“Drake and Josh” actor Jared Drake Bell, 35, was sentenced on Monday to probation for his inappropriate “relationship” with a 15-year-old girl, but it became something of a mini-trial as the former fan threw out unadjudicated, sexual abuse allegations in court. She called him out at several moments, as Bell appeared incredulous and voiced denial.
Drake Bell was sentenced to two years of probation after pleading guilty to charges of attempted child endangerment and disseminating material harmful to children. The former Nickelodeon star will have to register as a sex offender. https://t.co/y5XsWc2U9k
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 12, 2021
The young woman, identified in court papers as S.G. and now 19, said they met when she was 12 and that her aunt took her to meet Bell from that age to when she was 15. They had communicated many times online, and she confided with him in her mental health struggle, she said. (She was not named in court.)
“I felt protected and loved by him,” she said. But those interactions turned sexual in tone, with a shift arriving when she was 15, she said. In her account, he said she was “hot,” and they exchanged sexual photos. She described him making her engage in sexual activities at a concert in December 1, 2017, and the day after in his hotel room.
Bell’s attitude toward these allegations was crystal clear as he appeared in a remote livestream. He often appeared incredulous, crossing his arms, shaking his head, and voicing denial. The young woman called out his attitude in court, first when describing an incident when she was 15 and he asked her age.
“He then told me to quote, ‘Hurry up’ [and get older],” she said before calling him out, “Don’t smile at me.'”
At another point, Bell mouthed “What?” when she claimed he sexually abused her but did not rape her because she was menstruating.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she told him.
Bell ruined her life, caused her to develop trust issues and disrupted her family relationships, she said, adding that this has also affected her dating life: Dates she has gone on ended with her crying; all she can see is the defendant every time she becomes vulnerable around a guy. She did not want to go to sleep because she did not want to see Bell in her nightmares, and she lost nights of sleep because of this, she said. She would have to leave school early because of panic attacks triggered by these incidents.
“Jared Drake Bell is a pedophile, and that is his legacy,” S.G. said at the end of her statement.
Bell’s attorney Ian Friedman denied the allegations outside the scope of the guilty plea. The actor had pleaded guilty only to attempted child endangerment and disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. Bell accepted responsibility for chats that occurred between he and the victim. Both the attorney and the young woman described an exchange in which the actor asked her for her age, and she said 15. Bell wrote for her to “Hurry up.” The way Friedman construed this, is that it showed a complete intent not to engage with a minor.
“However, those [sexual] chats, harmful as they were, clearly harmed this person at that time,” Friedman said in court. “They certainly, however, your honor, did not mimic any of the factual scenarios that the victim has brought up here today.”
Friedman attempted to balance Bell’s plea guilty while also denying the claims of sexual contact, challenging the young woman’s “reality,” and asserting she told shifting stories during the investigation. If prosecutors believe there was a provable case of sexual assault, they would have brought it, the attorney suggested. S.G. alleged that Bell sent her pictures of his genitals, but neither the defense nor the prosecution were presented such images in 18 months of work on the case, Friedman said.
“His conduct was not correct,” he said. “It was not proper for what he did, and unfortunately, he did not know who he was speaking with and the damage this was going to do, but I have to be very clear because it would not be fair to sit there and accept everything that was said.”
Bell used some of his time to speak.
“Your honor, I just want to say today that I accept this plea because my conduct was wrong,” he said. “I’m sorry that the victim was harmed in any way, that that was obviously not my intention. I have taken this matter very, very seriously, and again, I just want to apologize to her and anyone else who may have been affected by my actions.”
It was a brief statement. Friedman said he advised his client to keep it short because of the possibility of civil litigation.
Law&Crime reached out to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office for comment on the sentencing hearing and the unadjudicated allegations made by S.G.
“The Cleveland Police Department and this office did an extensive investigation into this matter,” wrote Public Information Tyler Sinclair in a statement to Law&Crime. “Numerous factors including strength of the evidence were weighed during our plea discussions with defense counsel. The victim was consulted throughout this process and approved of the final outcome.”
Ultimately, Bell dodged prison time and the judge only considered the charges he admitted to.
“These are serious allegations, but they do not involve sexual relations. However, a grown man does not engage in inappropriate text messages to a teenager,” said Judge Timothy McCormick. “There’s a reason why a 14 or 15-year-old does not have the right to drive, does not have the right to vote, does not have the right to serve in the armed forces. They don’t have the emotional or mental maturity to properly gauge their conduct. So you did take advantage in that regard to somebody who could not appreciate the consequences of the relationship or lack of relationship or inappropriate relationship.”
Bell’s celebrity status enabled him to nurture this relationship, to gain access to this child, and to gain her trust, the judge said.
“I hope you truly are remorseful,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Very shortly after his sentencing hearing in June, Bell held a high-energy livestream in which he played music for both adoring fans and hecklers in the chat. He even wore the same shirt as he appeared in his remote video call to court. On Monday, shortly after his sentencing, he posted video in which he played piano and sang while holding a baby he identified as his son.
“Father Son jam sesh,” read the caption.
[Screengrab via WKYC]
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