By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by James BunoanAs an involuntary porn star, John Nelissen hasn't done badly, earning $15,000 for just one video role.
Of course, he also sacrificed his career as a cop.
Nelissen's appearance in a tape, now locked in the offices of county investigators, was produced by Dorthea Cross, who co-stars in the video. Last week, she told an Orange County jury that in May 2000 she taped herself having sex with Nelissen, then a detective with the Westminster Police Department, in order to prove that he'd offered her a deal: in exchange for sex, he would go easy on Cross's fiance, Trinity Crummie, then under arrest for stealing computer equipment from a Westminster school.
Cross gave the incriminating videotape to Crummie's public defender, Derek Bercher, who handed the tape to prosecutors. They reduced Crummie's crime and, in August 2000, turned their attention to Nelissen. Alleging her sex with Nelissen was coerced, Cross sued the Westminster P.D., and last month, the case went to trial.
On Aug. 26, county Superior Court Judge Ronald Bauer threw out Cross' lawsuit, declared Cross guilty of making illegal wiretaps, and summarily demanded Cross and her fiance pay Nelissen $15,000.
During the trial, Nelissen admitted that he lied about having sex with Cross no less than seven times during an interview with Orange County district attorney investigators in August 2000, only admitting to the affair when confronted with the videotape. Though the DA's office never charged him with a crime, Nelissen, who is married and has two children, was fired soon after.
By all accounts, the videotape in question depicts Cross and Nelissen engaged in a variety of sex acts for more than an hour. At one point in the week-long trial, Cross' lawyers actually rolled a television set into the courtroom and prepared to show the sexually explicit footage to the jury. That never happened. Nelissen's attorneys convinced Bauer that Cross had violated state wiretapping law by not asking his permission to record the tape and could not therefore use it as evidence.
Nelissen first met Cross on April 18, 2000, when he and several other police officers searched her home. The previous day, Nelissen had arrested Crummie, then a 19-year-old Marine Corps recruit at Camp Pendleton. Nelissen says Cross began flirting with him during the sweep of her home and later over the telephone when she called him about property seized during the police search. He said Cross told him she was lonely because Crummie was behind bars and that she was attracted to "boys in uniform." Nelissen said he was also lonely at the time because he and his wife had differing schedules and that he was attracted to Cross' personality.
"I thought she was really nice to talk to," he testified. "She had a pleasant phone voice, a good personality, and I was attracted to that. I felt flattered. It was just nice to have somebody to talk to who could share the same experience."
Nelissen also claimed that Cross told him that "she liked to give oral sex and receive oral sex" and that she would give him "the best oral sex you've ever had." He then claimed Cross invited him to have sex with her at her house while her 15-year-old daughter was at school.
Cross told an entirely different story. She asserted that she "doesn't like cops" and only dates African-American men; Nelissen is white. She testified that Nelissen called her at her home and, after flirting with her, offered to help get Crummie a reduced sentence. She said she and her daughter recorded several minutes of the telephone call but then admitted under oath that the recording failed to capture Nelissen's alleged offer. She admitted that the videotape also failed to show any evidence of a deal.
By Nelissen's own account, while on duty on the morning of May 16, 2000, he drove his unmarked Chevy Luna to Cross' house, went inside and had sex with her for more than an hour. In court, Michael Curls, Cross' attorney, went through seemingly each minute of that hour, forcing Nelissen to describe the tryst in blow-by-blow detail.
"I didn't purposefully enter her anally," he testified. "I was lying on top of her. It wasn't doggie-style position. . . . She was laying on her stomach. I entered her and asked her if this feels good. She said, 'It's not my favorite,' so I immediately stopped. She gave me a new condom, and we went back to vaginal sex."
"Sir, you indicated you only pumped her one time," Curls said. "Sorry, I withdraw that. You only had one male thrust before you broke the threshold anally—is that correct?"
"Yes, sir," Nelissen responded.
Sobbing on the stand, Cross later told the jury that the anal sex had actually lasted for at least five minutes and that it was painful and humiliating.
But Cross ultimately proved to be her own worst witness. Not only did Cross admit that she hadn't asked permission to record Nelissen's voice or his naked body, but she also conceded under cross-examination that Nelissen had never physically or verbally threatened her and that she later broke up with Crummie when he was charged and convicted of committing lewd acts on her daughter's 12-year-old friend.
But Cross' lawsuit truly self-destructed when she admitted that she hadn't suffered any "adverse effects" from having sex with Nelissen and that she and Crummie had deliberately conspired to tape the encounter as a way to "protect herself" in case Nelissen didn't try to get a reduced sentence for Crummie.
Cross later told the jury that she didn't know what "adverse" meant. But by then, the damage was done. Bauer ended the trial without letting the jury render a verdict—or watch the video. "There is no plausible basis in which a jury could vote for the plaintiff," Bauer announced. "That's the way I see the evidence, and that's not going to change."
The judge demanded Crummie pay Nelissen $5,000 because he conspired with Cross to tape the sex. He ordered Cross to pay Nelissen $10,000 and, because her case was thrown out, pay the city of Westminster's legal fees.
After the judge's decision, Cross said a Westminster city attorney had offered her $35,000 to walk away without a trial. "I should have taken that offer," she said. "The whole system was wrong. Why have a jury trial if you're not going to give it to the jury?"
Cross said she plans to appeal Bauer's ruling—and to move out of her house, located just a few minutes from the Westminster Police Department.