Restaurant News

Local Chef Fired After Sexual Assault Allegations Surface

A Phoenix-area chef was fired today after allegations of sexual assault against two women surfaced in a California police report.

The women allege that Chris McKinley sexually assaulted them during a business trip to El Segundo in 2015.

Second Story Liquor Bar in Scottsdale issued a statement after New Times questioned the restaurant about the allegations:

“Recently, the company has become aware of a serious allegation made against Mr. McKinley during his employment with another restaurant group in California during 2015, more than two years ago and prior to any consulting position with the company.

“As a result, our company and Chef McKinley have decided to end his agreement early while Mr. McKinley dedicates his energies towards addressing these allegations from 2015. SSLB is committed to promoting young culinary talent in the Valley, as it will now with the phenomenal skills in our kitchen that have helped make SSLB a unique place for food and drinks.”

Chanel Godwin-McMaken and Brianna Romano filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Department, hoping to press charges and take their case to court. But the case was dismissed, due at least in part to the fact that the women waited days to call police.

Typically, New Times would not name a sexual assault victim. Both Godwin-McMaken and Romano gave permission to identify them.

McKinley said the accusations are false.

“There’s no proof of anything. Just false accusations.”

He confirmed that an event took place “over two years ago,” but said he had a lawyer look into it and that he “was never at fault.”

He said, “This is shocking to me right now,” and that he denied the allegations “1000 percent.”

In an email, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that Godwin-McMaken and Romano’s case had been under consideration but was declined on December 16, 2015, because of insufficient evidence. Romano said that she was told by the detective assigned to the case that there wasn’t a high enough chance of winning in court.

“We wanted him to be held responsible and wanted him to be kept away from us,” Romano told New Times.

At the time, McKinley was preparing to open the downtown Phoenix restaurant Chico Malo as a partner. That partnership ultimately dissolved. But McKinley — whose resume includes opening the short-lived The Local on Roosevelt Row and working at North Italia, Atlas Bistro, The House, and Noca — re-emerged on the Valley food scene last fall as chef at Second Story Liquor Bar in Scottsdale. In December 2017, Godwin-McMaken and Romano decided to go public.

Both women said that they feel disappointed with how their case was handled. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined any further comment.

As Godwin-McMaken and Romano related in the police report, the alleged incident took place during a trip to El Segundo, which is in Los Angeles County. The women were working for a Phoenix-based restaurant group that was opening a new location of a pre-existing concept.

The women asked that the restaurant group not be named.

Because of events that they said occurred early in the morning on July 19, 2015, Godwin-McMaken and Romano’s trip was cut short.

McKinley had been brought on by the restaurant group to train the new kitchen staff at the El Segundo location.

According to the police report, the alleged crime was sexual penetration with a foreign object, and took place in Room 449 at The Westin Los Angeles Airport hotel.

The final version of the report, as the women said they understand it, is a consolidation of interviews conducted by the El Segundo police, and both male and female Los Angeles police officers.

July 18, 2015, was a Saturday and the training staff had the night off from work.

Up until that evening, Godwin-McMaken told New Times, she considered McKinley a friend. She was part of a group of about 20 – including McKinley — who went out for drinks at a nearby bar, to go dancing and to blow off some steam.

According to the police report, compiled from multiple interviews conducted by LAPD officers, Godwin-McMaken and Romano said that they’d only had a few whiskey drinks that evening and “were not at the point where they felt they were intoxicated.”

Godwin-McMaken and Romano got tired and decided to leave, taking an Uber back to the Westin hotel where the training staff were staying. According to the police report, this was at approximately 1 a.m. the next morning, July 19.

Godwin-McMaken detailed her side of much of the events of the evening and the following morning in a blog post on a website called The Reality of Sexual Assault in the Cocktail Community.

The partying continued until approximately 4:30 a.m., according to the police report. Both Godwin-McMaken and Romano decided to return to their room along with two female friends and McKinley.

Godwin-McMaken and Romano changed into their pajamas — shorts, underwear, and T-shirts — and got ready to go to sleep.

“Both victims were telling my partner and I how extremely exhausted they were and how quickly they went to sleep,” the officer wrote.

The hotel room had two queen beds and a bathroom.

Romano “said she was woken up in the middle of the night with the suspect on top of her. ... She noticed the suspect was wearing a shirt but did not know if he was wearing his pants.”

The report continues, Romano “clearly felt the suspect penetrating her vagina with his fingers; she did not believe his penis was ever exposed. Victim woke in the morning and felt discomfort in her vagina. [Romano] also saw that her shorts and underwear were pulled down to the middle of her thighs.”

