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LAPD seeking registered sex offender in June Wi-Spa incident

The suspect has a lengthy criminal history which includes nearly a dozen felony convictions for crimes ranging from sex offenses to burglary

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Photo Credit: City of Los Angeles Police Department

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has charged 52-year-old Darren Merager, a registered sex offender, with five felony counts of indecent exposure stemming from a viral video incident of an alleged exposure at the Wi-Spa on June 23, 2021.

The spa, which is located in the 2700 block of Wilshire Boulevard in the Westlake/Koreatown neighborhood, had been the focal point of targeted violent protests against Trans people by far-right extremists the Proud Boys and other radical right-wing groups after the incident was posted to Instagram and went viral.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Blade Thursday via phone, Los Angeles Police Department Public Information Officer Tony Im confirmed that an arrest warrant has been issued for Merager, whose last known residence is in Riverside County East of Los Angeles, but Merager was not in custody as of Thursday evening he said.

Five individuals, four females and a female minor, had come forward to report the indecent exposure incident to the LAPD. Detectives assigned to LAPD’s Rampart Division conducted interviews of victims and witnesses, reviewed the evidence, and ultimately corroborated the allegations.

The investigation was presented to the LA County DA’s Office for filing consideration and Merager’s actions were deemed criminal. The suspect has been a registered sex offender since 2006 as per California Penal Code 290, due to indecent exposure incidents in 2002 and 2003. 

Merager has a lengthy criminal history which includes nearly a dozen felony convictions for crimes ranging from sex offenses to burglary and escape. In December of 2018, investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s West Hollywood substation arrested Merager on seven felony indecent exposure counts, stemming from allegations of indecent exposure in front of women and children at West Hollywood Park.

Merager is currently awaiting trial on the seven counts which were first filed in 2019 by the LA County DA’s office according to court records obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

In poster distributed in December of 2018 by the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Merager is described as “claims to be female in order to gain access to women’s locker rooms and showers.”

The LA DA’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment or provide a copy of the criminal complaint against Merager according to the Times. A Blade request has also gone unanswered as of time of publication Thursday evening.

In a lengthy interview with the New York Post first published Thursday morning, “Everything about the Wi-Spa was a bunch of garbage and lies,” Merager said.

Merager went on to claim a Trans female gander identity and says [she] is legally female in California and was in a jacuzzi in the women’s section when accosted by “Cubana Angel.” 

“She never saw me naked. I was underwater with water all the way up to my chest,” Merager told the Post and denies ever being erect or around children at the spa. Merager claims to actually be the victim of sexual harassment by transphobic women at the Wi Spa.

Merager is a tier-one California registered sex offender with two prior convictions of indecent exposure stemming from the 2002 and 2003 convictions and declined to comment on those convictions. In 2008 Merager was also convicted for failure to register as a sex offender.

A Trans activist who asked to remain unidentified told the Blade that the situation with Merager is a Trans person’s worst nightmare; “This is no different than the religious fundies claiming all gay guys are paedophiles and want to diddle little boys,” they said adding; “Horrible scenarios like this are used as justification to attack Trans people- this isn’t a trans person regardless of claims made, no this is a serial sexual predator, a criminal deviant.”  

Detectives are asking anyone who may be a victim or has additional information regarding this investigation to contact Rampart Detectives at (213) 484-3450. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (877-527-3247). 

Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call the LA Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or go directly to www.lacrimestoppers.org.  Tipsters may also visit www.lapdonline.org and click on “Anonymous Web Tips” under the “Get Involved-Crime Stoppers” menu.

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Los Angeles

LA-DWP & Mayor Garcetti announce new outdoor watering restrictions

Sprinkler watering will be allowed Monday & Friday at odd-numbered addresses in the city, and even-numbered addresses on Thursday & Sunday

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City of Los Angeles (Blade file photo)

LOS ANGELES – In a press conference Tuesday Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and officials from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) announced that outdoor watering in the city will be restricted to two days a week starting June 1.

The announcement comes as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California declared an unprecedented water shortage emergency two weeks ago, imposing restrictions after MWD’s board voted to adopt the emergency measures to “reduce non-essential water use” in certain areas. Cities and smaller water suppliers that get water from MWD are required to start restricting outdoor watering to one day a week, or to find other ways to cut usage to a new monthly allocation limit.

LADWP

In Tuesday’s press conference Mayor Garcetti said L.A.’s two-day limit was still more lenient than the one imposed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has ordered many of its member agencies to restrict outdoor watering to once a week.

Sprinkler watering will be allowed on Monday and Friday at odd-numbered addresses in the city, and even-numbered addresses on Thursday and Sunday.

For more information visit the LADWP webpage here.

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Los Angeles

Hollywood residents angered over Sunset Blvd. homeless encampment

Many residents are frustrated over the increasing daily criminal activity that has plagued the area, including vehicle break-ins

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Screenshot via KABC 7

HOLLYWOOD – For those who live in the Hollywood neighborhood that surrounds the homeless encampment on Sunset Boulevard at Martel Avenue, the last seventeen months have been aggravating.

Many residents are frustrated over the increasing daily criminal activity that has plagued the area, including vehicle break-ins which at times has resulted in multiple break-ins on the same vehicles.

