Former Scientologist Says Church Officer Asked Her to Dig up Paul Haggis ‘Complaints’: ‘He Wanted Some Kind of Dirt’

Former Scientologist Says Church Officer Asked Her to Dig up Paul Haggis ‘Complaints’: ‘He Wanted Some Kind of Dirt’

The defense in the Paul Haggis rape trial had a busy start to the week Monday, calling several witnesses including his adult daughter, a personal friend who says she once rejected Haggis’ advance without incident, a memory expert who previously testified in Harvey Weinstein’s New York trail and a former Scientologist who testified that church officials once ordered her to dig up dirt on the Oscar-winning “Crash” director.

The jury heard nearly two weeks of plaintiffs’ testimony in the civil trial being brought by Haleigh Breest, a former freelance events publicist who says Haggis pressured her to his Manhattan apartment after a 2013 movie premiere and raped her. Though the judge explained to the jury that both parties agree that Breest is not a Scientologist, and she testified that she was not being supported by the church in any way, Haggis’ team has continued to present its Scientology defense.

On Friday, Haggis’ friend and former prominent Scientologist Mike Rinder testified that the church would pursue the destruction of its enemies “at all cost” – but did not say he had any specific knowledge connecting the church to Breest’s lawsuit. That theme continued Monday as the defense called Shawna Brakefield, a documentary producer and former Scientologist who testified via video conference.

Brakefield was still a Scientology member when Haggis parted acrimoniously in 2009, then began speaking out against the church. She testified that Tom Davis, the church’s chief spokesperson and head of external affairs at the time, called Brakefield and told her to retrieve “copies of complaints or any negative comments” regarding Haggis.

“It was clear he wasn’t after compliments and supportive material,” she said. “He wanted some kind of dirt. … It was a very intimidating phone call. I felt that, as a member of the church, you were expected to be loyal to the group and protect the group at all costs. And me not participating could have ramifications on me.”

Brakefield said she witnessed the church make personal attacks, publish hateful material and try to smear people. When she first read about Breest’s case, she said, “the first thing I thought of was that the church was behind it. It just has nothing to do with who Paul was.”

Earlier Monday, Paul Haggis’ daughter Alissa testified on her father’s behalf. Alissa Haggis said she parted with the church at 18 when she realized she was gay. Her father followed not long after, in part over the church’s stance on gay marriage.

Alissa Haggis said she used to be a working screenplay writer in Hollywood, but that the Breest case put that to an end. “I don’t have much of a career right now,” she said. “Hollywood won’t hire me because I have the name Haggis.”

She testified that she believes there’s circumstantial evidence that the church is plotting to destroy her father, but “there’s no way I could know that directly.”

Breest’s lawyer, Ilann Maazel, has repeatedly ridiculed the “Scientology defense.”

“Scientology has nothing to do with this case,” she said in a statement to TheWrap. “Even Paul Haggis has admitted he has no evidence that the Church was involved. This is a cynical tactic to divert attention from Ms. Breest, the other women who have come forward, and the case.”

During morning testimony in New York, the jury also heard from Sarah McNally, an independent bookseller who said she met Haggis at a party in 2016 and struck up a friendship. She testified that the first time the two were alone, he tried to kiss her, but she wasn’t interested and turned her head.

“He shrugged and went, ‘OK,’” McNally said. “It was the most easy-going and calm response.” Support witnesses for the plaintiff had testified that an “agitated” and highly aggressive Haggis relentlessly pursued them after being initially rebuffed.

McNally said after brushing off Haggis’ initial advance, the two wound up hanging out together dozens of times without incident. She read off a statement she gave in 2018, a month after Breest’s lawsuit was filed, at the request of Haggis’ ex-wife:

“Paul Haggis is the menschiest of mensches, endlessly generous, kind, supportive, clever, and funny. The accusations against him surprised me because one of his most prevailing character traits is an instinctive devotion to making everyone around him feel happy and at ease. In the absence of due process, and in the presence of a vindictive Church of Scientology, I find these accusations very difficult to believe,” she wrote.

The jury also heard from psychology professor and memory expert Deborah Davis, something of a serial expert witness who also testified as a defense team consultant for Harvey Weinstein’s New York criminal trial. Davis also is slated to testify in Weinstein’s Los Angeles trial.

The gist of Davis’ testimony is the same across cases; she told the jury Monday that people’s memories, influenced by certain emotional states, can evolve to the point that they remember things that didn’t happen.

“What’s left over time,” she said, “is the story we tell ourselves of what happened.”

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