Godwin-McMaken told police she was woken three times in the middle of the night. “The first two times she awoke, she felt something touching her vagina she believed to be fingers. The third time she awoke, she saw as the suspect was trying to penetrate her vagina with his penis. The suspect was unsuccessful.”

Godwin-McMaken woke up and left the room.

“Later on that day, both victims talked about what had happened and didn’t know what to do or think because they were scared.” They said the person “in charge of the group” advised them to call police.

The report concludes: Romano “told me that she’s known the suspect for approximately two months. She doesn’t know him well enough to comment on his behavior. [Godwin-McMaken] has known him for two years and is also a friend of her boyfriend. She’s heard stories on how aggressive the suspect is sexually towards women. Both victims also felt they were not drugged prior to this incident.”

Romano and Godwin-McMaken told New Times that after comparing their mutual symptoms and conversations they would have later with friends and family, they both now believe they were “roofied.”

“I know I would have been more alert” under ordinary circumstances, Romano said. “I remember everything that happened that night up until I went to bed.”

“I wasn’t trashed,” Romano added, and mentioned they’d only had a couple of drinks while they were out at the bar. “I knew where I was, what I was doing, and everyone that was there.”

Godwin-McMaken and Romano said they took the advice of a family member to file a police report while they were still in the state of California.

They did so over a week later, on July 28, before returning to Arizona.

According to the police report, “Both victims decided to come forward today because they know what the suspect did was wrong and they [want] him prosecuted.”

Romano told New Times that she wished they had gone to the police right away.

“That kind of situation is too invasive,” she said, referring to procedural sexual assault forensic exams that are performed, typically within 72 hours, on alleged victims, and which involve cavity checks that can last hours. “I wasn’t willing to have my privacy invaded any further.”

The police report notes: “The victims were not transported to a hospital. ... Nor were a rape kit performed due to the incident occurring over nine days ago.”

If they’d reported the allegations sooner, they would have been tested to find out if date rape drugs had been used.

McKinley did not return to work at the restaurant group, the women said.

Clint Spotleson, a Valley bartender who has since relocated to Las Vegas, was McKinley’s roommate at the time of the incident.

After word of the incident spread, Spotleson said, McKinley began to spend a lot of time out of town, traveling, and working for Guy Fieri, the chef and Food Network personality.

Spotleson was busy working and said that he barely crossed paths with McKinley whenever he was back in town between jobs. This, he said, is how the bulk of 2016 went while they lived together.

“There were some [murmurings] that something happened.” Spotleson said.

“He’d never shown that aggressive of a side before,” he added. Spotleson said he, McKinley, and their friends partied — drinking alcohol, and consuming marijuana and cocaine on occasion — but that he did not know of McKinley, nor anyone else in their group of friends, possessing or using date rape drugs on themselves or anyone else.

“I’d never seen him cross any lines. If people wanted to come back to the house, they would. ... It was always consensual,” he said.

“He really is a charming guy. Always very outgoing and flirtatious with women,” Spotleson said of McKinley. He said that he’d only seen McKinley belligerently drunk, and aggressively so, on a couple occasions.

According to Tempe Municipal Court records, McKinley received a DUI after driving home from working an event (in May 2016 McKinley pleaded guilty to an extreme DUI, having blown above a .20).

Spotleson said he and McKinley didn’t talk much the last couple of months they lived together. He described the feeling of a cloud always hanging in the air when they were at home. He remembered thinking that McKinley, “must have assumed I thought he was guilty.”

It did come up once, Spotleson said, when the two were inebriated one evening, shortly after Godwin-McMaken published her blog post. Spotleson said he is good friends with the blog’s founder, Brooke Arthur.

He said McKinley told him, “Something along the lines of, ‘It didn’t happen that way,’” to which Spotleson said he responded, “Well there [are] enough differences between the two [stories] that questions are gonna be asked.”

Spotleson said he thought at one point that McKinley had left the Valley for good. But at the beginning of 2017, word spread that McKinley had signed on as a partner in Chico Malo, a restaurant slated to open that spring.

McKinley left Chico Malo before the restaurant opened, according to local media reports.

He joined the staff of Second Story Liquor Bar in Scottsdale last fall.

Godwin-McMaken said she was surprised anyone would employ McKinley after what she said happened.

“In the bigger picture, this isn’t just about me,” Godwin-McMaken said, adding, “this is about the future and what can happen” to other women.