After nearly three years of claiming that Don Lemon assaulted him, Dustin Hice has dropped his case against the CNN anchor, claiming to have misremembered the night's events. This news comes just weeks before the civil assault jury trial was to begin, and shortly after a federal judge ordered Hice to pay Lemon $77,000 in attorneys' fees for failing to comply with court rules.
The filing this evening in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York brings the chapter to a close.
The case began in 2019, when Hice filed a lawsuit against Lemon, claiming that the journalist had assaulted him inside a popular Hamptons bar in July of the previous year.
As The Advocate previously reported, Dustin Hice claimed in his lawsuit that after leaving his bartending job during the summer of 2018, he recognized the well-known journalist at a bar in the Hamptons and offered to buy him a drink.
According to the lawsuit, Lemon declined the offer, and both went their separate ways. Later in the night, Hice said, Lemon approached him, put his hands down his pants, fondled himself, and put his fingers under Hice's nose, asking Hice whether he liked "pussy or dick."
Hice claimed that the interaction left him humiliated, saddled with mental health problems, and unable to return to his summer job as a bartender on Long Island.
However, Hice's case began to fall apart when several witnesses for his side recanted their stories and shed light on the fact that Hice offered to pay one for favorable testimony. In addition, two witnesses said they did not see the assault or any signs of distress from Hice that night or any subsequent time.
George Gounelas, a friend of Hice's who initially claimed to have witnessed the assault, recanted his statement in a subsequent deposition after attorneys revealed evidence that Hice offered to pay Gounelas for favorable testimony.
Another witness, Isabel Peters, was out with Hice and Gounelas on the July 2018 night and contradicted Hice’s claims. In a deposition, she stated that Hice didn't flee from the bar. Rather, according to her, he followed Lemon out of the bar and into another establishment, where Hice allegedly continued to bother Lemon, trying to get him to drink. Peters also said that she, Hice, and a third person took pictures on Lemon's property after the night Hice claimed Lemon assaulted him.
A third witness, William Erdmann, who was not an eyewitness, became involved in the case after seeing a video of Hice appearing on the Megyn Kelly Show.
As The Advocate reported, William Erdmann came forward to challenge Hice's claims after seeing the accuser on the Megyn Kelly Show. Erdmann said Hice’s story was a retelling of an event that Hice previously perpetrated against him.
Hice's attorney, Robert Barnes, sent The Advocate the following statement on behalf of his client:
"After a lot of inner reflection and a deep dive into my memory, I have come to realize that my recollection of the events that occurred on the night in question when I first met CNN anchor Don Lemon were not what I thought they were when I filed this lawsuit. As a result, I am dropping the case."
Caroline Polisi, Lemon's lawyer, welcomed today's developments.
"Thankfully, Mr. Hice was finally able to access his memory and recollect the correct version of events on the night when he approached Don Lemon," Polisi tells The Advocate. "The court's ruling fully vindicates Mr. Lemon and brings an end to this abusive lawsuit. This case was a crass money grab from its inception. Mr. Lemon has never paid the plaintiff a dime over the course of this unfortunate spectacle, and he is looking forward to moving on with his life."
Lemon hasn't commented publicly on the developments in the case. However, Polisi tells The Advocate in a statement that he has remained quiet because of her advice, pointing out that as a high-profile Black member of the LGBTQ+ community, he has been and continues to be the target of unfounded attacks.
"This has been a long and difficult journey for Don," Polisi says. "Out of respect for the judicial process and my advice, he has had to remain silent in the face of a malicious and vulgar attack on his character."
"Unfortunately, being a gay Black man in the media, he has had to deal with these sorts of attacks for quite some time," Polisi adds.
Shortly after news of Hice’s dropping the lawsuit broke Monday evening, Kelly tweeted, “There is zero chance they didn’t give Dustin Hice a nice fat check.”
CNN’s head of strategic communications, Matt Dornic, tweeted back, “Wrong. Did u read the statement megyn?”
Over the span of the case, right-wing media and even some mainstream outlets have incorrectly labeled this “sexual asault.” Right-wing media has also pressed the idea that there was a cover-up happening.
"I hope that many in the media have learned their lesson on misreporting the facts and jumping to conclusions," Polisi says. "The reporting on this story by many outlets has been a case-study in unethical and uninformed reporting."
Hice still has to pay Lemon $77,000 for the sanctions he incurred as a result of his bad behavior.