A rush to judgement: The mere existence of trans people is not a crime
Social media posts alleging multiple instances of improper activity by a transgender person at the Waynesville Recreation Center last week prompted outrage, violent threats and dehumanizing rhetoric from a number of people — including political candidates — who accepted the unsourced post as unimpeachable fact, but after an investigation including video evidence, it was clear that all they did was enjoy the pool and the sauna.
THE NINTH COMMANDMENT
Jess Scott, of Clyde, is a service tech at Dodson Pest Control and also serves Fines Creek Memorial Baptist Church as a youth leader, song leader and teen Sunday school teacher, according to his Facebook profile.
A Facebook post made by Scott on the evening of July 12 says that his teenage daughter and young niece went to the Waynesville Recreation Center that day, with their grandmother, to swim.
“Afterwards my daughter tells us that after swimming, while they were in the women's locker room changing, a FULL GROWN MAN walked in and started changing into a bikini,” he wrote.
Scott said he was “upset and angry that this was allowed to happen” and that his daughter “was very upset and uncomfortable and said other women and girls were also creeped out and left.”
He concludes the post by saying he won’t return to the Waynesville Recreation Center and also urges others to “stay far away.”
Scott’s wife, Stephanie, commented on the post, saying she “whole heartily [sic]” agrees and that they’ll not be back.
As the post spread across social media, reactions initially ranged from disbelief to dismay but soon evolved into graphic threats.
“To bad the dad's weren't there to put him in the e.r.,” said Michael Monteagudo, commenting from his “Mike’s Property Detailing” Facebook account.
“Need to go back and bust his head it's time for good men to do some bad things and try to right this country,” said Chad Lanning, owner of Chad A. Lanning construction.
“They can identify as a woman I'll identifies as the tooth fairy and I want teeth,” said Sam Wood, an Asheville resident who works at Arby’s.
Others wasted no time in politicizing the matter in advance of Waynesville’s November municipal election, implying that Waynesville’s elected officials tolerated such behavior.
Pam Arrington, a frequent commenter on The Smoky Mountain News Facebook page, said that “this is what our current leaders accept.”
Sharon Walls, who’s spread false information about crime and drugs at government meetings in the past, encouraged people to attend the town’s next board meeting and called for the support of “a few people that are running for office” in the November municipal election.
One of those people is Stephanie Sutton, owner of Mountaineer Oxygen Services. Sutton filed to run for Waynesville Town Council on July 18 and just one day later spoke out about the supposed incident with a Facebook post of her own — sort of.
“To say this event is disturbing would be a gross understatement,” Sutton’s post read before she deleted it. “A grown man entering the women’s dressing room at the Waynesville Rec and changing into a bikini with women and young girls present. Can we just think for a minute of how traumatic that was for every female exposed or witness?”
In prefacing her post, Sutton credited her friend Melanie Williams for the words. Williams is a well-known local conspiracy theorist who has promoted debunked anti-vax propaganda since even before the Coronavirus Pandemic began.
Joey Reece, a retired DEA agent running for Waynesville mayor, said on Facebook that he visited the Waynesville Recreation Center and observed a trans person he referred to as “it” multiple times.
Even the misinformation-laden Haywood Happenings website, where users don’t have to identify themselves when they post, got in on the act in July 18 by saying that the Waynesville Recreation Center was “allowing Trans Men to disrobe in front of children in the Women’s Locker Room.”
The person who made the Haywood Happenings post calls the situation “appalling and sick,” and asks county commissioners “to put an end to indecency in front of our children” by passing some sort of ordinance.
Haywood Happenings’ half-baked hyperbole completely misses the mark.
In the aftermath of North Carolina’s HB 2 debacle, the Republican-dominated General Assembly enacted a “reset” of the so-called bathroom bill. Known as HB 142, the compromise bill prevents local governments from regulating multiple occupancy restrooms, showers or changing facilities.
What that essentially means is, local governments cannot enact ordinances explicitly requiring visitors to use the facility that aligns with their birth gender, nor can local governments enact ordinances that explicitly allow visitors to use the facility that aligns with their gender identity. Essentially, it’s still status quo, as it’s always been.
Additionally, a consent decree issued in the 2019 Carcaño v. Cooper challenge to HB 142 explicitly states that state and local government units cannot “prevent transgender people from lawfully using public facilities in accordance with their gender identity.”
The ruling is interpreted as meaning that in the absence of some form of overt unlawful activity, a transgender person cannot be charged with a crime for simply existing.
Jess Scott’s July 12 Facebook post was shared dozens of times and garnered dozens of comments — all without any actual proof that anything resembling his allegations occurred.
The first sign that Scott’s story might be false came on the morning of July 18, when The Smoky Mountain News asked the Waynesville Police Department for the incident report filed in conjunction with the alleged incident.
Records clerks, and later Chief David Adams, confirmed that no such report had been filed, either by Scott, or by any member of his family or by any other witnesses — despite Scott’s daughter’s allegations that “other women and girls were also creeped out and left.”
