An Apology — What Happened in Vail

Stephen Hays
Mar 8, 2018 · 8 min read

Earlier today, a story was published about an incident that took place in Vail, CO in January 2017. The story alleges that I attempted to (or at first erroneously reported that I) assaulted a woman and then extorted my friend. Given that I’m challenging this case in a civil suit, I’ve been advised by my lawyers to not share any details of the evening.

That said, I feel strongly that the article misrepresented the events of the night and believe that I owe it to my family, my partners, and all of my friends in the esports and VC communities to share my story — even if I can only mention a few details.

But First an Apology

I’d like to start by apologizing to my friends, family, partners, and portfolio founders. Many of you have known about this incident for a while, and I can’t thank you enough for all of your support. I’m incredibly blessed to have such wonderful people in my life who stood by me when they didn’t have to. At the same time, I’m also really sorry. I know some of you are fielding uncomfortable and distracting questions, and I know this isn’t the sort of attention any of you want. So thank you, and I’m sorry.

I’d also like to say that I feel very sad that the woman in question got hurt. Of course, this has become an acrimonious dispute with a lot of “he said, she said” and “he said, he said”, but at the end of the day she did get hurt, and it clearly turned out to be a terrible night for everybody involved. Even though I am writing this post to share my side, I do wish everyone involved the best and have no hard feelings toward them at all.

Now, for My Story

I’d like to begin by getting this part out of the way: I did many things wrong that night, but assault was not one of them.

In fact, it was the opposite — the woman in question, Shelby Spears from San Antonio , TX) physically and sexually assaulted me multiple times, and my response throughout was to be completely non-physical.

Instead of writing out my case, I just want to show you the videos, so you can see for yourself. I won’t editorialize, I’ll just describe the facts that you can see happening in the security footage, which shows the assault very clearly.

Video 1: This video is from the security footage taken in the hallway after we left the bar and shows the woman physically and sexually assaulting me. It starts by showing that the woman is trying to jump into my arms and I pull back. When I tried to pull away and create distance, she started to punch me. You can see in the video that I even pointed out the security camera in an attempt to make her stop. Her response to this was to look directly at the camera, pull down her shirt, and show her bare breasts to the security camera. She then turned back to me and hit me in the head. We were starting to walk out of frame, so I backed up to make sure we were in the sight of the camera.

Then things escalated further. In the video, you can see she ran back over to me and lifted up my shirt to expose my chest to the camera. I kept trying to pull my shirt down and point out the camera, which is when she grabbed my penis over my pants. At no point was I physically reactive towards her. I was just trying to get away so that she would stop.

Video 2: This video is from the security footage taken as we were leaving the hallway and shows the woman, Shelby Spears, continuing to physically assault me. This video shows I am walking ahead through the door and the woman grabs my collar from behind me pulling me over to the side of the wall. It then shows her moving to my front and trying to lift up my shirt again. At this point, there were some bystanders who started watching and obscured part of the camera, but you clearly see that she continued to pull my collar down and that she also kicked me while we were on the stairs. She then started walking up the stairs. I waited a moment to get some distance, then started walking up myself. Again, I was in no way physically reactive to her. Again, I was trying to create separation between us as to make this stop.

Video 3: This video was taken on my phone and shows the woman, Shelby Spears physically assaulting me again. When we got outside, I didn’t see any security cameras and so I started recording on my phone. I told my friend and the woman that I was recording the video in case I needed it as evidence in a lawsuit. The video shows her hitting me in the head again and then kicking me again. My friend tells her to stop kicking me and tries to get her to go to east Vail. I was verbally insulting towards her at this point, which I’m embarrassed about, but once again I was in no way physical with her.

A few people have asked why the reporter didn’t include these earlier videos in the article as well as the 4th video that was included. Honestly, I don’t know why these three videos were left out. The reporters I spoke with definitely have copies of everything, and everyone who has seen the videos so far has been shocked.

