[Updated with statements from Timothy Hutton, Tom Clare (defamation counsel to Timothy Hutton) and BuzzFeed News.]
Oscar winner Timothy Hutton, currently the star of the freshman Fox drama “Almost Family,” has been accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in 1983. According to a report published online by BuzzFeed News, Sera Johnston, who last year filed a criminal complaint against Hutton with the Vancouver Police Department, said she was assaulted by the actor while he was in town to shoot the film “Iceman.”
Johnston told the site that she was just 14 when she and two friends were invited to Hutton’s hotel room, where she said she was raped and assaulted by both Hutton (who was then in his 20s) and one of his friends. Johnston, now 50, said she didn’t come forward until after the #MeToo movement gained strength because she didn’t think anyone would believe her.
Hutton denied the allegations to BuzzFeed, and in a statement to the site contended he never met Johnson, and called her story “fabricated,” with “patently false, scurrilous, and defamatory statements.” (The writers of the BuzzFeed article, Kate Aurthur and Adam B. Vary, currently work for Variety.)
In a statement released by Hutton after BuzzFeed published the story on Monday, the actor said: “For the past two-and-a-half years, I have been the target of multiple extortion attempts by a woman named Sera Dale Johnston to extract millions of dollars from me. She threatened that if I did not meet her demands, she would go to the press with a false allegation that I sexually assaulted her 37 years ago in Canada. I never assaulted Ms. Johnston.
“Today, BuzzFeed chose to publish Ms. Johnston’s false story. BuzzFeed knew the truth because they were provided with documented evidence. What’s really going on here is that Ms. Johnston’s extortion attempts failed. She then decided to follow through on her threat to go to the press with her false story. When I became aware of this, I went to the FBI, signed a sworn statement, and filed a criminal complaint against Ms. Johnston for extortion. I will not stop fighting to expose this story for what it is — a failed extortion attempt based on something that never happened.”
In the story, BuzzFeed tracked down one of the two friends who were with Johnston that night; the woman, who hadn’t been in touch with Johnston for decades, corroborated her account of them visiting Hutton’s hotel room. That friend, only identified by her initials, C.B., signed an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, backing up her recollections.
BuzzFeed talked to five other people who confirmed that Johnston had told them about the Hutton incident over the years.
Johnston’s mother, who worked as a set decorator, told BuzzFeed that at the time they considered going to the police, but feared she might be blacklisted from the film industry. She said she regrets the decision now.
After acquiring a lawyer, Johnston entered arbitration with Hutton’s legal team; she initially agreed to a $135,000 settlement, but later changed her mind when she realized Hutton would be able to completely deny any wrongdoing. Complicating matters, an ex-boyfriend of Johnston’s reached out to Hutton’s friend (the other man whom she said assaulted her that night), offering to broker a settlement. That gave Hutton’s team an opening to question Johnston’s credibility.
In the years since that night, Johnston told BuzzFeed, that what happened “has colored every area of my life.”
Besides Hutton’s statement, his camp also released a statement from his defamation counsel, Tom Clare, who said he has sent BuzzFeed a legal retraction demand. He claimed that BuzzFeed, “facing serious financial struggles and pressure to attract readers, has shamefully disregarded the facts and allowed itself to be used by Ms. Johnston,” and also said the site “ignored hard evidence that Ms. Johnston lied about participating in extortion attempts and turned a blind eye to critical inconsistencies in Ms. Johnston’s story.
“We will be sending BuzzFeed a legal retraction demand. If BuzzFeed wrongfully refuses to retract the article, Tim is prepared to take any and all necessary steps, including the filing of a defamation lawsuit, to clear his name and to hold BuzzFeed and Ms. Johnston accountable for their reckless and self-serving efforts to destroy Tim’s reputation and career.”
A spokesperson for BuzzFeed said the outlet stands by the piece: “BuzzFeed News’ reporting on the alleged rape of a 14 year-old girl by Timothy Hutton is based on interviews with the alleged victim, the account of a woman who was with her that evening, and five separate people who were told of the assault at the time. BuzzFeed News stands unequivocally by our reporting.”