The Crash director was detained in southern Italy after a “young foreign woman” told investigators that she was “forced to seek medical care” following “non-consensual sexual relations” with a man Italian authorities identified as Haggis.
According to a statement by prosecutors in Brindisi, Italy (via the Associated Press), the woman — whose name, age and nationality wasn’t revealed — was dropped off at a nearby airport early Sunday morning following an alleged encounter with Haggis that lasted two days. Airport police and staff found the woman in “precarious physical and psychological conditions” and in a “confused state,” prosecutors added.
The woman was taken to a nearby hospital for examination. Following that, she told authorities of the alleged sexual assault, “formalized her complaint and cited circumstances which were subsequently looked into for confirmation by investigators.” The victim then filed formal charges against Haggis, who was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and aggravated personal injury.
Haggis’ lawyer Priya Chaudhry told Rolling Stone in a statement, “Under Italian Law, I cannot discuss the evidence. That said, I am confident that all allegations will be dismissed against Mr. Haggis. He is totally innocent, and willing to fully cooperate with the authorities so the truth comes out quickly.”
Haggis was in southern Italy to take part in the inaugural Allora Fest, where the filmmaker was booked to hold master classes.
In a statement to Variety, Allora Fest organizers said they “learned with dismay and shock the news that Paul Haggis is in custody for alleged violence.” The fest also “immediately proceeded to remove any participation of [Haggis] from the event.
“The themes chosen for the festival are, among others, those of equality, gender equality, and solidarity,” organizers continued. “As professionals and women they are dismayed and hope that the festival will help foster more information and awareness on such a topical and increasingly pressing issue.”
In late 2017 and early 2018, several women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Haggis, including publicist Haleigh Breest, who filed a civil lawsuit against the Million Dollar Baby screenwriter. Following Breest’s lawsuit, three more women came shared their accusations against Haggis.
One of the accusers said she was 28 when the alleged attack took place in 1996. She claims she was working on a television show that Haggis produced when he asked her to review some photos from the show. When they met in a back office, she claimed he tried to kiss her. “He said, ‘Do you really want to continue working?’” she claimed. He then allegedly forced her to perform oral sex on him and pushed her onto the floor and raped her.
Breest’s lawsuit against Haggis remains pending, as the Covid pandemic has delayed the trial’s state date.