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    Actor and Drag Star Shangela Accused of Multiple Sexual Assaults

    Shangela was a breakthrough star. With her sharp-tongued retorts, viral catchphrases, and distinctive Southern accent, the gregarious Texas drag queen quickly rose to become one of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s most beloved former contestants. “[It’s] like ‘Angela’ with an ‘S-H,’” she explained on the show. “The debutantess of the Deep South.”

    Despite an early Season Two elimination when the queen was in her late twenties, a more polished version of the future star returned to the runway for two other installments in the show’s franchise. Drag Race fans often complain that she was robbed of the crown during her appearance on the show’s All Stars spinoff. “She’s amazing. We’ve actually put her on the show, like, three times?” RuPaul told Andy Cohen in 2022. “She’s a fabulous queen.”

    Shangela subsequently built an image as a self-affirming queer activist. “In order to make it through this life, you are going to have to be your biggest cheerleader,” Shangela wrote in a 2021 op-ed. “Be kind to yourself. Take care of your mind, soul, and body. And motivate yourself to keep going.”

    Queer culture embraced the drag star’s compassionate branding. A headline-grabbing performance for GLAAD, sold-out touring productions, and top billing at Pride events cemented her status as one of the most visible queer people in pop culture, projecting her into historically nonrepresentative spaces. She appeared in the film A Star Is Born with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, and the television series Dancing With the Stars, attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance red-carpet movie premiere, and received a White House invitation for the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act. 

    Facing a wave of conservative anti-drag and anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the U.S., followers have flocked to Shangela for motivation in a dark time for the queer community. “I’ll forever cherish this moment,” Shangela wrote to her 1.6 million Instagram followers about her SAG Award red-carpet appearance in 2019. “I’ve had to showcase our LGBTQ+ fabulosity in many spaces that don’t always have equal representation.” 

    But behind the curtain — in hotel rooms and apartments — four people allege to Rolling Stone that Darius Jeremy (“DJ”) Pierce, the man behind the famous drag persona, either sexually assaulted them or attempted to have sex with them when they were too inebriated to consent. A fifth person claims Pierce attempted anal penetration in a bathroom closet despite rejecting his advances. 

    The allegations against the 43-year-old Pierce mirror elements laid out in a recently settled civil lawsuit against the drag star by a former colleague. (Neither Drag Race nor RuPaul are implicated in any of Rolling Stone‘s findings.) According to court documents, Pierce was accused of raping a production assistant from We’re Here — a television show bringing one-night-only drag shows to small communities across the U.S. — after purchasing several drinks for them.

    In a legal letter to Rolling Stone, Pierce, through his lawyer Andrew Brettler, called the allegations “false and unsupported by any evidence or reliable witness testimony,” claiming that there were “significant problems with purported accusers’ accounts.” Brettler asserted that Pierce “adamantly denies ever engaging in nonconsensual sex.”

    This investigation, which began in November 2022, is based on 16 months of research, court documents, and interviews with several accusers. Over the course of reporting, Rolling Stone uncovered a previously unreported police complaint, filed in Los Angeles, and multiple independent accusations spanning several years alleging sexually coercive and assaultive behavior by the drag star. 

    Five people independently described nights out with Pierce when they were between the ages of 18 and 23. All five said that Pierce, nearly double their age and fresh off headline-grabbing spots on the silver screen and awards-show red carpets, drank with them through the late hours of the night and into the morning. The accusers all said they were acutely aware of Shangela’s celebrity status — three people said they were aspiring drag queens. One of the sources claimed they got so drunk they vomited in a hotel bed, moments before they were allegedly assaulted in the same sheets. Nearly all accusers said it took them at least months to process their alleged sexual assault.

    The alleged interactions span from 2012 to 2018 in Louisiana, Texas, California, and the United Kingdom. Pierce has maintained his innocence but admitted to meeting with four of the sources on the dates of the alleged assaults. Pierce said he does not remember the fifth accuser.

