This is the third in a series of articles on the case of The People vs. Daniel Masterson in which Masterson is charged with sexual assaulting three women in 2001 and 2003. You can find links to all of Crime Story’s coverage of this case here.
Bombshell, the 2019 film, dramatizes the fall of Roger Ailes — the media mogul accused of sexually assaulting women at the FOX News media empire that he governed. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie lent their stardom to amplify these stories of workplace harassment and explore how FOX News shielded and enabled perpetrators, allowing a cycle of abuse to continue unchecked for years. Of course Ailes and FOX News are not alone in their efforts to protect the mighty from voices of accusers. In recent years, journalists, attorneys, advocates and victims have shined a spotlight on how powerful corporations, educational institutions, religious organizations, political parties and others have protected powerful men from credible accusations of sexual assault. This poses particular challenges to victims and law enforcement as they seek to pursue civil and criminal action against the protected alleged perpetrators.
It is alleged that the Church of Scientology (CoS) engaged in this type of institutional interference on behalf of actor Danny Masterson, who stands accused of sexual assault. Masterson’s accusers assert that the CoS shielded the sitcom star for years.
A civil complaint and multiple affidavits filed on August 21, 2019 detail relentless harassment allegedly doled out by the CoS in an effort to protect one of their elite members and lay out a narrative in which Masterson and the CoS are inextricably intertwined. Masterson entered the Church at a young age and, upon achieving celebrity status through his role in the television series “That 70s Show,” was elevated to a protected status by the CoS.
In the civil suit, plaintiffs detail the coercion and harassment they say the Church perpetrated against them from the moment they tried to report Masterson’s sexual abuse first to Church authorities and later to the police. According to the plaintiffs, they have been stalked, their mail has been stolen, and they have received repeated phone calls over the course of many years. They also claim that their homes and cars have been broken into multiple times.
One of Masterson’s accusers, who is referenced in the indictment as Jane Doe #3 (JD3) reported finding strangers in vans parked outside of her family home filming her and her family. She also alleges that her security system was hacked multiple times and that her dog died after it ate poisoned meat that was thrown on her property. Scientology members published posts to their Facebook accounts inciting harassment against JD3 and her family.
Three of Masterson’s four accusers in the civil case were members of the CoS when the alleged sexual assaults occurred. They say that when they went to Church officials with their complaints, they were encouraged to submit to Masterson’s advances. When they rebuffed those suggestions they allege that they were labeled “suppressive persons” and forced to undergo rigorous “ethics” training in which the Church sought to change their stories of their experiences with Masterson.
Many of these allegations formed the basis of the criminal indictment against Masterson that was filed on June 16, 2020. And while the Church of Scientology is not named in that indictment, Masterson’s relationship with the CoS and the allegations made in the civil complaint have embedded the Church in the narrative of this case.
Controversy surrounding the CoS and its practices is nothing new. The documentary series Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and the series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath have deconstructed and critiqued the CoS’s methods and practices. However, beyond any insight into the particular practices and dysfunctions of the CoS, the competing narratives of Masterson and his accusers reflect the challenge that society faces in its efforts to apply the law fairly and equitably when a powerful institution rallies behind one of its favored members.
As with FOX News in the case of Roger Ailes, the Catholic Church in the case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, CBS in the case of Les Moonves and Uber in the case of Travis Kalanick, the initial impulse of these institutions is to shield significant figures within their organization from accusations. This protective impulse can lead to significant delays in the revelation of these allegations, and such delays can make it much more difficult for victims and law enforcement to seek civil and criminal justice.
In the criminal case of the People v. Danny Masterson, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office seeks to overcome the challenges inherent in bringing charges when there is a nearly two decade delay between the events in question and the indictment. That effort begins with the premise that the charges filed against Masterson are not subject to any Statute of Limitations. In the next article of this series, we will examine a motion hearing in which the prosecution and defense argue the validity of that premise.