The picture that Taylor Swift’s management team never wanted to see the light of day took center stage Wednesday in courtroom 801 of the usually quiet Alfred A. Arraj United States courthouse in downtown Denver, as the singer’s mom, so-called “radio guy” and a former DJ offered their take on what exactly the image means.
Former KYGO radio host David Mueller claims the photo, which has since been leaked to TMZ, proves that he was not “grabbing her bare ass” like the singer claims. He says this allegedly false accusation got him fired from a $150,000 a year job and prevented him from finding radio work since. He sued the 10-time Grammy winner two years after the June 2, 2013 incident – but says he’s not asking for the $3 million advised by a damages expert. Instead, he’s seeking whatever the jury sees fit.
Swift countersued for assault and battery, but is only asking for $1.
During an at-times tearful testimony, Taylor’s mother Andrea Swift told the jury that hearing that her daughter thought she was assaulted made her “upset to the extent where I felt like I wanted to vomit and cry at the same time.”
She says she didn’t want to look at the photo, which was taken at a meet-and-greet before the then-23-year-old Taylor Swift was slated to perform for tens of thousands of people at the Pepsi Center. She also didn’t want it to be released and to define her daughter’s life, to become the subject of “memes and GIFs.”
“The second I saw it, I knew there was something horribly wrong going on in that picture,” Andrea Swift said.
Frank Bell, a member of Swift’s management team who is tasked with handling the radio side of things, was the last person to take the stand Wednesday, the second day of what’s supposed to be a nine-day trial.
He says he’s known the singer since she was born – and even has her baby announcement in a filing cabinet in his house. Bell was the one who called Mueller’s employer and told them about what Swift said happened – and on the stand, he too was presented with the photo of Swift and Mueller’s meeting and was asked what he thought was happening, if it looked like her clothes were rumpled or there was any indication the former DJ’s hand was somewhere it shouldn’t have been.
Bell said it appeared so. Andrea Swift said she’s certain, that she knows her daughter better than anyone. And Mueller said they are simply mistaken.
He was the first person on the witness stand Wednesday morning. Mueller had testified the day before, and was cross-examined by Swift’s attorney Doug Baldridge in front of a courtroom that, in addition to the two legal teams, held about a dozen members of the media and twice as many fans, who waited in line as early as 4:30 a.m. that morning for a seat.
Mueller says he only recalls touching Swift’s ribs, that he had to rush to get into the photo and that’s why it looks so “awkward.”
When asked why it’s clear from the photo that his hand is far below her ribs, he said that was the result of jostling between the two as he scooched to the side, that he’s not sure where his hand was, but here’s certain it wasn’t anywhere near her bottom.
“I’m here to prove that I’m innocent and I would like everyone to be open-minded and to listen to all the facts,” Mueller said. “ … the reason I’m here is because I want to clear my name first and foremost. I had a good reputation and I want to get that back. It’s the only chance I have to work in radio again and that’s what I really want to do. Clear my name.”
Baldridge’s cross-examination didn’t just focus on Mueller’s account of what happened on June 2, 2013. It also dealt with his past.
For the seven years before he was hired by KYGO, Mueller worked for Nineball Radio, which is known in the industry as a “prep service.” Before that, he was on-air at a station in Minneapolis, but fired partially because of his involvement with Nineball.
He was also terminated from a job in Kansas City, according to the testimony.
In a prior deposition, Mueller admitted that this can’t have helped his ability to have a career in radio.
Another thing he says might have made getting a job difficult was the fact he told 37 people about Swift’s allegations – including people in the radio industry. While he admits what they said might have made things difficult for him, he didn’t go as far as to say he sabotaged himself.
Mueller testified he felt he was treated unfairly by KYGO, that the station immediately took Swift’s word and fired him without proper grounds.
While Andrea Swift admitted on the stand that she wanted Mueller to be fired, Bell – who contacted KYGO General Manager Bob Call that night -- says their goal was for the station to conduct an investigation and do what management saw fit.
“As a former radio station owner and someone who’s been in [Call’s] position, I would have found it very offensive if someone from outside told me what to do with one of my employees,” Bell said.
He says he’s known Call for years, and considers him a “stand-up” guy. Bell says Swift’s team never threatened KYGO – and that in fact, the radio station has far more power in the situation.
Bell and Andrea Swift said the singer’s management team treated the groping incident as a work-issue rather than a criminal one, and that’s why they didn’t get police involved from the beginning.
Instead, they thought the appropriate course of action was reaching out to Mueller’s employer. During the meet-and-greet, he told Swift he worked with KYGO – and this is what helped her team identify him and track down the photo.
Another motivation for not calling the police was to keep the incident private and away from the media.
Mueller’s attorney has tried to cast the incident as a case of taking one person’s word when there were no other witnesses. Mueller’s then-girlfriend was also in the photo and at the meet-and-greet at the time, and in previous depositions has said she doesn’t believe he would have groped the pop star.
Both Andrea Swift and Bell were adamant they had no reason to question Swift’s honesty, that over the course of many years and thousands of meet-and-greets, they had never encountered a situation like this, that it fact, it scared them so much Swift no longer performs in the crowd at concerts and they have much tighter security procedures with fans.
“I know exactly what happened,” Andrea Swift said during her testimony, pointing at Mueller. “He sexually assaulted her – right there, that guy.”
Mueller says this wasn’t the case, that he was falsely accused and he needs to go into court to get his reputation back.
Both Swift and Mueller’s teams claim the proof is in the photo, the very photo that they never wanted released that was instead the focal point of a federal court case, in a courthouse with dozens of members of the media from around the country waiting outside.