    Controversy around the drag star initially erupted last May when a production assistant named Daniel McGarrigle, working on We’re Here, filed a civil lawsuit against Pierce and his employer Buckingham Television, alleging rape in Los Angeles after having filed a police report against the star in Ruston, Louisiana. Initial shockwaves rippled through drag-related social media, with the Los Angeles Times breaking the story. (A rep for Buckingham did not reply to a request for comment.)

    McGarrigle, 40, alleged in the lawsuit he “threw up” from drinks provided by Pierce before he woke up to the drag star “rubbing his penis against his buttocks, attempting to insert himself into his anus.” The lawsuit claimed Pierce thrust inside of McGarrigle while saying, “I know you want it, and you’re going to take it.”

    All parties reached a settlement in February and the case was dismissed, Rolling Stone can confirm, though details remain undisclosed. (Pierce did not respond to questions about the civil lawsuit.) “This case has been resolved, and the defendants and their counsel acted in good faith,” Daniel M. Gilleon, McGarrigle’s lawyer, tells Rolling Stone. “As such, I feel it would be inappropriate to discuss this matter or its resolution. I don’t know anything about the new allegations, but I certainly recognize the courage it takes for a victim to come forward.”

    Three sources who spoke to Rolling Stone had spoken to BuzzFeed News, which was set to publish their allegations last year. (McGarrigle also spoke to BuzzFeed News but declined to participate in this article.) When the Pulitzer Prize–winning publication shuttered in April 2023, the investigation into Pierce was never published. Two more accusers stepped forward during Rolling Stone’s continued reporting.

    All five sources who spoke to Rolling Stone identify as queer and have participated in or watched drag shows. Citing anti-drag and anti-trans laws across conservative states in the U.S., they all grappled with the decision to come forward with their allegations. But, they all said, they want Pierce — not the queer community — to bear accountability for the allegations. 

    “I’m very confident I was clear with my ‘nos.’ I was declining advances. He still kept trying anyway” –Edward Ramirez

    One of the sources who spoke exclusively to Rolling Stone a 27-year-old named Helmer filed a second police report against Pierce. Helmer, who was 20 at the time of the alleged assault and is only using his first name out of fear of employment retaliation, filed the complaint in Los Angeles on June 1, 2023, though due to a procedural error, the police department didn’t return his report until Dec. 20. (The LAPD did not respond to a request for comment.) In the complaint, Helmer told police he was motivated to report his allegations after he “read articles published by the Los Angeles Times that indicated Pierce was suspected of conducting similar sex crimes with other victims.” He told police he met Pierce in 2017 while working at a popular Los Angeles bar, where Helmer said he and Pierce exchanged numbers and social media accounts. 

    “I’m thinking we should hang out,” Pierce, then 36, told Helmer in Instagram direct messages reviewed by Rolling Stone. “Let me take u to a late dinner.” The two exchanged direct messages and went out for drinks the following night, Helmer told police. After they met, the complaint states, “Pierce bought a ‘Mojito’ for [Helmer]. [He] stated he does not drink ‘Mojito’s’ [sic] but continued to have it out of respect for Pierce.” 

    Helmer told police he “does not have any recollection of the events that occurred after he drank the Mojito.” According to the complaint, Helmer recalled “waking up completely naked on a bed and believed to be at Pierce’s residence.” 

    “[Helmer] asked Pierce what happened last night and why he was naked,” the complaint said. “Pierce responded with, ‘We had sex, and there was another guy involved that you brought in.’ [Helmer] asked who that other guy was, and Pierce stated he did not know, ‘but you were really into it.’” 

    Helmer told police it “took him a few days to realize that he was sexually assaulted,” and by the time he came to the realization, he “believed he did not have enough evidence” to report the incident to authorities. Instead, he confided in two people: his roommate, Jay, and his current boyfriend, Josh, in 2017. (Rolling Stone spoke to Jay and Josh, who are using their first names only to protect Helmer’s anonymity.) 