Later that day, SMN received a tip that a report had been filed regarding a July 17 incident at the Waynesville Recreation Center and possibly involving the same transgender person. When SMN obtained a copy of the report, almost everything was redacted — standard procedure — except for the Waynesville Recreation Center’s address.
The complainant was listed as a white female, age 35, with the suspect listed as a white male.
At the time, SMN could not confirm what the incident report alleged, but around three hours after it was filed on July 18, the Waynesville Police Department announced that earlier that morning it had “received a report regarding inappropriate behavior that has recently occurred at the Waynesville Rec. Center” and that a detective had been assigned to investigate.
Around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 23, a memo from Waynesville Town Attorney Martha Bradley was posted to the Waynesville Police Department’s Facebook page.
The memo specifically cites the allegations in Jess Scott’s July 12 post, and also mentions that “Several of these comments and/or shares either allude to or expressly endorse carrying out acts of physical violence against transgender persons attempting to use public facilities located within the Waynesville Recreation Center in the future.”
It also says that Scott’s post and “one other complaint concerning a transgender person using the WRC” — the redacted July 18 report about a July 17 “incident” during which a transgender man used the unisex sauna — prompted an investigation by town staff and the Waynesville Police Department.
As far as the July 12 allegations, Bradley found that the transgender person who used the facility was observed on video and that their behavior was appropriate and consistent with the Waynesville Recreation Center’s current rules and policies, that no children were in or near the pool and that there is “no indication from security footage that this person entered or exited the locker room.”
The memo goes on to describe July 17 “incident,” saying that an adult female filed a complaint with WPD that a transgender person came into the unisex sauna “wearing a women’s two-piece bathing suit which allowed the complainant to observe the outline of the transgender person’s genitalia.”
Although it’s not noted in the report, a Facebook post made on July 17 by a user named Amy Elizabeth Bumgarner says, “I witnessed that first hand this morning as that VERY person walked into the sauna with me. It’s absolutely RIDICULOUS.”
The unredacted police report says that on both July 17 and 18, the complainant notes that a transgender person was in the unisex sauna on both days. Nothing inappropriate in word or deed was noted in the report, but the complainant admitted that although the transgender person was appropriately clothed the entire time, they made the complainant feel “uncomfortable.”
The memo references another court ruling, Grimm v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd., that allows transgender persons access to public restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, and also mentions the 2017 HB2 repeal compromise that takes the authority to regulate bathroom access away from local governments, vesting that right only with the North Carolina General Assembly.
In short, Jess Scott’s allegations about a “full grown man” in the women’s locker room are completely false. Additionally, the sauna report contains no evidence a crime was committed, because feeling “uncomfortable” is not a cause of action.
The gender-neutral family bathroom at the Waynesville Recreation Center features several areas with complete privacy. Cory Vaillancourt photo
A THOUSAND WORDS
As Bradley’s memo references security footage from the Waynesville Recreation Center’s public areas, The Smoky Mountain News made a public records request to view the video. That public records request also asked for the name of the transgender person at the center of the false allegations by Jess Scott and his daughter.
While such information would ordinarily be a public record, the Town of Waynesville denied the request, citing security concerns and the violent threats mentioned in Bradley’s memo.
The Smoky Mountain News will not contest the town’s decision and will henceforth refer to the transgender person in question as Jane Doe, (she/her) unless they wish to come forward and identify themselves or their proper pronouns.
On July 24, SMN was able to view hours of video evidence gathered in conjunction with the investigation. The evidence begins with the allegations of July 12.
On that day, wearing gym shoes, shorts and a tee shirt, Jane Doe walked into the Waynesville Recreation Center at 9:09 a.m., approached the counter and purchased a pass.
A clerk behind the counter can be seen talking to Doe and pointing to the location of the locker room facilities and the entrance to the pool. Proceeding directly to the pool deck without entering any changing facility, Doe removes her gym shoes, tee shirt and shorts, revealing a two-piece bikini already present under her clothes, and places her clothes near some bleachers on the side of the pool.
Doe then climbs into the pool and begins swimming around 9:15 a.m., under the watchful eye of the aquatics supervisor and another lifeguard. Approximately 20 minutes later, Doe exits the pool and walks into the unisex sauna, accessible only from the pool deck.
Five minutes later, Doe exits the unisex sauna and proceeds to enter the gender-neutral family locker room while still wearing the bikini.
Had Doe entered the female locker room instead, it would have been clearly visible on video.
Behind the hallway door, the gender-neutral family locker room consists of three small, separate changing stalls that each contain several lockers. The stalls have floor-to-ceiling walls on three sides. The doors for the changing areas have a small 12-inch gap at the bottom, but none at the top.
Inside the gender-neutral family locker room is a larger changing area with a toilet, a sink and a one-person shower. Like the small changing stalls, this larger changing area has floor-to-ceiling walls on three sides and a door that has a small 12-inch gap at the bottom, but no gap at the top.
Doe exits the gender-neutral family locker room after just two minutes, returns to the pool deck still wearing the bikini and heads straight for the unisex sauna.
