A teenage girl was one of the multiple witnesses to testify at a pre-trial hearing in the case involving Darren Merager, the transgender Angeleno at the center of an indecent exposure row that began at a Koreatown spa in 2021 and soon exploded into a national scandal.
Merager was in court for the hearing facing five felony counts of indecent exposure related to the incident when the lifelong Angeleno inadvertently brought about two Saturdays of rioting in July 2021 by exposing male genitalia to a locker room full of women at the spa. Since being charged, the Arcadia native has been at the center of a blowup over trans rights. The controversy caught the eye of local news outlets and national media figures, including Tucker Carlson, as it triggered pitched protests around Wi Spa’s K-Town-adjacent neighborhood that grew violent and led to brawls among militant activists, scores of arrests, and lawsuits over excessive force by police.
At the hearing, held at the Los Angeles County Superior Court – West District – Airport location, witnesses who were present at the spa on June 23, 2021, testified that Merager roamed the facility, penis exposed, with a nonchalance that they found unnerving.
“He was relaxed—like it was normal,” said Claudia (her last name was withheld), referring to Merager, who previously told LAMag that either male or female pronouns are fine as a descriptor. Claudia was bathing in the Wi Spa’s women-only section with her two daughters when Merager entered. “He was walking, like in a beauty contest, completely naked, like it was normal for a guy to walk around naked there.”
Claudia and her daughters recalled seeing Merager sitting on the edge of a Jacuzzi bath with feet dangling in the water, legs opened 45 degrees. While they acknowledged in court that Merager did not solicit their attention or take any action that day, presiding Judge Lana S. Kim held that Merager’s presence in the women’s section met the standard for the case to go forward by unlawfully causing offense to others in the indoor public space. The judge noted that the spa’s policy to not discriminate based on gender identity “was not an affirmative defense.”
Claudia told the judge that she was scared for her younger daughter while at Wi Spa that day; the 14-year-old was momentarily separated from her and her older sibling. “I was afraid for her—here’s this guy with an erect penis,” she said. Following a motion by the defense to dismiss, the judge declared that testimony of an erect penis was sufficient evidence to move forward.
Not in attendance at the hearing was a woman named Yvette, whose name was previously unknown but had filed a police report about the incident saying she was present at the spa with her eight-year-old daughter, according to testimony given in court by LAPD Detective David Aguirre.
Also not in attendance was a woman named Christina—known online as Cubana Angel, the woman who posted a complaint video that went viral wherein she is confronting the Wi Spa staff; before Tuesday, nothing was known of her identity, other than her Instagram handle. Christina was the first witness to file a police report after the incident, citing that Merager’s penis “had blood flow,” Aguirre told the court. The detective testified that he asked Christina for clarification and that she described Merager’s penis as “partially erect.”
Testimony about the state of Merager’s penis at the time of the incident varied. Claudia’s older daughter, Gigi, attested under cross-examination that Merager’s penis was erect over the course of 30 to 60 minutes; her 14-year-old sibling, whose mother calls her Vicky, contradicted her family members when she described Merager’s penis as not erect, but “soft,” yet added she felt both “unsafe” and “uncomfortable” having “never seen nobody’s penis before.”
Merager, who did not give testimony on Tuesday, told LAMag that there were three or four women inside Wi Spa’s women-only area hot tub at the time who didn’t object to the nudity; Merager’s public defender, who consistently mispronounced her client’s name in court, was unable to successfully subpoena these apparent witnesses for the defense. Merager also claims that the women who filed police reports had changed their stories, as an erection was never mentioned in the viral videos created two days after the incident.
“Every single one of these witnesses that get up on the stand decided it’s an erection a month later. Where are my witnesses? Merager told LAMag during a court recess. “Why weren’t the two dozen women in the spa indecently exposed? Only men can be indecently exposed, but women can’t? Only the penis is indecent.”
Merager’s California driver’s license reads “Female,” a change that was made in 2019, once California’s self-ID law went into effect.
Absent from the courtroom audience were the militants and activists who battled on Wilshire Boulevard on July 3 and July 17, 2021, amid often violent protests that erupted in front of the spa. Aside from a handful of media, there was only a single person in attendance—a companion of Merager’s mother, Brenda.
A full arraignment for the case is scheduled for Feb. 21.
Merager claims complete innocence in the case and said that California’s laws should protect transgender identity for public facility use.
“It’s not for me to adapt to society, at this point,” Merager told Los Angeles in a 2022 interview. “If nobody else is using a shower curtain or nobody else is using a swimsuit, it’s illegal to try and make me do it. Technically, and from all perspectives, I am female, and everybody agrees with that. We’re all on equal grounds under the law.”
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