A Washington Post journalist has been suspended by the newspaper after she tweeted a link on Sunday to a years-old story about the Kobe Bryant rape case just hours after the basketball legend and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash.
Felicia Sonmez, who covers national politics for the Post, took to Twitter shortly after the world learned of Bryant’s death along with eight others aboard his private helicopter which crashed outside of Los Angeles.
She posted a link to an April 2016 story from the news site The Daily Beast which carried the headline: ‘Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession.’
The tweet generated hundreds of shares and thousands of likes as well as many comments.
Sonmez says she has received death threats after posting the tweets.
In follow-up tweets, Sonmez wrote: ‘Well, THAT was eye-opening.
Felicia Sonmez, a national political reporter for The Washington Post, angered Kobe Bryant fans on social media on Sunday
Hours after it was learned that Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people who were killed in a helicopter crash, Sonmez tweeted a link to a 2016 story about the 2003 rape accusations against the basketball legend
In follow-up tweets, Sonmez writes: ‘Well, THAT was eye-opening. To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story – which was written 3+ years ago, and not by me. Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling’
Bryant (seen above in Eagle County Justice Center in Eagle, Colorado, in January 2004) was arrested and charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment after a 19-year-old woman alleged he raped her in a local hotel room
‘To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story – which was written 3+ years ago, and not by me.
‘Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality even if that public figure is beloved and that totality unsettling.’
Sonmez continued: ‘That folks are responding with rage and threats toward me (someone who didn’t even write the piece but found it well-reported) speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.’
In another follow-up tweet, Sonmez wrote: ‘As an addendum: Hard to see what’s accomplished by messages such as these.
‘If your response to a news article is to resort to harassment and intimidation of journalists, you might want to consider that your behavior says more about you than the person you’re targeting.’
Sonmez deleted the tweets due to the overwhelming backlash, but others on Twitter screengrabbed the posts and responded with disgust.
Sonmez was placed on administrative leave by The Washington Post, the newspaper’s managing editor, Tracy Grant, told DailyMail.com
The reaction on Twitter from Bryant fans was so severe that the hashtag #FireFeliciaSonmez was trending.
Tracy Grant, managing editor of The Washington Post, told DailyMail.com on Sunday: ‘National political reporter Felicia Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom’s social media policy.
‘The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.’
On Twitter, reaction to Sonmez’s tweet was scathing.
‘What a disgusting post from Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez immediately after Kobe Bryant and his daughter’s death,’ tweeted one Twitter user.
Reaction on Twitter was scathing, with some viewers referring to Sonmez as ‘garbage’
Twitter users slammed Sonmez for the timing of her tweet, which was posted hours after it was learned that Bryant and his daughter died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles
One Twitter user called Sonmez a ‘heartless reporter’ for posting the tweet when she did
Another Twitter user demanded that Sonmez post messages like the one posted by former President Barack Obama
Another Twitter user referred to Sonmez as a ‘garbage human’ on Sunday
‘Are y’all trying to get him to pay for his “crimes” in the afterlife?’ one Twitter user asked
Another Twitter user wrote: ‘It takes immense skill and stupidity to find a way to play the victim, in a moment where 9 people lost their lives in a helicopter crash.
‘Again, delete your account.’
One Twitter user demanded: ‘Hey @washingtonpost , do the right thing and show the world that irresponsible journalism is unacceptable.’
Another Twitter user wrote: ‘There’s a time & place for everything. Bringing up dirt on someone that just died only a few hours ago is neither the time or place. Felicia is a fucking disgrace to her profession.’
Wrote another Twitter user: ‘Whether it was written by you doesn’t matter. It was YOUR boneheaded decision to repost it within hours of his death.
Another Twitter user wrote: ‘Here’s an idea for @washingtonpost…Send Felicia to Wunan [sic], China as a permanent resident reporter to cover that region.
‘Like next flight out immediately.’
That Twitter post referred to Wuhan, the city in China where a new strand of coronavirus has broken out and spread to other parts of the country and the world, infecting thousands.
At least one Twitter user, however, sympathized with Sonmez, writing: ‘The minutes someone passes people try to completely erase their wrongdoings’
‘The age and status of the others who unfortunately passed do not negate his crimes and homphobia,’ wrote one Twitter user
Bryant was accused of rape in 2003 by a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado hotel prior to a scheduled knee surgery.
Although he denied the charges, which were dropped when the accuser refused to testify, Bryant did admit to cheating on his wife Vanessa and reportedly settled a civil suit with the alleged victim.
Terms of the agreement were never released.
Bryant, who was 27 years old at the time, was arrested and charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment – crimes which could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life.
