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Assault charge filed in the attack on a filmmaker during a demonstration at the Wi Spa


Prosecutors charged a suspect with assault in an attack on a member of the media during a transgender rights protest outside a Los Angeles spa this summer, court records show.

Aaron Kareem Simmons, 30, was charged last week with assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, court records show.

The charge relates to the July 3 assault outside the Wi Spa in Westlake, in which independent filmmaker Rocky Romano was punched in the head from behind with a heavy baton-like weapon.

Romano wore a helmet at the time and had the word “PRESS” in bold print on his back. He said that “everything went gray for a minute” after he was hit, and believed he had suffered a minor concussion.

On Monday, Romano said he was grateful the Los Angeles Police Department pursued the case and prosecutors filed the assault charge.

“It seems the only way to try to control the violence that is happening on the streets is to have consequences,” Romano said. “I just want to be able to go out there and do my job without worrying about getting hit in the back of the head.”

Simmons could not be reached for comment.

The assault was one of many in Los Angeles in recent months to spark allegations from left-wing activists and journalists that the LAPD was turning a blind eye to violence from right-wing protesters. LAPD officials denied these claims and said they were targeting Romano’s assailant.

The case has been investigated by the Major Crimes Division of the LAPD, which has been tasked with examining allegations of violence during recent protests. The same unit earlier this month arrested a counter-protester in connection with the stabbing of a protester at an anti-vaccination rally in August near town hall, and is also looking for a protester. anti-vaccination that allegedly stabbed a counter-protester that day.

Los Angeles County prosecutors filed a lawsuit against Simmons on September 14, alleging he used a “wooden lead baton” to hit Romano. An arrest warrant has also been filed.

A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment. If convicted of the charges, Simmons faces a maximum of four years in state prison.

Police have been actively searching for Simmons for several days, according to a police source familiar with the case who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the case.

The Wi Spa has been the scene of several protests in recent months after a customer took to social media to express concerns about someone with male genitals using the female-only section of the spa, and his post went viral.

Protesters who opposed the spa’s policy of allowing transgender women to use its female-friendly facilities, which conforms to California law, clashed outside the spa with counter-protesters who said ‘they were there to defend transgender rights.

Multiple assaults were filmed by activists and others. The attack on Romano was recorded by several people, including freelance journalist Tina-Desiree Berg. Berg and others also captured video of the masked suspect jumping into the vehicle of Sarah Stephens, a marginal California recall candidate, before he left the scene.

“It felt so good to crack his head,” a man in the backseat was heard in a video posted to social media by someone in the car.

Berg shared his video with The Times, who shared it along with other information about the incident with the LAPD. Police responded by saying the information contained “specific details of which the department had not been previously informed,” prompting their investigation.

A Stephens adviser said the candidate was unaware that the assault had taken place, that she would not have allowed the suspect to get into her vehicle if she had known and that she would assist police with their investigation.

Romano and other activists had previously identified the attacker as Simmons, saying they had known him well from the protests in the Los Angeles area. They allege that Simmons also attacked other protesters.

The case against Simmons is the second criminal case to come out of the events at Wi Spa.

Earlier this month, prosecutors filed five counts of indecent assault against a person they identified as Darren Agee Merager, for the incident at the spa on June 23 where the other client complained.

Police said Merager’s penis was exposed at the spa’s women’s facilities. Court records show Merager has been a registered sex offender for years and awaits trial on seven counts of indecent assault resulting from another incident in 2019. Merager has faced criminal charges in multiple jurisdictions after being confronted for being in a women’s locker room, and facing more serious charges in the Wi Spa incident because of this story.

In an interview with The Times on Monday, Merager said she was a transgender woman, was registered as a woman in state records, and had done nothing wrong by being in the women’s facilities at the Wi Spa.

Merager said she used the spa for physical therapy for injuries she suffered in a car crash, intentionally went late to avoid crowds and children, and looked after his own business in a hot tub when the woman who created the viral video started yelling at him. .

She said she was being “kicked out” by a politically motivated LAPD and would only realize the charges she was facing after consulting lawyers on her rights. She said she hopes other spa guests that night who haven’t had any issues with her presence will come forward on her behalf, to testify that she wasn’t causing any issues.

“I fear for my safety. I am attacked by my government, not for a crime, ”she said. “It’s definitely political persecution.”