On Monday's episode of The Bachelorette, contestant Brad McKinzie, 27, took Desiree Hartsock aside to tell her that he had once been arrested for domestic violence, a charge accompanied by a subsequent restraining order, after a fight with his then-girlfriend, Brittnee Nelson (with whom he later had a son).
Here's how McKinizie, an accountant and DJ from Colorado, put it to Hartsock:
"It was a bad relationship between her and I. She had some drinking problems. There was one night where she was drinking and she stole my keys, got in my car, was trying to leave, and I was trying to stop her or whatever. The next thing I know, the cops, they were arresting me for domestic violence. There was a restraining order, because that comes automatically with a domestic violence charge. I fought it, and it was dismissed, thankfully."
McKinzie told her about his son, and concluded by saying, "I just want you to know that I'm here to find love. And I'm putting all that aside, and leaving a lot behind."
To which Hartsock responded: "That means so much to me."
At the episode's conclusion, Hartsock gave McKinzie a rose, and viewers will see him again on Monday as he continues in the competition.
How would a man who has been arrested for domestic violence get cast on a dating reality show? And not just any dating reality show: the most successful one of all, broadcast on ABC and produced by Warner Bros. TV.
After all, reality shows have a fraught relationship with confrontation and fighting that has often tipped into morally horrifying territory. And dating shows in particular have an unseemly history with domestic violence. After the Feb. 15, 2000, broadcast of one of the first reality-dating experiments, Fox's Who Wants to Marry Multi-Millionaire?, The Smoking Gun revealed that the supposed multi-millionaire, Rick Rockwell, had a violent past with an ex-fiancée who had gotten a restraining order against him for repeatedly hitting her. In 2009, VH1 faced a nightmare scenario with its Megan Wants a Millionaire show when one of the finalists, Ryan Jenkins, murdered his wife just as the show began airing, and soon after, committed suicide while on the run from police. And then there's "The Dating Game Killer," Rodney Alcala, currently on death row for multiple rapes and murders, who appeared on a 1978 episode of The Dating Game.
ABC referred me to Warner Bros., which would not comment. But a source close to the show said, "We did know about the charges. The case was in fact dismissed."
A story in this week's National Enquirer contradicts McKinzie's account, saying that according to court documents, McKinzie hit his girlfriend in the face, "making her nose bleed, then pushed her down, breaking several of her fingernails." The reporter did not respond to an email requesting an interview. Douglas County, Colorado, where the arrest and legal proceedings took place, could not immediately send me the court documents. I sent a Facebook message to McKinzie's ex-girlfriend and she has not responded.
I did obtain some of the court documents secondhand. The fight and arrest took place in Sept. 2009, and the charge was dismissed in Aug. 2010. The order of protection from the night of the arrest states, "They were having a verbal argument and pushed Nelson to the ground causing Nelson's nose to bleed. Nelson stated that this caused her pain." In a document dated 13 days later asking that the restraining order be dropped, Nelson wrote, "I was intoxicated and he was just trying to keep me from driving. Things got blown completely out of proportion, cops should never have been called by neighbors, and I neither need nor want a restraining order."
When pressed about why The Bachelorette would ever cast someone with any taint of domestic violence around him, the show source said, "It's circumstantial. We felt OK moving forward with it." And added: "We did not try to hide this — we insisted he address this in show."
Through Twitter, I got in touch with McKinzie, who agreed to talk with me.
I was surprised to see Monday's episode, and I think a lot of people were. The National Enquirer story is different from what you said on the show. It seems like your ex-girlfriend, at least initially, told a story that was different from what you told Desiree.
Brad McKinzie: Right.
Tell me about that.
BM: Basically, what happened that night is how I explained it on the show. She was drunk, we had an argument, and she was trying to leave in my car. There was actually another friend of ours that was there. We weren't going to let her drive. She was past the point of — not just a few drinks. She couldn't talk. Incoherent. Stuff like that. Nobody should get on the road like that. Basically, our neighbors, their window is right where the car was. They heard us arguing and called the cops. And so when the cops got there, she was so mad at me, so she said that I had pushed her and all this other stuff. They decided to arrest me.
You didn't punch her in the face.
BM: No. And that's a total false accusation. That's not what the police records say.
She didn't say that night or ever that you had hit her before?
