Cuba Gooding Jr. gets no prison time in groping case, but lots of backlash

New York, New York — Cuba Gooding Jr. capped his criminal case with a slap on the wrist Thursday as multiple women he molested slammed his prison-free sentence — and said he got special treatment "because of who he is."

Cuba Gooding Jr. at his New York State Supreme Court sentencing on Thursday, where he pled guilty to charges of forcible touching and received no prison time or criminal record.
Cuba Gooding Jr. at his New York State Supreme Court sentencing on Thursday, where he pled guilty to charges of forcible touching and received no prison time or criminal record.  © DAVID DEE DELGADO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

The 54-year-old actor pleaded guilty to a single harassment charge at a hearing in State Supreme Court in Manhattan per the terms of a plea agreement. Judge Curtis Farber sentenced him to time served.

Gooding, who faced a year in prison, traded his previous guilty plea to forcible touching, a misdemeanor, for the harassment violation. That means he has no criminal record. He secured the deal by attending therapy and not getting arrested for six months.

The initial charges he faced in June 2019 related to allegations from three women. At least 30 have accused him of misconduct ranging from sexual assault, rape, and groping in the criminal case and two pending lawsuits.

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The Manhattan district attorney’s office previously said it wanted to spare Gooding’s victims from reliving their traumatic experiences at a trial.

But women who spoke out on Thursday said they felt the outcome had robbed them of the ability to pursue justice.

Cuba Gooding Jr. pleaded guilty to a single harassment charge

Attorney Gloria Allred (l.) stood by Kelsey Harbert, an accuser of Cuba Gooding Jr., as she spoke outside New York Criminal Court following the actor's sentencing hearing on Thursday.
Attorney Gloria Allred (l.) stood by Kelsey Harbert, an accuser of Cuba Gooding Jr., as she spoke outside New York Criminal Court following the actor's sentencing hearing on Thursday.  © REUTERS

One of the star's alleged victims spoke out on Thursday.

"For those of you who may not know, Cuba Gooding Jr. forcibly grabbed, squeezed, and fondled my breast within the first 10 seconds of meeting me at the Magic Hour Club in Manhattan," said Kelsey Harbert.

"Early on, the system began making special accommodations for him. Every time I questioned why he was receiving VIP treatment, I was given the same answer: 'Because of who he is.'"

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Harbert’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, described the case as "a prosecutorial gift to a celebrity who is undeserving of such an outcome."

Gooding’s plea deal was unusual. It required him to admit to groping Harbert at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge in 2019 and apologize without actually pleading guilty to any related charges. He also had to admit to pinching a woman’s buttocks at TAO restaurant in lower Manhattan and again say sorry without pleading guilty.

His plea was connected to a 2018 incident in which he forcibly kissed a waitress at LAVO New York. That woman described Gooding’s penchant for sexually harassing restaurant servers as an open secret in a statement read Thursday by Assistant District Attorney Coleen Balbert.

"I wasn’t going to come forward until I realized I was one of four women working in my restaurant that had an incident with him, and one of those women was coming out," read the unnamed woman’s statement.

"One of the other women was my trainee. That night, and her first night on the job, Cuba licked her hand right before she watched him force his tongue into my mouth unexpectedly while I delivered him drinks."

During the pendency of the criminal case, state prosecutors filed paperwork containing allegations from at least 22 additional women they wanted to call as witnesses.

One would have testified that Gooding followed her out of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, forcibly kissed her in a hallway, and pushed his hand into her crotch with such force it ripped her tights. Another alleged Gooding told her, "I can ruin you" when she recoiled from him sliding his hand down the back of her pants in 2011 at a restaurant in Georgia.

Judge Farber changed his mind about allowing the women to testify after initially giving prosecutors the green light. Many of the women are pursuing their claims in lawsuits filed in Manhattan’s state and federal courts, including one which charges Gooding with violently raping a woman at the Mercer Hotel in August 2013 after they met at a bar.

As part of his plea deal, Gooding had to agree that his criminal case would never be sealed. He had no comment leaving court.

Cover photo: DAVID DEE DELGADO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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