She spends about two minutes in the sauna, reenters the pool for four minutes, returns to the sauna for three minutes and exits the sauna for the third time.
Doe then returns to the bleachers, puts on her gym shoes, her shorts and her tee shirt, proceeds to the front counter, has another interaction with the clerk and turns to leave.
When Doe turns to leave, she realizes she’s trying to exit through the entrance, so she goes around the belt stanchions and exits through the proper exit doors at 9:58 a.m.
All told, Doe’s visit lasted less than 50 minutes. No children are visible anywhere in the video, including entering or leaving the gender-neutral family locker room, nor is the exodus mentioned by Jess Scott — the other women and girls who were “creeped out and left.”
The Town of Waynesville’s Recreation Center has been lauded as an expansive, high-quality facility. File photo
On July 17, Doe again visits the Waynesville Recreation Center, this time at 10:08 a.m.
Wearing gym shoes, shorts and a tee shirt, she proceeds directly to the gender-neutral family locker room, spends about two minutes there, and then enters the pool deck still wearing her gym shoes, her shorts and her tee shirt. She pauses to hold the door for a person using a walker.
As with her July 12 visit, Doe proceeds to the bleacher area and disrobes, revealing a two-piece bikini already present under her clothes, and then enters the pool.
She spends some time swimming and some time chatting with a lifeguard.
At 10:24 a.m., while Doe remains in the pool, Amy Elizabeth Bumgarner is seen to enter the pool deck and walk into the unisex sauna. Two minutes later, Doe enters the unisex sauna as well. No other persons are seen to enter or exit the unisex sauna.
After nine minutes in the unisex sauna, Doe exits at 10:35 a.m., enters the gender-neutral family locker room and spends about two minutes there.
She returns to the pool deck and enters the pool at 10:37 a.m., climbing out of the water at 10:42 a.m.
As Doe puts on her gym shoes, her shorts and her tee shirt near the bleachers, Bumgarner exits the unisex sauna at 10:44 a.m., nearly 10 minutes after Doe exited.
Doe leaves the Waynesville Recreation Center two minutes later at 10:46 a.m., followed by Bumgarner at 10:47 a.m.
This visit by Doe lasts just under 40 minutes.
The next day, just after 9:45 a.m. on July 18, Doe again visits the Waynesville Recreation Center, wearing gym shoes, shorts and a tee shirt.
She walks right up to the counter, briefly interacts with the clerk and then proceeds to enter the gender-neutral family locker room. Doe spends less than one minute there and, as before, heads to the bleachers alongside the pool where she disrobes — revealing the same two-piece bikini already present under her clothes.
Doe then climbs into the pool and swims for several minutes until entering the unisex sauna around 9:57 a.m., spending less than two minutes there before returning to the gender-neutral family locker room.
She spends less than two minutes in the gender-neutral family locker room, returns to the pool deck and heads straight for the unisex sauna at 10:02 a.m.
After less than three minutes in the sauna, Doe returns to the pool for only a minute or so, and then enters the unisex sauna at 10:06 a.m.
She leaves the unisex sauna for the third time that day around 10:10 a.m., reenters the pool and engages in some calisthenics with others already present in the pool.
Meanwhile, Bumgarner can again be seen entering the pool deck at 10:15 a.m. and enters the unisex sauna as Doe remains in the pool. At 10:21 a.m., Doe enters the unisex sauna. Five minutes later, Doe leaves the unisex sauna, returns to the lobby, uses a drinking fountain and returns to the gender-neutral family locker room, spending less than two minutes there.
At this time, Bumgarner exits the unisex sauna — about two minutes after Doe left — and proceeds to the front counter where she interacts with a clerk briefly before leaving the facility at 10:29 a.m. without incident.
MY BROTHER’S KEEPER
Since Bradley’s memo dropped, calls for accountability for Jess Scott and Amy Elizabeth Bumgarner have flooded those same social media posts where just days earlier others had, in a rush to judgement, accepted all his allegations as fact.
Stephanie Sutton deleted her post, as has Bumgarner. Scott’s remains.
Bradley told SMN that Scott’s comments — as well as the violent threats made by people like Monteagudo, Lanning and Wood — aren’t actionable, as they are protected by the First Amendment.
For Bumgarner, Bradley said they wouldn’t pursue action against her either, because ignorance of the law is not in and of itself a crime.
“Her personal offense at this exchange is not a violation of the criminal code. She truthfully reported, maybe with some inaccuracies, something that is not a criminal violation,” Bradley said. “The police department receives those a lot. We do not have any interest in prosecuting people for filing false reports simply because they misunderstand what is a criminal violation.”
There’s an old saying that the difference between a crocodile and an allegation is that crocodiles are real, but Bradley did say that citizens should continue to bring allegations to the proper law enforcement authorities and let the professionals sort it all out — especially when minors may legitimately be in danger.
“If anyone has evidence of risk to minors other than the mere existence of transgendered persons in the public at large,” she said, “please let us know so that the police department can follow up on those specific concerns.”