I come before you as Paulo Murillo, a civilian, and not as the editor and publisher of WEHO TIMES. I’m not here to defend former Mayor John Duran’s alleged sexual misconduct or innuendos made against him by members of the Gay Mens Chorus of Los Angeles. I do not know what happened in the changing area of GMCLA. I was not there. I also have nothing personal against John Duran and I have zero interest in his sex life.
I can’t speak for the alleged victims of Duran. However, I can offer some personal insight regarding one incident in which a complaint of sexual misconduct was made against him by West Hollywood City employee Mike Gerle. Or so I read in an article published in the LA Times, dated February 16.
“In October, Mike Gerle, the city’s events services coordinator, formally complained to West Hollywood’s human resources department about Duran. Gerle said he was working at a city-sponsored protest at West Hollywood Park with a giant balloon depicting President Trump as an infant when he heard Duran make a sexually charged comment to a photographer lying on the ground, saying he was ‘always on his back.’”
I have been hesitant about coming out about this, but I am the photographer mentioned in Mike Gerle’s complaint to the City per the LA Times article.
I don’t want to invite drama into my life and I fear the backlash I will get for coming forward, but I will not stay silent any longer and allow Mike Gerle’s claim that I was victimized by John Duran to stick. Gerle never asked for my assessment of what transpired between Duran and me at that rally. Nor did he check up on me to see if I was OK after he characterized me as a victim of Duran’s sexual impropriety. But apparently he was so bothered and offended for me, that he ran to WeHo City’s HR department, threw my name in the hat, and had an investigation launched into Duran’s conduct at the rally without my knowledge or consent.
I understand that Gerle “heard something and said something,” but when his complaint did not produce the letter of resignation from Duran he was apparently hoping for, he went to the press and made a big stink – without even thinking about how this drama would affect me personally while I stood by and watched it all unfold at city council meetings.
LA TIMES reported that Gerle received a letter from the city stating that his complaints could not be substantiated and so no action was taken.
Let me explain why the City of West Hollywood was not able to substantiate Gerle’s complaint of sexual impropriety at the Trump Baby Balloon rally, on October 27, 2018:
I received a call from Christof Schroeder, the Administrative Director for the City of West Hollywood On December 26, 2018, at 4:20pm Mountain Time (I was in Utah for the holidays). Schroeder said he was calling on behalf of the City’s Human Resources Department. He told me the City was conducting an internal, confidential, and off-the-record investigation involving Mayor John Duran. Schroeder explained to me that I had been identified as a witness to Duran’s alleged misconduct at the Trump Balloon event. His questions were simple and direct. He asked me if I witnessed Duran do or say anything inappropriate or of sexual nature at the rally. Did I hear him say anything inappropriate or offensive to anyone in my presence? Did he say anything inappropriate to me? Did he say anything inappropriate during his speech that day?
Two months had passed since that rally. I didn’t remember much. I explained to him that I was late to the gathering, so I missed Duran’s speech. I pointed out that the event was poorly attended, so most people had cleared out by the time I had arrived. My answers to all four of his questions were no. I did not recall being witness to anything sexually inappropriate at that event. Aside from taking pictures of him with some drag queens, I didn’t recall having much interaction with Duran that day. That’s what I remembered at the time.
That was it with Schroeder. End of call. He failed to mention that I had been named as the alleged victim in his investigation.
I later learned that a friend who was also at the Trump Balloon rally received the same phone call from Schroder. His response dittoed mine. He didn’t recall witnessing Duran doing or saying anything sexually inappropriate at that event.
Weeks later, on Feb 11, I received a phone call from Duran. It was the same day that Gerle received his letter from HR saying his claims could not be verified. I thought Duran was calling me to discuss the situation he was embroiled in at the moment with members of GMCLA. But no, he was calling me about a different sex scandal. And this one involved me.
He said, “I’m sorry your name has been dragged into this other sex scandal and now you’re being subjected to the politics at City Hall.”
I said, “Me? What are you talking about? My name has nothing to do with any sex scandal.”
He told me he knew about the call I received from HR last December. He made a joke about having “little birds” everywhere and that he hears everything that happens in the city.
“I’m sorry if I offended you at the Trump Balloon event,” he said. “I always considered you a friend and we like to joke around. I don’t remember making a comment about you laying on your back. It sounds like something I would say because that’s how we joke, but I don’t remember saying it. If I offended you, I’m sorry. Now, they’re saying I sexually harassed you at the Trump rally.”
“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied. “You never said anything offensive to me. Whoever is saying that is lying.”
Duran then told me Mike Gerle had a personal vendetta against him and that he had filed a complaint, stating that he subjected me to foul sexual language at a city-sponsored event. He said Gerle was mad because Duran hit up his boyfriend on Grindr a while back. He said he thought I’d been dragged into this because of some gay Grindr drama.
I told him point blank that Gerle was lying. To say that I was sexually harassed was absolutely insane.