    Both recounted hearing details of Helmer’s allegation — including the mojito, the alleged sexual assault, and the second person present that night. “I saw this young, sweet, scared, 20-year-old boy breaking down in front of me, and I was crushed for him,” Josh tells Rolling Stone about Helmer’s first time opening up to him. Josh said he was proud of Helmer’s decision to file the police report. “[Helmer] did this fucking scary thing in this scary sheriff’s station at night. It was the moment I [watched] the boy I hugged in my bed crying in 2017 [turn into] a man who could stand in his truth and live past it with no shame.”

    Brettler calls Helmer’s accusation “absurd,” claiming that Pierce and Helmer “went back to Mr. Pierce’s house where they engaged in consensual sex with a third man who they met at the bar.” “Critically, [Helmer] continued to contact Mr. Pierce in the months following the encounter,” Brettler writes. “[Helmer] never once mentioned that Mr. Pierce mistreated him, let alone sexually assaulted him.” 

    On May 4, 2017, less than two months after the alleged assault, Helmer texted Pierce to ask for help in finding an apartment. Helmer said the texts were sent in desperation after breaking up with his then-boyfriend, whom he had lived with. “I’m looking pretty urgently,” Helmer said in the text message to Pierce. “My plans fell through last night, and I need a place to live.” 

    Regarding Helmer’s police report, Brettler adds that “No one from law enforcement has ever contacted Mr. Pierce or his representatives about [Helmer’s] bogus claims.”

    “It’s not like I was in control of anything that was going on. It was very animalistic, taking advantage of someone” –Zein Checri

    Helmer’s police complaint echoed allegations from four other people who spoke to Rolling Stone. Edward Ramirez, 27, claimed Pierce assaulted him after a night out in Texas in 2018. Rolling Stone reviewed Instagram conversations between Pierce and Ramirez. They met at a bar on Sept. 10 and discussed plans to hang out again on the evening of Sept. 11 into the early morning. 

    But Ramirez, who was then 21 years old, said the night of the 11th took a turn out of his control. He initially posted his allegations on ATRL, an internet blog space for celebrity culture and analysis, to describe his night. “[Pierce] shoved me on the floor in a closet and tried to penetrate me,” Ramirez wrote a few hours after the alleged assault. “Honestly, had he just asked, I probably would’ve had consensual sex with him. But getting shoved into a closet and thrown on the floor was just uncomfortable and seemed like an abuse of power.”

    “I’m very confident I was clear with my ‘nos.’ I was declining advances,” Ramirez tells Rolling Stone. “He still kept trying anyway. When I shared the story initially, I was showing grace and mercy that I wouldn’t have shown had I taken more time to process what happened.” 

    Unlike the other accusers, Ramirez says he provided his own drinks throughout the night. He adds he didn’t go to the police because he distrusted police authorities in Texas as a Black queer man.

    Pierce’s initial defense to BuzzFeed News alleged that any accusers coming forward were motivated by McGarrigle in an attempt to strengthen his civil lawsuit. But Ramirez, who says he has never spoken to or met McGarrigle, posted his allegations in 2018, four years before McGarrigle initially came forward. (In his letter to Rolling Stone, Pierce, through his attorney, did not address the settlement or his previous accusations regarding other sources’ connection, or lack thereof, with McGarrigle.)

    Pierce and Ramirez also texted after spending the night together. “Are you still in Dallas?” Ramirez wrote Pierce on Sept. 16, less than four days after the alleged assault. Ramirez tells Rolling Stone the message was sent to try and coordinate a meeting between Pierce and a drag-queen friend of Ramirez’s. 

    “So ur going to bed or r we hanging out,” Pierce, who was 37 at the time, asked Ramirez in a text at 4 a.m. on Sept. 17. Ramirez responded, “Lol hanging out where!! It’s 4am haha.” Ramirez tells Rolling Stone he believed the messages were a “polite rejection” of Pierce’s continued advances. 

