PHOENIX – A somewhat bizarre scene playing out in a desert courtroom now sees former Seattle Impact indoor soccer team owner Dion Earl answering on the witness stand for sexual-assault accusations from five years ago that King County prosecutors never wound up charging him for.
The onetime Seattle Pacific University star and Seattle SeaDogs indoor player began testifying Monday in his own defense at his jury trial in which he is accused of sexually assaulting two women who had come to his Mesa, Arizona, home in late 2017 to babysit his children.
But instead of focusing on those alleged crimes, much of Earl’s first day on the stand instead saw him defiantly rebuffing as “lies’’ the testimony last week by two of the Kent-based Impact’s former female dance team members who had accused him of sexual assault in summer 2014 in a case later dropped for a lack of evidence.
The entire dance team resigned after the allegations and the majority of Earl’s soccer players quit in protest just one game into their debut Major Arena Soccer League season. But Earl, who for years commuted between separate homes in Arizona and Kent, on Monday termed the allegations “totally bogus’’ and told the court he and his wife were furious because they’d worked closely with both women.
“My wife wanted to fire the dance team – we’d had enough drama,’’ Earl testified. “When they caught wind that my wife was going to fire the dance team, that’s when they wrote the letter of resignation.’’
The King County Sheriff’s Office investigated but prosecutors opted not to press charges.
But since his Arizona arrest, Kirkland police reopened an investigation into an alleged 2009 rape of a massage parlor attendant — initially closed due to a lack of evidence — and Earl has now been charged in that case. He’s also been indicted for orchestrating a $1.3 million federal tax-fraud scheme involving the Impact and his other businesses.
The dance team members and other Impact office staffers wound up winning nearly $1 million in damages and legal fees from Earl in a lawsuit that alleged the assaults, other harassment and a hostile work environment. Earl was stripped of his franchise soon after a December 2014 story in The Seattle Times detailed the allegations and at least five restraining orders taken out against him by women starting in 1998.
The Seattle Impact complaints have now been revived by Arizona prosecutors attempting to show the sexual assault, kidnapping and indecent exposure charges Earl faces for his actions toward the babysitters in Mesa is part of a longstanding pattern by him.
“This case goes well beyond these two young (babysitter) women,’’ Maricopa County prosecutor Yigael Cohen told jurors in his opening remarks nearly two weeks ago.
Part of that alleged pattern included Earl asking the complainant women for massages, or taking them to nude dance clubs before inappropriate touching occurred.
After months of legal wrangling in pretrial hearings, a judge granted permission for the two former Impact dance team members to be flown to Arizona to give their testimony.
A third woman, from Arizona, who worked as a nanny for Earl’s children starting in 2013, was also allowed to testify last week about complaining to police in Las Vegas that she’d been touched inappropriately there by him at age 18 while on a family trip. Earl was never charged.
Cohen noted in his opening remarks that the Impact dance team members were in their early 20s when the alleged 2014 incidents occurred, much like the current trial’s babysitter complainants – aged 18 and 21 when they say Earl assaulted them.
“You will see one common thread through each of these women’s testimonies,’’ Cohen told jurors. “The defendant was in a position of power and control over these young women. And he sexually abused them and or sexually assaulted them in some way.’’
Both babysitters, who are said not to have known one other, testified Earl asked them for massages while at his home on separate occasions nearly six weeks apart, then molested and groped them.
Earl’s lawyer, Jesus Acosta, has argued there is no scientific evidence linking his client to any crime. Acosta is Earl’s fourth lawyer — two previous ones were fired and another quit — since being arrested nearly two years ago and held without bail pending trial.
Both Earl and Acosta seemed on different pages at times throughout Monday’s testimony. Despite his lawyer’s pleas for short answers – and admonishments from the judge – Earl would drift off on tangents about his Seattle experience, often blurting out information unrelated to what was being asked.
One of the Impact dancers had testified Earl invited her in 2014 to his home in Kent for a business meeting, but then hugged her long and awkwardly at the front door. Later, she said he asked for a massage, then groped and fondled her.
Earl on Monday recalled: “I opened the door and greeted her with a hug. It was no big deal. It was not this long, lingering hug she made up in her testimony.’’
The second former dancer testified she’d gone with Earl and two players to hand out Impact promotional flyers outside a Sounders game. Later, she said he took them to a nude dance club in Pioneer Square, brought her up to a “VIP’’ room inside and groped her.
Earl on Monday said the nude dance club had been the players’ idea and not his. “I didn’t want to go even though I went,’’ he testified. “I mean, I was very happily married.’’
He admitted taking his female employee to a VIP room for a private session from a nude dancer.
“I just wanted her to have a good time, that’s all,’’ he testified. “I could care less. I was married to a former dancer – I’ll say that. I could care less.’’
Earl’s lawyer cut him off at that point.
But moments later, Earl told the court he’d paid for his employee to receive a nude dance and then left her alone in the room so he could follow another nude dancer down a hallway.
“I actually get up and leave because I actually saw somebody walking down the hallway that … I wanted to see if I could possibly get a VIP room and get a dance with her.’’
But the woman was occupied with another client. Earl testified that he returned to the initial room and saw his employee had left and joined their colleagues downstairs.
He said they all drove home happily together.
Earl is to continue testifying Tuesday, with cross-examination to follow. The case is expected to go to the jury midweek.