Pelted!

When an animal rights activist came up against Neiman Marcus, she had more than some dead fur to contend with

During the melee, Rodney Lewis stood stoically in the doorway; two off-duty cops were beside him. Channels 4, 5, and 8 were all rolling tape for a story that would precede an evening news feature about the opening day of the Christmas shopping season. CNN also picked up the protest story, which only made the demonstration that much more effective in the eyes of Nichols and Goodwin.

The following week, Nichols received a piece of mail from the Dallas Police Department. It was a criminal complaint alleging that on September 27, Lydia banged on Rodney Lewis' car window in an attempt to break it and "started punching [him] on the upper part of his body with a closed fist," which caused him "minor discomfort." Apparently, Rodney Lewis was now pressing assault charges against her.

On May 18, 115-pound Lydia Nichols had to face the criminal charge of assaulting 230-pound Rodney Lewis. Nichols sat with Goodwin in the front row of Municipal Court No. 2. In the back row was Lewis, flanked by Bernard Tonquest and Kim D'Angelo, all three dressed in stylish business attire.

Judge Victor Ortiz, a Montel Williams lookalike, explained his no-nonsense approach and let people know they couldn't plead stupidity in his courtroom. When he called his docket and acknowledged Nichols and Lewis, he said under his breath but into the microphone, "Now there's a match."

Don Feare sat at the tables in front of the court, chatting with an assistant city attorney, who, during a recess, informed Lewis that he would be filing a motion to delay the trial. The prosecutor wanted more information before trying to prove Nichols guilty of simple assault, which would carry a fine of up to $500. He first wanted to talk to police and some witnesses before presenting the case to a jury. Feare was happy to let the case wait, because he had been trying unsuccessfully to get police to supply him with a list of witnesses.

Witness Terrance Duty would gladly recount what he told the officers who arrested Lewis--if only he were asked. "She did not assault him. That's not true," Duty says. "She touched his vehicle. But she did not touch him. She tapped on the glass. She definitely just tapped. She was just trying to get his attention. He got out of his car and started beating on her."

Paramedic Ray Padilla, who treated Nichols at the scene, would also give his impressions of the incident if asked. "I had a gut feeling this was one of those cases, one of those you know is going to end up in court," Padilla says. "It seemed so weird that this security guy is following people away from Neiman Marcus. And he's acting so cocky...cocky enough to tell police, 'I'm not worried, I know people downtown.' He seemed to think he was in the right, but I haven't figured out how."

Nichols and Goodwin, as well as a protester who videotaped the demonstration on Fur Free Friday, were in court again last week, this time on charges of interfering with a police officer. In front of the same judge who'd dismissed charges against them once before and saw them acquitted another time, the couple faced potential jail sentences. A Neiman Marcus security guard showed up with the store's own videotape of the demonstration and arrests.

The lawyers and judge watched the tape, which, according to Nichols' defense attorney, Randy Turner, "...shows clearly that [the protester with the video camera] was doing nothing wrong. You see her simply filming the police and then getting grabbed from behind and handcuffed. But they won't dismiss the case. Why? Because of tremendous political pressure from Neiman's."

When Turner and assistant district attorney John Gussio (who did not return phone calls regarding this story) tried to work out a plea bargain, Turner says he was astounded by the role the Neiman Marcus representative was playing. "The DA said let me go ask Neiman's. He shuttled back and forth between the defendants' lawyers and the Neiman Marcus person. What does that say? Technically, the victim in this case is the Dallas Police Department, but they weren't being consulted...The prosecutor told me that Neiman's goal is to put an end to all this stuff in front of their store, and that they wanted to get both J.P. and Lydia because they are the ringleaders."

The case was reset for a later trial date.
The two police officers who arrested Lewis--and allegedly told witnesses and paramedics that Lewis was at fault and that they were getting irritated with his cocky attitude--did not return phone calls for this story. Detective Kennedy, who was assigned to investigate the case, referred all questions to Sgt. Ken Sprecher, who was not available for comment.

Although Rodney Lewis no longer works at Neiman Marcus, he did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Tonquest became the downtown store's new loss prevention manager until last week, when he was moved to a new position. The former security guard is now an assistant in the cosmetics buying department.

Neiman Marcus continues to have no comment on the matter. All questions were referred to one PR person, who passed them on to another PR person, who referred them to the company's attorney, who referred them back to the second PR person.

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