    Brettler supplied Rolling Stone with three witness statements that could “attest that Mr. Pierce and Mr. Ramirez were never alone together” that night. (Brettler also supplied a fourth witness to dispute the account of another accuser, Zein Checri.)

    The witnesses say they socialized with Pierce and Ramirez in a small apartment. “During the time spent at my apartment, there were no incidents that I observed or was made aware of which could be construed as sexual assault or any form of misconduct,” one witness tells Rolling Stone.

    “The apartment was small and we were all hanging together until we all left,” another witness tells Rolling Stone. “[Shangela] is one of the kindest, most generous, and hardworking drag queens in the business. And it’s really disgusting to see how people are trying to attack her with these untrue stories.” 

    Ramirez consistently told Rolling Stone that the alleged assault occurred in a walk-in closet in the bathroom as people were leaving for the night.

    CHECRI, 24, ALLEGES Pierce also attempted anal penetration against his will. “It was very animalistic, taking advantage of someone,” Checri, a London-based musician, says about the alleged encounter in November 2017, when he was 18. 

    Checri said he met Pierce, then 37, while clubbing in London. Promoters invited Checri and Pierce to an event called “Hype Hop” — a weekly show at London’s Cirque le Soir nightclub – during Pierce’s birthday week. Checri alleges Pierce was buying rounds of drinks for a group of people, including Checri. Checri and Pierce confirmed that they both returned to Pierce’s hotel room at the Clermont London Hotel with a group of people. After the other guests left, Checri and Pierce were alone in the room. 

    Darius Pierce AKA Shangela attends the Academy Awards in 2019.

    Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

    Eventually, Checri alleged, he was so intoxicated he could not consent to any sexual activity. Checri claims he eventually threw up in Pierce’s bed. He claims Pierce made an attempt to insert his penis moments later. “I just remember very clearly a sequence of events, which was me being on the bed,” Checri says. “Then being sick on the bed, everywhere. [I remember] feeling it, and seeing it, and smelling it. I very viscerally remember that. And then, whilst that was happening, like, an attempt at penetration.

    “I was so ill that I was throwing up in the bed. It’s not like I was in control of anything that was going on,” Checri adds. “I felt so humiliated by the fact that I felt like an accessory that was available at a certain time.” Checri told two friends about his encounter, who corroborated his account to Rolling Stone. Checri says he didn’t go to the authorities because of a lack of trust in the police.

    “I noticed that he had gone quite reserved and withdrawn,” one friend tells Rolling Stone. “It seems like he was totally overwhelmed in the moment. Whether it was physically or through other means, he just fully was not in control, and his agency was taken away from him. It really, really shook him up.” 

    In a letter to Rolling Stone, Brettler contends that Checri “was the one who pursued a physical relationship with Mr. Pierce — not the other way around.” “While alcohol was consumed,” Brettler writes, “no one was visibly intoxicated, or impaired to the point that they could not make decisions for themselves.”

    In Pierce’s account, as provided by Brettler, Checri and Pierce “made out” before falling asleep and “both men were fully clothed.” “Mr. Pierce was awakened in the early morning hours to the sound of Mr. Checri vomiting in the bed,” Brettler writes. “Mr. Pierce then encouraged Mr. Checri to go home. Embarrassed and apologetic, Mr. Checri gathered his belongings and left. Apart from cuddling in bed together before falling asleep, Messrs. Pierce and Checri were not intimate, and did not have sex.“ 

    One witness provided by Brettler tells Rolling Stone he was with Checri and Pierce before he “left to my room next door, and shortly after received a call from [Pierce] asking for help.” The witness defended Pierce, saying he kicked Checri out after he vomited on the bed. 

    “Shangela was someone that I looked up to, rooted for, and was inspired by. But what happened to me wasn’t okay” –RoyLee Soliz

    A fourth accuser, Zachary, 32, also claimed he was jolted awake during a deep inebriation, as Pierce and another man forcefully attempted anal insertion. “Last thing I remember [at the club] is being told [by Pierce] we were doing two more shots,” Zachary, who was then 23, said about a night with Pierce at Southern Decadence, a six-day event in New Orleans celebrating queer culture during Labor Day weekend in 2015. Zachary said that he met Pierce at a meet-and-greet following a performance. (Zachary requested Rolling Stone only use his first name, citing the need to protect his mental health.)

