battery during a hearing in Nantucket District Court on the Massachusetts resort island of Nantucket. The judge set another hearing for March 4.

Spacey does not have to appear at that hearing, the judge ruled, but needs to be available by phone. The 59-year-old actor had tried to avoid Monday's session, arguing his presence would "amplify the negative publicity already generated" by the case. 

If convicted, Spacey faces up to five years in prison.​

The court appearance came more than a year after former Boston TV anchor Heather Unruh accused the former House of Cards star of sexually assaulting her son in a Nantucket bar.

During Monday's hearing, Judge Thomas Barrett ordered Spacey to stay away from his accuser and the man's family.

The judge also ordered the alleged victim and his then-girlfriend to preserve text messages and other cellphone data from the day of the alleged assault to six months after. One of Spacey's lawyers, Alan Jackson, told the judge they believe the cellphones contain information that is "likely exculpatory" for Spacey.

Spacey and his lawyers declined to comment as they left the courthouse amid a crush of reporters. Wearing a grey suit, navy vest and polka-dot tie, Spacey didn't speak during the hearing, and his lawyers entered the not guilty plea on his behalf.

Spacey is shown Monday in the Nantucket court. His lawyer Alan Jackson, right, sought to have texts from the accuser's phone preserved as potential evidence. (CBC)

In court documents, Spacey's lawyers called the accusations "patently false" and noted that prosecutors have no witnesses to the alleged groping. Spacey's lawyers wrote that the teen lied about his age, "welcomed" drinks bought by Spacey, left the bar with him to smoke a cigarette and gave Spacey his phone number.

"At best, this describes two people engaged in mutual and consensual flirtation, nothing more," his lawyers wrote.

Unruh's son told police that he wanted to get a picture with Spacey and went over to talk to him after his shift ended at the Club Car, a popular island bar and restaurant, according to court documents. The man said Spacey bought him several drinks and tried to convince him to come home with him before unzipping the man's pants and groping him for about three minutes.

The accuser told police that he tried to move Spacey's hands, but the groping continued, and he didn't know what to do because he didn't want to get in trouble for drinking. The man said he fled when Spacey went to the bathroom.

Ahead of the hearing, the civil lawyer for the claimant said in a statement that his client is "leading by example."

"By reporting the sexual assault, my client is a determined and encouraging voice for those victims not yet ready to report being sexually assaulted," said Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of clergy sexual abuse victims.

Garabedian is not a part of the criminal case against Spacey.

Intense interest in a small town

Media trucks lined the street before dawn, and locals on the island, which teems with tourists in the summer but quiets down in the winter, drove by slowly to take photos of reporters standing in line in the cold.

When the doors opened, more than two dozen journalists packed the courtroom hours before Spacey was scheduled to appear.

Hours after the court appearance, Spacey was pulled over for speeding as he exited Washington's Reagan National Airport, and was given a warning, said Athena Hernandez, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

It's just the latest turn in a series of controversies involving Spacey.

After the indecent assault and battery charge was announced last month, Spacey released a video in the voice of Frank Underwood, his character on House of Cards, in which he said: "I'm certainly not going to pay the price for the thing I didn't do." It was unclear whether he was referring to this charge.

Spacey was ousted from the popular Netflix series and other productions after he was accused of sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour by numerous people amid the #MeToo movement. He was replaced by Canadian legend Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World, which had already been shot, and the Spacey film Billionaire Boys Club was buried in a limited release by its studio.

His first accuser, actor Anthony Rapp, said Spacey climbed on top of him on a bed when Rapp was 14 and Spacey was 26. Spacey said he did not remember such an encounter, but apologized if the allegations were true.

Spacey remains under investigation on suspicion of sexual assault in Los Angeles that allegedly occurred in 2016. Prosecutors declined to file charges over a 1992 allegation because the statute of limitations had expired.

Spacey is a two-time Oscar winner, taking the title of best supporting actor in 1996 for The Usual Suspects, and best actor in 2000 for American Beauty.

With files from CBC News