My goal with sharing the videos is not to embarrass the woman or my friend. It’s simply to show everyone the truth — at no point was I in any way physical with the woman. My reaction to her physical and sexual assault was to distance myself and to make sure any abuse was recorded on camera.

Also, it’s important to share that none of the parties went to the police until Monday, four days after the incident, when I was already home in Dallas, to report that there “might” have been an assault (their words exactly). As part of this investigation, the woman also had legal charges levied against her for assault and harassment of me and disorderly conduct. The police report states that the woman does not remember the incident or the time span from being at the bar until being at the hospital. At no point during the the last year does her account of the evening change until the interview for the article.

Separate to this incident, but on the same trip, my friend and I had a difference of opinion and ethical views on several matters, and I shared my knowledge with key external parties that Saturday (the reason for his vendetta). We also got into a text-based argument, but at no point in those texts did I ever ask him or allude to the idea that he shouldn’t talk to the police, rather he and his friend told me I need to keep my mouth shut about them. Those aspects became woven into the investigation and the basis for an attempted extortion charge.

At this point, I would imagine you’re wondering why I took a plea deal in November 2017 when I knew I was innocent and why didn’t I pursue civil litigation against the woman for assault sooner. That’s a fair question and one I have been struggling with myself. Given where we are today, I certainly wish I’d acted differently.

The short answer is that I did it for two reasons. First, it was the advice of my legal team who was concerned that we were unlikely to get a fair trial. There were several horror stories of outsiders getting convicted of things they didn’t do in that jurisdiction, even when the evidence clearly showed their innocence. There are other factors that went into this belief, but I am not going to share them here given the impending litigation. Suffice it to say, this was a very scary prospect and made me feel powerless.

The second reason is personal and honestly where I feel I let everyone down the most. I was emotionally exhausted, my physical health was in trouble, and I just wanted it all to stop. The monthly trips to Colorado were exacerbating some serious blood clot issues, and the animosity had become incredibly draining (again for reasons I cannot share here). I just wanted to move on and to get back to work. In other words, I gave up. I wish now that I hadn’t. Additionally, I was offered the plea deal with about 15 minutes to spare before the hearing where I had to decide to go to trial or take a plea deal. The court system was not interested in justice, but rather winning.

So in November 2017, I accepted a plea agreement and moved forward. In January 2018, the woman in question was successful in having her criminal case dismissed and then filed a civil suit against me. At this same time my former friend began sharing the story with my founders, the venture capital community, and media outlets via email, anonymous tips and phone calls. Several investors and founders have shared these emails with me in recent weeks.

I’d like to clear up another matter here as well: I am not a convicted felon, this was 100% misrepresented in the first version of one article which has since been retracted and updated. I received a deferred sentence which means that judgment was not passed, I was not convicted, and at the end of a probationary period, these charges will be dropped.

So What’s Next?

I’ve decided to defend myself. I’m currently in the midst of filing a complaint against the Eagle County DA’s office on their mishandling of my rights as a victim with respect to the woman’s assault charges. I have also chosen to counter-sue the woman for physical and sexual assault. As a 6’1’ disabled military veteran, I’ll admit that I wasn’t enthusiastic about pursuing this at first, and I really wanted to let it go. However, after discussing it with my wife and friends, we’ve agreed it is the right thing to do in response to her suit against me. I feel that the civil trial is going to be the perfect place for everyone to air the truth, under oath, in front of a jury and during depositions. I believe the civil trial will clear my name as the full story will finally come out.

There are many more details to the case that I wish I could share publicly, but given the legal status, this isn’t the right time. I’ve always believed sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I know eventually the whole truth will come out.

Once again, I would like to apologize to anyone who may have been affected by this and to express my sincere gratitude to all of you who called, emailed, texted, and tweeted with your support today. I’d be happy to share the full saga with you and answer any questions you may have now or after you read any coverage.

    Stephen Hays

    Written by

    Stephen Hays, Founder and Managing Partner at What If Ventures. www.whatif.vc