    Zachary says Pierce, who was 34 at the time, insisted they drink after the meet-and-greet, where he claims Pierce supplied Zachary with drinks until Zachary said he blacked out. Zachary says he woke up to Pierce and an unidentified man attempting to penetrate him. “I heard Shangela say, ‘Stick it in him,’ and I quickly said ‘No,’” Zachary recalls. “I am pretty sure that [the unidentified man] didn’t do anything, but I passed out again, so I am not positive.”

    Zachary, a self-described Drag Race fan and part-time drag queen, says he was originally enamored with Shangela’s celebrity and was starstruck when Shangela showered him with so much attention. But in 2022, McGarrigle initially posted his allegations on Instagram, and Zachary says he saw the post when McGarrigle’s allegations circulated around social media. There were many similarities with McGarrigle’s alleged interactions with Pierce, he says. “It happened to me seven years ago, and I never really thought anything of it. I played it off as a ‘celebrity’ [encounter],” Zachary says. “I read Danny’s story and [realized] it was something [bigger]. When [Danny’s story] matched almost identically to what happened to me, I was like, ‘Oh, OK. So, that was not great.’” 

    Two of Zachary’s friends corroborated claims that they all met Pierce at a meet-and-greet and that he provided multiple drinks to Zachary. When Zachary recounted details of his night the following morning, the friends told Zachary that elements of his description of the night sounded like assault. They said that, at the time, Zachary remained starstruck as a fan.

    “He told us about the night, and at first, he was excited. He was like, ‘I got to hang out with Shangela,’” one of Zachary’s friends, who was with him through part of the night, tells Rolling Stone. The friend says he watched Pierce provide Zachary two shots after a night where they were already heavily drinking. “[Zachary] was maybe 130 pounds at that point. He didn’t need a lot to get drunk. Anything after that was probably too much.” 

    Brettler says the duo “engaged in consensual sexual acts before falling asleep.” Zachary and Pierce continued texting each other through April 2016, exchanging pictures of Zachary in drag and talking about potential future hangouts. “At no time did Zachary ever accuse Mr. Pierce of wrongdoing or any inappropriate conduct,” Brettler writes.

    Zachary does not refute his own attempts to maintain a relationship with Pierce after the sexual interaction. He said that he wanted Pierce’s input as a young drag queen, despite his friends’ attempts to convince him that his night sounded like assault. 

    IN APRIL 2012, RoyLee Soliz, 32, alleges they met Pierce at a meet-and-greet, this time after a performance at Texas A&M University at Kingsville for a Pride event. Soliz, who was 20 at the time, says Pierce invited them to join him for a non-school-affiliated show at a club called Vault in Corpus Christi. 

    Soliz says that Pierce, who was then 31 and fresh off two straight appearances on Drag Race, supplied drinks throughout the night, and they ended up in Pierce’s Courtyard Marriott hotel room. Soliz says they accepted an offer to stay for the night, given Pierce’s status in the queer community. “Shangela was someone that I looked up to, rooted for, and was inspired by,” Soliz says. “But what happened to me wasn’t OK, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

    At first, Soliz claims everything seemed to be going well — so well that they told Pierce they wanted to become a drag queen one day. Pierce applied some makeup and gave Soliz a wig to try on. Soliz says they initially thought that it was a moment of budding friendship. 

    But Soliz says that after drinking with Pierce, they passed out in Pierce’s hotel room. “I just remember trying to sleep and closing my mouth when she tried to put her penis in my mouth,” Soliz says. “I really didn’t have any strength to tell her to stop or that I didn’t want to have sex with her.… She had gotten me so drunk that I couldn’t say no, and I was in no way mentally OK enough to feel strong or demand her to stop what she was doing.