In any case, Duran told me to brace myself because drama was coming my way.
We hung up. I went about my business. I racked my brain some more over that event. A few hours later some pieces came together about the Trump rally that I had completely forgotten.
Like I mentioned earlier, the event was poorly attended. It was pretty much done. I remember Duran was leaving, when a city photographer asked him to come back for a group photo with some drag queens. I wanted a shot of the balloon against the sky, so I laid on the ground to get an underneath shot. A friend of mine looked down at me and said, “What are you doing down there? Get off your back.” And then Duran responded to my friend’s remark by saying, “Paulo’s always on his back.” I looked down at myself laying there, in cutoff jean shorts, with my legs spread open, and we chuckled. I got off the ground and the brief exchange was forgotten. I honestly didn’t remember it until Duran mentioned it four months later over the phone.
Before I continue, let me explain the nature of my relationship with John Duran. I’ve been writing about the city of West Hollywood for 20 years (I was first published in a WeHo Newspaper on March 19, 1999). When you cover WeHo events as much as I do, you tend to run into the same people over and over again and you become friendly with these people. I’m friendly with Mayor John D’Amico and John Heilman; we go way back to the days when I worked the front desk at The Sports Connection in WeHo, in the early 90s. I’m no stranger to Mayor Pro-Tempore Lindsey Horvath; I run into her everywhere I go. Lauren Meister is newer to the Council, but we have warmed up to each other and we now greet with a hug.
I’m more familiar with Duran than the rest of the Council because we are both in long-term sobriety, so we run into each other more frequently in recovery spaces. Does that make Duran and me friends? To a degree, yes. We know each other. Over the past 20 years we’ve built a rapport where we tease each other. However, we don’t have any pictures together on Facebook. We don’t hang out socially and we’ve never been out to dinner or a movie as close friends do. And up until very recently, we rarely communicate over the phone.
Mike Gerle didn’t witness John Duran sexually charge some random photographer at this Trump Rally like the LA TIMES suggests. It was me. He knows my relationship with John Duran. The three of us go back to 2009 when Duran initiated The Tweaker’s Project campaign with Human Services Commissioner Jimmy Palmieri. Gerle and I were both models for that anti-meth campaign. None of us are strangers here.
People can debate whether the comment was inappropriate for the Mayor of West Hollywood, that it was immature, that a city official shouldn’t engage like that – not even with his friends – at a city sponsored event. I’m fine with all that. But don’t make it into something it’s not. It was not sexual harassment. The comment was not malicious, or sexually charged. He didn’t climb on top of me. I didn’t fan myself and run away in tears. And I didn’t need Gerle to secretly come to my defense by filing a complaint with the city.
For the record, I’m a grown man. I know what sexual harassment feels like. I know what it’s like to wrestle a guy off me who won’t take no for an answer. I’ve been groped by gay men without my consent plenty of times. I’ve also walked away from situations feeling dirty after being subjected to sexually charged comments. And if you must know, I was molested as a child and I’ve been a victim of rape. So yes, #MeToo. However, none of those things happened to me at the Trump Baby Balloon rally. To say that I was sexually harassed or subjected to sexual impropriety by then Mayor John Duran at this event is to bear false witness.
Some people are true victims of sexual harassment and are traumatized by the experience. They need to be heard. Sadly, Jussie Smolette has taught us that some people flat out lie to get attention. When someone makes a false allegation like the one that was made in my case, it is very likely that an investigation of it will turn up empty. And that’s what we have here.
So what happened after Gerle took his personal vendetta to the LA TIMES? Well, it seems the way it works in WeHo is “everyone tells everyone not to tell anyone” about the latest gossip. (Tell me again about the “anonymous,” “confidential” investigation the City was doing?) And sure enough, right after Duran rang me, people started asking me if the rumors were true. Had I been sexually harassed by John Duran? That really pissed me off.
So why am I coming out as a non-victim of John Duran’s alleged victim of sexual misconduct? I sat at the City Council meeting on March 4 and witnessed the Council have an uncomfortable debate about censuring Duran. It made me sick to my stomach to think that the Trump Balloon incident had any impact in what was being decided that night.
You have no idea how difficult this has been for me, but I want to set the record straight. I want West Hollywood city council, the City Manager and City Attorney to know that I am not a victim of John Duran’s alleged sexual misconduct. I was not offended by his comment. The joke that he made was in passing between two consenting adults who tease each other in that nature. I know how to defend myself. I know how to set boundaries. I know how to file a complaint with the City of West Hollywood if I felt I was the victim of sexual misconduct. And I know how to block a person on Grindr.
If the City wants to censure Duran over sexual misconduct allegations and innuendo made by members of GMCLA, or over recent comments he’s made to the press that they deem inappropriate, that’s fine (let’s face it, Duran hasn’t been doing himself any favors these past few weeks). All I ask is that you leave the photographer mentioned in Mike Gerle’s complaint to the City of West Hollywood out of it.