“We’ve had tons of break-ins. Our garage has been broken into five times. Cars are vandalized. Mail is stolen,” local resident Lawrence S., who lives near the encampment, told KABC 7. “Our building, the building across the street, the building across the street that way — there’s just rampant crime.

“I actually had my sister in-law come to visit for the first time and she parked across the street in broad daylight and within 30 seconds, someone from the homeless encampment was down swinging a club at her. The violence is escalating and we keep asking the City Council, what is it going to take? Do we need to wait till someone’s murdered?”

The encampment is located at 7323 Sunset Blvd. and surrounds an AT&T building. It’s located in L.A. City Councilwoman Nithya Raman’s district who toured the encampment in 2021, joined by residents, including Terry S.

“She promised. She said that she would be adamantly enforcing ADA compliance. That she’s looking into setting up a safe camping location for the campers. Never happened,” Terry S. told KABC 7.

“In August, 41.18, an ordinance, passed and we were very hopeful because finally we thought that they would have some tools at their disposal,” Lawrence S. said. “But the city councilwoman is only enforcing a part of that ordinance, which is the Care Plus Cleanup program. However, she’s only doing it when she feels like enforcing it, which is three times in 17 months.”

Residents say that the city’s efforts to clean up and clear out the encampment only results in the homeless displaced for a couple of days sometimes less and then they return to reestablish the encampment. This past Thursday the city again clean and cleared the encampment.

While an KABC 7 camera and reporter Josh Haskell were working on the story homeless people were in the background reestablishing their presence across the street.

KABC 7 reached out to Councilwoman Nithya Raman whose office responded with a media statement:

“This encampment is a priority for our office, and our Homelessness Team has been consistently bringing services and working with the individuals living at this location. LAHSA outreach teams most recently identified seven people living here and together we worked to move three of them into shelter just yesterday as part of our Encampment-to-Home project, which has already moved 43 people in Hollywood indoors. Additionally, a cleanup took place at this location yesterday and we are working to move the remaining individuals into shelter as soon as beds become available. We are in continued communication with the residents in the neighborhood regarding the status of our progress as we move forward.”

Residents upset with LA City Councilwoman Nithya Raman over Sunset Boulevard homeless encampment:

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Los Angeles

Lawsuit against USC in sexual abuse case of 80 male students settled

“The settlement is another step toward closure for our clients who finally feel a sense of recognition and validation for speaking up”

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Engemann Student Health Center (Photograph courtesy of USC by Dietmar Quistorf)

LOS ANGELES – Attorneys representing 80 individuals who filed lawsuits and made claims against the University of Southern California and former USC men’s health physician Dennis Kelly for allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment have reached a global settlement according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Mikayla Kellogg.

“The settlement was achieved through the persistence and bravery of our clients who had the strength to come forward to share the harrowing details of their experiences at the USC Student Health Center and the determination to hold USC accountable for its failure to protect its students,” said Kellogg, partner at Kellogg & Van Aken last week. “The settlement is another step toward closure for our clients who finally feel a sense of recognition and validation for speaking up.”

The lawsuit was filed in February 2019 in Los Angeles Superior Court by six former University of Southern California student alumni, all gay or bisexual, alleges that Dr. Dennis A. Kelly discriminated against and battered them while he was serving as the only full-time men’s sexual health doctor at the Engemann Student Health Center on the USC campus.

Since the original filing, 74 additional individuals have come forward, bringing the total number of claimants to 80.

Kelly Van Aken, partner at Kellogg & Van Aken said, “It has been a long three years for our courageous clients who have persevered through intense scrutiny to ensure their voices have been heard. It is our hope that by taking these allegations public and speaking out on behalf of dozens of current and former students of USC, institutions entrusted with the care of vulnerable young people are forced to confront and correct the toxic and problematic cultures that allow abuse and misconduct to continue.”

Dennis Kelly was a physician at USC’s Student Health Center from 1997 to 2018. The claimants allege that Dennis Kelly used his position of trust and authority as USC’s men’s health physician to engage in sexual misconduct under the guise of medical care and disproportionately targeted LGBTQ+ patients.  They further allege that USC received complaints about Dennis Kelly’s misconduct but failed to adequately address them and continued to allow Dr. Kelly to see and treat vulnerable young students without limitation.

Kelly, 72, who resigned in August of 2018 after twenty years working at the student clinic as a primary care physician, denied any inappropriate behavior toward patients and called the lawsuit’s allegations “terribly hurtful.”

“I can’t second-guess or question anything I’ve done,” Kelly said in a phone interview February 12, 2019 with the Los Angeles Times. He added, “I know I did it all professionally and without any other motive.”

Kelly, who described himself as an openly gay physician to the paper defended his actions telling The Times that he had devoted much of his career to counseling LGBTQ patients about ways to reduce the risks of their sexual behavior.

According to Kelly, he never used the graphic terms described in the lawsuit or performed unnecessary genital exams. He said he suspected his stern warnings about behavior that put patients at risk for sexually transmitted diseases were misinterpreted as condemnation or deviance.

The court documents stated that Kelley specifically targeted USC’s gay and bisexual and male student population, “all of whom were young adults and many of whom were visiting the doctor without a parent for the first time,” alleging he subjected to “intrusive and medically unnecessary rectal examinations.”

“Dr. Kelly did not treat heterosexual men in a similar manner and did not perform rectal examinations on heterosexual men who had similar sexual practices,” the suit claimed.

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