New Orleans mayoral candidate Frank Scurlock is facing a misdemeanor count of lewd conduct in Santa Monica, California, where he is accused of masturbating in an Uber vehicle in February.
Scurlock, whose splashy campaign ads have pledged to “Uberize” the New Orleans Police Department, was allegedly caught masturbating by a driver taking him to a hotel in West Hollywood on Feb. 10, Santa Monica Chief Deputy City Attorney Terry White said.
Also known for billboards showing him in his signature purple top hat and the slogan "Make New Orleans Fun Again," Scurlock said by email Friday afternoon that the charges are "without merit" and that he will be "vindicated" in court.
When first contacted by The New Orleans Advocate on Wednesday and then on Friday morning, Scurlock had said he did not have much information about the charges and declined to comment on the specific allegations.
"I have no idea what I’m being charged with," he said then. "What you just told me is more than I know."
Asked whether he plans to stay in the mayor's race until the Oct. 14 primary, Scurlock told WWL-TV that he will be evaluating his campaign over the next few days.
While the incident occurred in February, formal charges were not filed until Aug. 31. White said the delay resulted in part from questions about who would prosecute the case because the Uber ride crossed multiple jurisdictions.
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Scurlock’s arraignment in Los Angeles County Criminal Court is set for Oct. 16, two days after the primary.
The Uber driver told police and prosecutors she was driving on a freeway near Santa Monica when she heard sounds coming from the back seat, White said Friday, reading from the driver’s statement. Concluding that Scurlock was masturbating, the driver pulled over and opened the door, White said.
When she did, she said, she found Scurlock with his pants around his ankles, his shirt pulled up and his erect penis in his hand.
Asked what happened on the Uber ride, Scurlock said he had no comment.
The driver ordered Scurlock to get out and went into a gas station to call police, according to her statement. While she was inside, Scurlock left the scene. Police ended up going to Scurlock’s hotel, and the driver identified him from a photo lineup, White said.
Lewd conduct is a misdemeanor in California, but if found guilty, Scurlock would be required to register as a sex offender in the state, White said. It was not immediately clear whether he would also have to sign up for Louisiana’s sex offender registry.
Though never making a dent in the polls, Scurlock, 55, has been one of the most colorful candidates in the current election cycle, donning purple top hats and suits in many appearances and suggesting the city has lost some of the spirit that made it a fun destination.
Driving around in extended golf-carts or in an SUV decorated like a space shuttle Scurlock loaned his campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars, pouring the money into unusual strategies alongside more staid tactics like billboards and ubiquitous ads on the Weather Channel during Hurricane Harvey.
The Harvey ads repeated his pledge to "Uberize" the NOPD, a strategy that boils down to dealing with long response times by having dispatchers or a smart phone app give callers an estimate on when police might arrive.
He's also flooded the city with campaign paraphernalia, including containers of Cajun spices with a pledge to "shake the crime out of New Orleans." He has props such as purple brooms and plungers that he brings along with him to events, pledging to clean up City Hall.
More recently, he sent media outlets a press release tied to a purple-painted brick emblazoned with the words "The Anti-Mitch," a slogan aimed at Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
An early entrant into the mayoral race, Scurlock formally announced his campaign in March at the entrance to Armstrong Park as a pair of street performers posed and danced behind him. In addition to references to curbing crime and improving affordable housing and education, the speech detailed his grievances against the Industrial Development Board for dismissing his plan to build an amusement park at the former Six Flags site in New Orleans East.
While Scurlock has often referenced his family's business in both his mayoral candidacy and his bid to redevelop Six Flags, he was bought out of the business by his ex-wife after the divorce and hasn't had any affiliation with the company since 2013.
Few media took much notice of his candidacy at the time, prompting him to announce it again at a series of events on a single day in May.
He has also employed skywriters as part of his campaign and his opposition to Landrieu's efforts to remove four Jim Crow-era monuments, which were taken down in the spring. Scurlock's call to let the monuments remain standing made him a favorite of many of the protesters who shared his stance, though many of those were from out of town.
The protests surrounding the monuments would also find Scurlock landing in trouble with the police.
He was arrested in May while attempting to attract the attention of NOPD officers at the Jefferson Davis statue, which was the site of an ongoing protest by opponents of Landrieu’s plan to remove the four Confederate monuments.
In that incident, which was recorded and posted online, Scurlock can be seen yelling to attract the attention of police officers who were behind a fence surrounding the statue. He said he hoped to get information about the removal from the officers and to tell the cops what he had heard from protesters, but he was ignored.
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He can be seen following a police officer as the officer walks out of the fenced area and repeatedly tells Scurlock not to “walk up on me.” When Scurlock continued to follow him, the officer pushed him against the fence. Several officers then arrested Scurlock.
He was initially booked on obstructing a public place, but was later rebooked on counts of assault and crossing a police cordon. All charges were eventually dropped by the city for lack of evidence.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Sept. 25, 2017, to clarify that Scurlock has not been involved in his family's business for years.