There’s helping out a friend, there’s forgiving a man who’s served his time, and then there’s describing the crimes for which that time was served—risk of injury to a child and enticing a minor by computer, both felonies—as the product of someone who was “caught up in a bad situation versus [doing] something lecherous.” Shane Black, who wrote the original Lethal Weapon and wrote/directed Iron Man 3, did all three of those things when he cast his friend Steven Wilder Striegel in a small role in his upcoming movie The Predator, and then explained this decision to press. Striegel was arrested in 2009 and pleaded guilty to the two felonies mentioned above—risk of injury to a child and enticing a minor by computer, both felonies—for which he served six months in prison.
The Los Angeles Times’ Amy Kaufman reports that The Predator star Olivia Munn discovered the information about Striegel’s convictions. In the movie, she shares a scene with Striegel. She contacted 20th Century Fox, the studio releasing The Predator, which ordered the excision of said scene. In a statement, a 20th Century Fox spokesperson said of Striegel: “We were not aware of his background during the casting process due to legal limitations that impede studios from running background checks on actors.”
Black told the Times in a written statement, “I personally chose to help a friend. I can understand others might disapprove, as his conviction was on a sensitive charge and not to be taken lightly.” Striegel told the Times he’s known Black for 14 years.
But the Times’ reporting on Striegel’s crime suggests Black’s suggestion to the Times that Striegel was “caught up in a bad situation versus [doing] something lecherous” can most generously be interpreted as dubious, if not an outright mischaracterization, in light of the Times’s full reporting on Striegel’s crimes. There, of course is a chance that Black was not aware of the full extent of the evidence against his friend. But it seems to me that virtually any ignorance about the felony sex crimes committed by your friend of five years is willful ignorance.
Striegel told the Times that the child in question was one of his “distant relatives.” He said he “made the the very bad judgement call of telling her in these emails that she was attractive, and sexy, and not a failure, etc.” “He said he made it clear the two could not engage in a romantic relationship because of her age and because they were related,” says the Times.
The Times’ reporting on the email tells a much more graphic, damning story:
In one email message, Striegel told the girl that there was no one in the world he would rather have sex with. “I will be VERY honest: There’s no question that it’s you. None. Hope that doesn’t totally freak you out, and just because it’s what I want, and what you want, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing.”
In other correspondence, he described his sexual preferences in graphic detail, including his favorite intercourse position and intimate grooming practices.
“EVERY thing you say turns me on!!” he wrote to Doe. “I love that it rocked you when I pulled your hair that time.”
The Times also cites a March 2009 arrest warrant affidavit that accused Striegler of multiple instances of “kissing, touching [Jane] Doe’s breast over her clothing, rubbing her legs and stroking her neck.” Striegel described that claim as “groundless.”
“Nothing supported such a claim, and no charges in that regard were even filed. The only thing I was ever charged with were words in an email,” he said.
Striegler also told the Times that he hoped his crimes would “continue to fade in the past.” Welp, here they are, playing out in the present. You’d think in this climate, Shane Black would have thought twice about this decision and how it could very well impact his film.
Update (5:10 pm ET): After reading the Los Angeles Times story, Shane Black has apologized, telling the Times, “it has sadly become clear to me that I was misled by a friend I really wanted to believe was telling me the truth when he described the circumstances of his conviction.”
“I believe strongly in giving people second chances,” he continued, “but sometimes you discover that chance is not as warranted as you may have hoped.”
...“After learning more about the affidavit, transcripts and additional details surrounding Steve Striegel’s sentence,” Black said, “I am deeply disappointed in myself. I apologize to all of those, past and present, I’ve let down by having Steve around them without giving them a voice in the decision.”