She cites failed settlement talks; he decries "extortion attempts"

By Alexia Fernández
March 02, 2020 09:30 PM
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Credit: Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

Timothy Hutton has been accused in a news report of raping a former model in a hotel room when she was 14 in 1983, something that he says “never happened.”

Former model Sera Johnston came forward with the allegation in a report by BuzzFeed News published on Monday. Johnston told the outlet she was 14 when she met Hutton in Canada where he was filming Iceman.

“It hurt like hell,” Johnston reportedly told BuzzFeed News. “I mean, it was very painful. God. Yeah, it was extremely painful. Horrible, horrible, absolutely horrible.”

Hutton denied the allegations in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, in which he said, “For the past two-and-a-half years, I have been the target of multiple extortion attempts by a woman named Sera Dale Johnston to extract millions of dollars from me.”

“She threatened that if I did not meet her demands, she would go to the press with a false allegation that I sexually assaulted her 37 years ago in Canada,” Hutton continued. “I never assaulted Ms. Johnston.”

“Today, BuzzFeed chose to publish Ms. Johnston’s false story. BuzzFeed knew the truth because they were provided with documented evidence. What’s really going on here is that Ms. Johnston’s extortion attempts failed,” Hutton said. “She then decided to follow through on her threat to go to the press with her false story. When I became aware of this, I went to the FBI, signed a sworn statement and filed a criminal complaint against Ms. Johnston for extortion.”

He added, “I will not stop fighting to expose this story for what it is — a failed extortion attempt based on something that never happened.”

A lawyer for Johnston did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Johnston, now 50, reportedly told BuzzFeed News said she and two friends were invited to Hutton’s hotel room in Vancouver. She said Hutton “was getting very close to me, like, you know, really kind of sidling up to me, and petting my legs and stuff.”

“I was just, like, ‘I think this is going to be bad. I was really wrong about this.'”

Johnston said she didn’t remember how she found herself inside of Hutton’s bedroom but does remember Hutton and another man in the room with her.

The former model said she told them, “I don’t think this is a good idea,” but that she felt paralyzed with fear, according to the outlet.

Johnston told BuzzFeed News Hutton undressed, got on top of her and penetrated her. She said she begged Hutton to stop, saying, “Please don’t do this. I can’t do it. I can’t,” while Hutton’s friend, who remains unnamed, watched. She claims Hutton’s friend also sexually assaulted her.

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Hutton’s lawyer, Tom Clare, said the actor was being extorted by Johnston in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, saying, “There was no encounter of any kind here, and certainly no sexual assault. The woman featured in the BuzzFeed article, Sera Dale Johnston, has tried to extort millions of dollars from Tim over the last two years. The article was published only after those extortion attempts failed. BuzzFeed, facing serious financial struggles and pressure to attract readers, has shamefully disregarded the facts and allowed itself to be used by Ms. Johnston.”

“Buzzfeed knew the truth before publication. For example, BuzzFeed knew that, in July 2019, Tim filed a criminal complaint with the FBI — long before Ms. Johnston made her own report to the police,” Clare continued. “Further, BuzzFeed recklessly disregarded multiple sworn declarations from neutral third parties that absolutely show Ms. Johnston’s allegations to be false. In addition, BuzzFeed ignored hard evidence that Ms. Johnston lied about participating in extortion attempts and turned a blind eye to critical inconsistencies in Ms. Johnston’s story.”

Hutton’s lawyer concluded, “We will be sending BuzzFeed a legal retraction demand. If BuzzFeed wrongfully refuses to retract the article, Tim is prepared to take any and all necessary steps, including the filing of a defamation lawsuit, to clear his name and to hold BuzzFeed and Ms. Johnston accountable for their reckless and self-serving efforts to destroy Tim’s reputation and career.”

Matt Mittenthal, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed News, told PEOPLE in a statement, “BuzzFeed News’ reporting on the alleged rape of a 14 year-old girl by Timothy Hutton is based on interviews with the alleged victim, the account of a woman who was with her that evening, and five separate people who were told of the assault at the time. BuzzFeed News stands unequivocally by our reporting.”

Mittenthal added, “BuzzFeed has the highest traffic in its entire existence and is expecting to be profitable for all of 2020. The suggestion that there is any ulterior motive for rigorous journalism is nonsense.”

BuzzFeed News wrote in its news story that it contacted one of the two friends Johnston said she was with that night. One of the women, who only identified herself by the initials C.B., reportedly corroborated the former model’s story. (C.B. told BuzzFeed News she had signed an affidavit backing up what she remembered from that night.)

The outlet also reported speaking to five other people Johnston said she’d told about her alleged rape. The group includes her mother, Della Mae Johnston, a set decorator, who briefly worked on Iceman. Della Mae told BuzzFeed News she and her daughter considered filing a police report, but that she feared her daughter wouldn’t be believed against a “big-time movie star.”

Della Mae said she now regrets not encouraging her daughter to go forward. “Things are different,” she said. “I’m ashamed of it. I wish I had pursued it.”

In 2019, Johnston filed a criminal complaint against Hutton with the Vancouver Police Department, according to BuzzFeed News.

Johnston said after finding a lawyer, she entered into arbitration with the actor’s attorneys, initially agreeing to a $135,000 settlement. She said she backed out when she realized Hutton would be able to deny raping her.

“It was the indignance and the attitude that I was so angry about,” Johnston told the outlet. “That tells me that you don’t even realize what you’ve done. You don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”

Complicating matters, she said, was Johnston’s ex who attempted to broker a deal between Hutton’s friend, whom she accused of raping her as well, and the actor.

While the alleged incident occurred more than 35 years ago, Johnston said she was encouraged to come forward with the rise of the #MeToo movement.

“I’ve just lived a very small, little life, especially since I’ve been divorced,” she said. “I’ve been very quiet, you know. But something in the back of my mind has just constantly been going, ‘You need to tell people this.’”

She added the alleged incident “has colored every area of my life.”

Hutton has most recently starred in the Fox show Almost Family. The show was canceled on Monday after consistently low ratings, according to Variety.