Copycat Co., a fixture on H Street NE that’s widely considered to be one of the best cocktail bars in the city, has suspended a manager after the owners learned that he’s awaiting trial for a misdemeanor sexual abuse charge stemming from an incident in April 2019.
The bar has removed Robin Miller from his position pending the result of a non-jury trial next year. According to charging documents on file with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Miller, a 32-year-old man, was arrested on October 1, 2019, for allegedly reaching in between a woman’s legs and groping her vagina in view of a witness late at night inside of the Mirror, a downtown speakeasy on K Street NW. The alleged victim’s name was redacted from court documents.
Copycat Co. managing owner Devin Gong says he first learned of the allegations against Miller when Eater reached out to him for comment last week. Miller was arrested in front of Astoria, Copycat’s sibling bar in Dupont Circle, but Gong says members of his team did not share that information with management.
“I’m just shellshocked that this is surfacing now, and I’m not even sure what role I should play in this other than ... suspending him,” Gong said November 6.
On the ensuing Monday, Gong said he had a meeting with his staff in which the company talked through how to treat Miller leading up to his day in court. Gong stressed that whatever action Copycat takes would have to be unanimously approved by the workers, who receive a share of the bar’s profits. Management considered demoting Miller to a non-customer-facing role washing dishes and running food, but at least one staff member felt uncomfortable with that arrangement. Instead, Gong says, Copycat plans to put Miller on paid leave.
Gong says he wants to avoid presuming Miller is guilty before he goes through the legal system. If Miller is exonerated, he could be invited back to the bar. If Miller is convicted, he will be fired.
D.C. courts closed in March because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and Miller’s case has faced several delays. Miller has a status hearing set for February 2, 2021.
Gong says he hired Miller to work in the kitchen at Astoria in July 2019. When the COVID-19 crisis demanded widespread restrictions on bars, Gong says he moved Miller over to Copycat to help out, and Miller has helped run that bar since the staff shrank. A managerial role at a bar of that stature raised Miller’s profile in the bar scene, to the point where he recently appeared as a guest on a national podcast called Shift Drink to talk about his experiences in D.C. bars and restaurants. Miller says on the podcast that he’s also worked at fine dining standard-bearer Fiola Mare, a waterfront Italian restaurant frequented by politicians, and the trendy, Oaxacan-influenced bar at Espita Mezcaleria in Shaw.
Miller pled not guilty to the misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum penaly of 180 days in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000. Miller’s defense attorney, Christopher J. Mutimer, says his client is so adamant about his innocence that he refused to accept a deferred sentencing agreement, a “go-away deal” that would have eventually cleared his record if he pleaded guilty and completed a diversion program.
“Robin is innocent until proven guilty,” Mutimer says. “It’s what makes our country great.”
In an affidavit supporting an arrest warrant, the alleged victim says that around 2 a.m. on the April 2019 night at the Mirror, she was half sitting and half standing on a bar stool and talking to Miller when “he suddenly reached out and roughly rubbed the front of [her] clothed vagina back and forth.”
A witness cited in the affidavit says they were standing directly behind the complainant when they “observed the defendant with his hand between the complainant’s legs making an upward jerking motion toward her vagina.” The witness said the woman appeared visibly upset and heard her say, “that is not okay.” They said in the affidavit that she began to cry after they separated her from Miller.
The witness reported they knew Miller and showed authorities screenshots of a Facebook message exchange alleged to be from Miller following the incident, in which he purportedly apologized but said he “didn’t remember much” from the night the alleged abuse took place.
“Based on what other people have told me since, there is a good chance I did something that I can’t undo and will regret for the rest of my life,” one of the messages reads, according to the affidavit. Another section reportedly says, “I’m so incredibly sorry if I touched her without consent or did anything to make her feel uncomfortable. I feel disgusting and out of control.”
The tone in the messages alleged to be from Miller begins to shift after he says, “I’m sober starting today and will stay this way until I feel I’m back in control.” In the portion copied in the affidavit, the account asks the witness to “either confirm that I did touch her vagina against her consent, or ask her to please redact what she says. … I’m contacting a lawyer in the morning. As well as testimonies [collected] from seven people who were present stating I did nothing she is describing … I did not do it.”