Zulu King's sexual assault lawsuit puts krewe in unprecedented position
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A former president and current king was suspended as a member of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Naamen Stewart is accused of cornering a former employee in the women's bathroom at the club back in 2015, asking her to show her breasts before demanding sex from the woman.
Mardi Gras experts say this puts the club in an unprecedented position.
It's a treasured position to sit as king for one of the most prestigious krewes. But in light of a lawsuit alleging sexual assault, that may no longer be the case for the elected 2019 Zulu king.
In Zulu's announcement Thursday, they said Stewart's membership was suspended, but FOX 8 Carnival historian Arthur Hardy said you also have to look at what hasn't been said.
"It depends on how they react to it. There are some legal things about statute of limitations, but there is no statute of limitations in the court of public opinion. There's no model for this, it has never happened. The fact he's suspended, you think he can't ride even. If a member was suspended, they wouldn't be able to ride, but it's curious if that's the case, why didn't they say he can't ride as king?" said Hardy.
According to Hardy, a king has only been removed twice in Zulu history: Once when Louis Armstrong was coming back to town and wanted to be king, and another when the king died shortly before the parade. Hardy believes there will be a natural succession if the club's board of directors meets again and decides to strip Stewart of his kingship: Second-place finisher, 86-year-old George Rainey, would ride as king next year.
"It was such a close and highly-contested election, why do that again? Why not have the second-place finisher do it?" said Hardy.
In addition to the suspension, the club said it will launch an internal investigation, address inappropriate behavior and draft a sexual harassment policy. And as such a prominent krewe, Hardy says this is a good precedent to set.
"Zulu's certainly not endorsing sexual harassment, and so I don't think anyone holds the organization responsible unless this was swept under the rug," said Hardy.
But while the lawsuit and the allegations put the club in a difficult position, even in a Mardi Gras court, Hardy says the king is afforded due process.
"We don't want to prejudge this. What if he's found innocent? I don't think legally Zulu could strip him of his kingship," said Hardy.
Stewart's attorneys have asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.
Zulu did not respond to request for further comment.
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