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October 2, 2009

Contra Costa’s Phillip Garrido: The possible specter undermining even French support for Roman Polanski

Try to put yourself in the difficult position of being Roman Polanski’s PR guy. You have to carry the message to the international community that some kind of violation of justice and human rights has taken place in his case with the arrest last weekend of the 76-year-old Academy Award-winning director. Sure, you have statements of support from cinema and arts luminaries, including Martin Scorsese, Penelope Cruz, Pedro Almodovar, and—rather difficult from a PR point of view—Woody Allen.

By the way, I admire all the works of all these filmmakers, just as I have very much liked some of Polanski’s works, notably Chinatown.


But, my goodness, Polanski’s famous supporters are really bumping up against the Zeitgest, especially in the new post-Phillip Garrido world.

Of course, even before child kidnap and rape victim Jaycee Dugard was discovered in August, after being held captive for 18 years, allegedly by Garrido, attitudes about crimes against children had been evolving since 1977.

That’s the year when Polanski brought a 13-year-old girl to movie buddy Jack Nicholson’s house. Polanski fed the girl alcohol and a quaalude and raped her, vaginally and anally. Polanski didn’t contest the allegations, and in fact pled guilty, although not to the more serious charges of rape and sodomy. He was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor. Can you imagine any prosecutor agreeing to such a deal these days. Polanski expected to be given a jail sentence that would give him credit for the time he served undergoing a psychiatric evaluation. When he heard that a judge—a notably publicity-seeking judge—didn’t want to abide by the terms of the plea agreement and throw him into prison for a very long time, Polanski left the United States and never came back.

He settled in Paris, where French officials long rejected U.S. requests to extradite him. He also traveled fairly widely around the world where he made films and showed up at film festivals and awards ceremonies. He also went back and forth to Switzerland, where he was finally arrested.

During the three decades since Polanski's crime, public awareness has grown exponentially about the devastating long-term consequences child sex abuse has for its victims. Certainly in the United States, we’ve been hit with some nasty, high-profile cases of child abduction, sexual assault and murder, and we’ve seen the creation of laws that create public databases of registered sex offenders.

Still, outrage against Polanski continued to be muted. A consensus was even growing that America should forgive him for what he did in 1977. The argument was: So much time has passed, and Polanski, in his personal life, had suffered so much, as a Holocaust survivor and the widower of Charles Manson victim, Sharon Tate.


When he won an Academy Award for Best Director for 2002’s The Pianist, Polanski, not present at the Oscar ceremonies, nonetheless received a standing ovation . Then in 2008, an Emmy-winning documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, reignited debate about his case by uncovering new information about possible misconduct by the sentencing judge. Polanski’s victim, now in her 40s, also stated that she forgives him and didn’t think he should be put in jail.

Who knows what would have happened if Polanski had returned to Los Angeles County to press his case that, because of judicial misconduct, his case should be dismissed? That is, if he returned before August, before Dugard was discovered in Contra Costa County.


The recovery of Dugard, now 29, as well as the imagined horrors she endured during those 18 years in Garrido's captivity, has been a top story, not just in the United States but around the world. What Dugard lived through reached, in my opinion, concentration camp-level atrocities.

Like us in Contra Costa County and in the United States, people in France and Switzerland, where Polanski long enjoyed a safe haven, also had the chance to learn about some of the most disturbing details of Dugard’s ordeal.

How she was kidnapped at 11 from her home in South Lake Tahoe, and allegedly raped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. How she twice became pregnant by Garrido, the first time when she was a young teenager, around the age of Polanski’s victim.

After Polanski’s arrest last weekend, the French government initially stated its dismay over this turn of events. But, as the New York Times says, “the mood was shifting among French politicians Tuesday about whether the government should have rushed to rally around Polanski around the Oscar-winning director.

The mood among the French public is hostile to Polanski’s cause. “Of the 30,000 participants in an online poll by the French daily Le Figaro, more than 70 percent said Mr. Polanski should face justice. And in the magazine Le Point, more than 400 letter writers were almost universal in their disdain for Mr. Polanski.”

