Actor Cuba Gooding Jr pleads guilty to forcible touching

Tom Hays
Associated Press

New York — Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. pleaded guilty Wednesday to forcibly kissing a worker at a New York nightclub in 2018, calling himself a “celebrity figure” who meant no harm.

Gooding also publicly apologized for the first time to two other women who accused him of similar behavior in separate encounters. The admissions were part of a plea deal that came nearly three years after the Oscar-winning “Jerry Maguire” star was arrested in the case that saw several delays as his lawyers sought to get charges reduced or dismissed.

Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. appears in court, Jan. 22, 2020, in New York.

“I apologize for making anybody ever feel inappropriately touched,” he said. “I am a celebrity figure. I come into contact with people. I never want them to feel slighted or uncomfortable in any way.”

Gooding, 54, accused of violating three different women at various Manhattan night spots in 2018 and 2019, pleaded guilty to just one of the allegations. He told the judge he “kissed the waitress on her lips” without consent at the LAVO New York club.

The deal lets Gooding avoid any possibility of jail time if he continues “alcohol and behavior modification” counseling for six months. After that, he can withdraw the misdemeanor plea and instead plead guilty to a lesser violation of harassment.

Gooding was arrested in June 2019 after a 29-year-old woman told police he squeezed her breast without her consent at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge near Times Square.

A few months later, he was charged in two additional cases as more women came forward to accuse him of abuse. The new charges alleged he pinched a server’s buttocks after making a sexually suggestive remark to her at TAO Downtown and forcibly touched the woman at LAVO, both in 2018.

Gooding had previously pleaded not guilty to six misdemeanor counts and denied all allegations of wrongdoing. His lawyers have argued that overzealous prosecutors, caught up in the fervor of the #MeToo movement, are trying to turn “commonplace gestures” or misunderstandings into crimes.

Judge Curtis Farber earlier had ruled if the Gooding case went to trial, prosecutors could have called two additional women to testify about their allegations that Gooding also violated them. Prosecutors say the judge had since reversed that decision — a ruling that factored into their decision to not go to trial.

"We credit and believe all the survivors in this case," said prosecutor Coleen Balbert. But under the circumstances, Wednesday's outcome "is a fair and equitable disposition,” she added.

Along with the criminal case, Gooding is accused in a lawsuit of raping a woman in New York City in 2013. After a judge issued a default judgment in July because Gooding hadn’t responded to the lawsuit, the actor retained a lawyer and is fighting the allegations.