    “I remember I woke up, felt so nasty, and just got in the shower and walked out of that hotel thinking it was my fault for being drunk and staying the night,” Soliz adds.

    Soliz says that Pierce had left the hotel before they had woken up but left a letter on the hotel notepad. Soliz supplied a picture of the letter, which was reviewed by Rolling Stone. “Good morning — didn’t want to wake you. Keep in touch!” read the letter, signed by “DJ/Shangela.”

    “Mr. Pierce has no recollection of meeting RoyLee Soliz, nor does he recognize that individual’s name,” Brettler writes. “While Mr. Pierce does not necessarily dispute that he met with Mx. Soliz more than a decade ago, he adamantly denies ever engaging in nonconsensual sex of any kind with them, or anyone else.”

    “[Pierce is] a huge spokesperson for a community in which they have hurt quite a few people. It is a big relief that, finally, this conversation is starting to happen” –Zein Checri

    Another person, Joel, tells Rolling Stone he began working as an off-the-books assistant for Pierce in January 2018. They remained friends until they stopped communicating in November 2022. Joel says he and Pierce had a sexual relationship while he simultaneously helped Pierce with various tasks, including packing suitcases, getting ready for events, and packaging merchandise for fans. “I didn’t have any options at that point,” Joel, who tells Rolling Stone he was unhoused at the time, said. “I was still living on my friend’s couch. I was without a job, so I was just like, ‘OK, I’m just getting networking gains out of this.’” 

    At various points, Joel (who is using his first name only, citing his tumultuous relationship with his family over his own drag persona) says he watched Pierce drink with numerous young, skinny men and would tell Joel how attractive the men were. He tells Rolling Stone he witnessed men — mostly in their early twenties — go with Pierce to the star’s hotel rooms, hot tubs, and friends’ apartments. 

    “DJ liked to drink,” he says about Pierce. “The name of the game was how many people could he get drunk. How many people could he get to come to the afterparty in his hotel room, and then they’d still be drinking there.”

    In a letter to Rolling Stone, Brettler writes that Pierce was “not surprised” that Joel spoke to Rolling Stone, asserting that “he is not credible; he only wants attention.” Pierce did not address Joel’s accusations, but disputed that Joel worked for him after 2018. “At no time after 2018 was [Joel] employed by Mr. Pierce, or any entity affiliated with him,” Brettler writes. 

    Brettler claims Joel had previously lied about his work and that the two had dated beginning in 2018. (Joel disputes Pierce’s characterization that they were dating, claiming that “never once was a relationship discussed.”) After the pair parted ways, according to Brettler, Joel would send “unsolicited selfies and videos of himself posing provocatively and/or engaging in various sex acts” to Pierce. “As recently as Nov. 3, 2022, [Joel] sent friendly, if not flirtatious, text messages to Mr. Pierce,” Brettler writes, “attaching videos from the night they first met and expressing well-wishes…. [Joel’s] after-the-fact attempt to paint Mr. Pierce as a predator is entirely inconsistent with his private communications with Mr. Pierce.“

    THE WEIGHT OF conservative anti-drag bills bothered nearly every source in Rolling Stone’s investigation. They all spoke out against anti-drag bills, anticipating their allegations could be used as a misguided cudgel for conservative censorship of drag queens. 

    “I’ve done a lot of story hours myself, and everything that’s being said about it [is] the furthest from the truth,” Zachary adds. “Drag queens across the country are going out to these places and doing really wonderful things for their communities. [They’re] doing drag-queen story hours to help kids accept themselves, just to accept love.”

    “I see people firsthand who are suffering,” Joel adds of drag performers in conservative states.

    Instead, everyone who stepped forward with allegations wants Pierce to shoulder accountability as they fight back against homophobic legislation. “[Pierce is] a huge spokesperson for a community in which they have hurt quite a few people. I would hope that people take this kind of thing seriously,” Checri says. “It is a big relief that, finally, this conversation is starting to happen.”



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