On Thursday, the French government backtracked on its support for Polanski, with spokesman Luc Chatel saying Polanski should face justice because he “is neither above nor beneath the law.” A backlash has also been growing against the free-Polanski petition being circulated by show business luminaries.

In the various articles I’ve read about the Polanski saga, I haven’t seen Phillip Garrido’s name mentioned. But I wonder if what Garrido allegedly did to Jaycee Lee Dugard is fresh in the minds of even the French public, whom we have always been given to believe were so laissez faire about Polanski’s indiscretions.

I wonder whether Phillip Garrido is the unnamed co-conspirator derailing the public relations effort to win the director sympathy, and whether this convicted rapist and registered sex offender will be the reason that Polanski will most certainly wind up back in the United States facing serious jail time.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you are a little bit stretching here. I don't think the mood in the Polanski case is as much linked to the Garrido case as it is a question whether celebreties should get special treatment just because they are rich and powerful. After all Polanski did plead guilty but skipped the country prior to sentencing.

EdiBirsan said...

The background connection is more of a local well deserved seething at the cauldron of issues around child sexual abuse.
Polanski raped a child, with full forethought and unmitigated darkside lust.
Nothing that has transpired in the rest of his life's profession offsets that. I don't care if he was the best actor or director or a world famous bus driver-
Polanski raped a child.
Redemption, forgiveness, restitution, are all aspects that may come into play at sometime, but
Polanski raped a child.
Whatever is to come, starts with him standing before a judge in a court of law in the United States to deal with what is to come and plead his case because-
Polanski raped a child.

Anonymous said...

The victim has stated that what the government is doing is far worst because it is affecting her ability to leave this all behind her. She settled the case out of court and we don't know what the terms of that agreement are. But she is satisfied, and he is out of the country.

It is an injustice to continue to intervene on behalf of the victim and continue to twist the knife in her life.

Don't allow him to return to the U.S., we don't want him here in our jails or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:22 criminal cases are crimes against the people and not against the "victim". The victim was free to bring a civil case and the victim was free to settle this case which she apparently did.

It would also make a strange system if wealthy people could settle their crimes by paying off the victims.

Soccer Mom said...

Anon 5:50 a.m.
Someone else was up early this morning!

Maybe I'm stretching my argument. But I wonder if the backlash against the celebrity support of Polanski, here and elsewhere, would be so vocal in a pre-Phillip Garrido era. Martin Scorsese led a full Oscar audience in a standing ovation for Polanski when he received his directing award. I can't see Scorsese being able to do that post-Phillip Garrido.

Sure, before Garrido, we had cases like Polly Klaas and Elizabeth Smart. And not at all to downplay what happened to them, but the length of time that Jaycee Dugard was held captive, and the fact she was isolated, without education and medical care, all that time...And that she bore Garrido's two kids, and was psychologically--or whatever--molded into seeing herself as somehow part of his family takes what happened in the Dugard case to a level that is barely imaginable.

As for why the French public is so angry about its government's initial support. Can I say that this had to do with Phillip Garrido. Probably not. On the other hand, Dugard's case was very much international news, the lead story in the United Kingdom and was widely reported in the European press, especially because they had two widely reported cases of their own in Austria. No one, apparently, had been held as long as Dugard. The Dugard case may have served as a reminder of those Austrian cases, and reflects how attitudes have changed there.

Like others, I tended to get the impression (maybe falsely) that the French public, if they gave any thought to Polanski, didn't mind him being a refugee in their country. Maybe they were not so enamored of him as his friends in high places in their country. And they are finally venting pent up frustration.

For sure, if Polanski had committed this same crime now, there is NO way he would get away with just pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, not when the victim is 13. And no way would any contemporary California prosecutor agree to a deal where he gets to a jail sentenced with time already served.

Anonymous said...

Frustrating, because the media is bringing the victim back into this where there is no need. Polanski has already been convicted and fled sentencing. No need to rehash the trial. There should not be two systems of justice in this country, one for the powerful and one for the rest.