BM: No, no, absolutely not. And that night after she had said all that and I got arrested, the next day, she immediately regretted it and was, like, "No, no, I overreacted, this didn't happen." Once I was already arrested, they don't let the victim come in and say, "That didn't happen." Because they are afraid that they're doing it because they're scared or something like that. At that point, it's just me against the state of Colorado. With domestic violence, I automatically had the restraining order. That was immediately dropped within a couple of days. She went in to court and said, "This didn't happen." And they removed that. At that point, I still had to fight the charges against the state of Colorado.
How long did that take?
BM: The whole process took almost a year.
At what stage of your relationship with her did this happen? You have a son with her. Was she pregnant, about to be pregnant, was your son born already?
BM: She wasn't pregnant. I said on the show that happened about three and a half years ago, and my son is turning 3 this month. But I was just throwing out a date. It happened around four years ago, maybe. It was before she was pregnant.
OK. So this didn't cause you to break up.
BM: No. Unfortunately, we stayed together. It's one of those things where you're like — we were in a relationship, I loved her, after that we had a child. Things kept happening and you keep forgiving. It was a relationship that should have ended at that point, that's for sure.
Were you and your girlfriend together when your son was born?
BM: Yeah. We were together until he was about 1.
And you now have sole custody of your son.
BM: Yeah. We never went to court. She just basically decided that it was a better scenario that he live with me. He lives with me now, and she moved to Dallas. We didn't go to court, but it's an agreement between us.
So let's cut to you applying to be on The Bachelorette.
BM: A good friend of mine, his wife was like, "I'm gonna make you be on The Bachelorette." I was, like, "Oh, yeah, whatever." She did. A week later, they emailed me the application, and I just kind of took it from there. They thought I would be a good fit for The Bachelorette, so I was like, "Sure, I'll do it."
Did you tell them about the domestic violence right away?
BM: Yeah, on the questionnaire, they ask, "Have you ever been arrested?" and blah blah blah. I don't feel like I have anything to hide from it. Right off the bat, I was, like, "Yeah, I have, and this is what happened." They actually did get the court documents. I don't think they would allow somebody on the show who, like the Enquirer thing said, punched somebody in the face.
So you knew as this was going on that they were vetting you and making sure you were telling the truth.
BM: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Then you got cast. Did they tell you you had to address the issue on camera?
BM: They never, like, say anything. It's one of those things with The Bachelorette — you have to move fast, you're trying to build a relationship in those few moments that you have. In real life, if I was dating someone, I wouldn't come off the bat and say, "Hey, this happened." But because I was there with other guys, if that was going to be an issue, I wanted to let her know. So that way she could make a decision.
Talking about this on camera is a big risk for you in your life. It's not like the guy who told her, "I have type 1 diabetes."
BM: Yeah. I know what happened. Everyone else knows what happened. I don't have anything to hide from it. At the same time, I feel like, as I was saying before, it's such a fast-moving process, I wanted to get it out there to her so that way she could make a decision on me. Because even though everything was dropped, that still is there: I was arrested for domestic violence. It's ridiculous. But that could be a make-or-break sometimes.
Were you then surprised to get a rose after that? Because she could have said, "I have to make a decision based on criteria, and someone who was arrested for domestic violence goes in the negative column."
BM: Since everything was dropped, I guess maybe she could look at it, like, "Sometimes things happen — obviously, it went through the court system and it was dropped." I was looking at it, like, "Well, hopefully, she sees that I was telling the truth." But at the same time, there's what you just said: "Why would I keep this guy around?" I was a little bit nervous.
You seem nice on the show, you seem nice as we talk. But that means little. I don't understand why the show took a chance with you. The show would end — forever — if something bad happened.
BM: Yeah, like I said, they got all the court documents, they talked to me numerous times about it. I think they probably had an overall agreement that they believed me, they believed what they saw from the court — and they thought I was a nice guy as well.
If it weren't you this had happened to, if it were one of the other guys in the house, or if you were watching the show, what do you think about having someone on a dating show who was charged with domestic violence?
BM: It's definitely a questionable decision. But at the same time, it went through the process. I was arrested for that, but everything was dismissed for a reason.
I have no idea what's going to happen with the show, but how does it end up for you?
BM: I can't really say. But overall, it was a good experience.