The accuser agreed to drop the charges on condition that Bryant issue a formal apology in court. Bryant accepted the terms and had his lawyer read the apology.
Sonmez posted a link to an article by The Daily Beast which included details about the alleged rape, including statements to police made by the accuser.
She told investigators that after she gave a tour of the lodge to Bryant, he cornered her in his room and started choking her.
‘We were talking and [Bryant] asked me to open the Jacuzzi for him,’ she told police.
‘I told him that my shift was over and I was gonna go home.
‘He proceeded to try and convince me to come back in fifteen minutes, which I told him I would just so I could get out of there and then I was just gonna leave and not come back.
‘Um, I stood up to leave, he stood up, asked me to give him a hug. I gave him a hug and he started kissing me and I let him kiss me.
‘And the kissing continued then he took off his pants.
‘And that’s when I tried to back up and leave. And that’s when he started to choke me.’
The accuser then told police that Bryant started to grope her.
‘[He started] [p]utting his hands on me, grabbing my butt, my chest,’ she said.
‘Trying to lift up my skirt. Proceeded to take off his own pants.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday
‘Trying to grab my hand and make me touch him.’
She continued: ‘I told him once that I needed to leave.
‘He didn’t say anything. If he did [hear me] he didn’t make any gestures or anything that would let me know that he did.’
The accuser then told police that Bryant started to get rough with her.
‘When he took off his pants that’s when I started to kinda back up, and try to push his hands off me and that’s when he started to choke me,’ she said.
‘He wasn’t choking me enough that I couldn’t breathe, just choking me to the point that I was scared.’
Bryant then allegedly started ‘grabbing and rubbing’ her vagina over her panties for ‘two to three minutes, and during that time I was trying to uh, pull away.’
The woman alleged that Bryant then used force to pin her against two chairs.
He then ‘lifted up my skirt, took off my underwear and, and came inside me.’
The woman alleges the vaginal penetration lasted ‘five minutes’ during that time she says she was crying.
When police asked her when she began crying, she said: ‘When he was coming inside, or started having sex with me.’
The woman told police that Bryant warned her not to reveal what happened.
She said: ‘[This] is just between the two, the two of us nobody is gonna know about this, you’re not going to tell anybody.
‘Not asking me just telling me.’
Bryant denied raping the woman. He told police the sex was consensual.
Initially, however, he denied there was any sexual contact.
‘Um, she showed me around the pool, showing me around, um, we went to my room, she showed me the back view where the bears come up to the window, and that’s about fucking it, we shot the s*** and that was it,’ Bryant told police.
When he was told that the woman alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Bryant, he told the officers: ‘Is there any way I can settle this whatever it is, I mean…?’
Bryant told police: ‘If my wife, if my wife found out that anybody made any type of allegations against me she would be infuriated.’
According to the report, Bryant admitted to having sex with the woman, but denied the assault.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (pictured together in December) and seven others were killed when his private helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California, on Sunday morning
A detective testified in a preliminary hearing that the accuser underwent an examination at a local hospital.
‘[The nurse] stated that there were several lacerations to the victim’s posterior fourchette or vaginal area, and two of those lacerations were approximately one centimeter in length,’ testified Detective Doug Winters of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
‘And there were many, I believe, 2 millimeter lacerations. Too many to count…
‘[The nurse] stated that the injuries were consistent with penetrating genital trauma.
‘That it’s not consistent with consensual sex.’
Winters also testified that the nurse told him the vaginal injuries took place within ‘24 hours’ of the woman undergoing the exam.
Investigators also found ‘blood excretions’ on Bryant’s t-shirt ‘to about the waistline.’
Winters testified that the blood found on his shirt ‘had the same DNA profile as the victim in this case.’
Bryant’s lawyers, however, said that the accuser had a troubled past, pointing out that she had been hospitalized as a “danger to herself” four months before the alleged sexual assault.
Lindsey McKinney, who lived with accuser before the two had a falling out, said her friend tried to kill herself at school at least twice.
She said the woman tried to overdose on sleeping pills.
Eventually, the accuser agreed to have the charges dropped after Bryant’s lawyer read an apology in court.
The alleged assault took place in the Cordillera Lodge & Spa (pictured on a hill side above Edwards) on June 30, 2003
The charges against Bryant were eventually dropped after he agreed to the accuser’s demand to read an apology in court. The two sides also settled a civil lawsuit filed by the accuser. Bryant is seen above following his arrest in Colorado in July 2003
The apology read: ‘First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident.
‘I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year.
‘Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure.
‘I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colorado.
‘I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman.
‘No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case.
‘Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.
‘After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
‘I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains.
‘I understand that the civil case against me will go forward.
‘That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.’