A Minneapolis photographer is charged with raping three women repeatedly over extended periods of time, when he would also beat and keep them captive in his home.
Den-Zell Gilliard, 28, was charged Tuesday with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and false imprisonment in connection with multiple assaults and beatings of one of the women that continued over many months.
Gilliard has at least two other starkly similar cases filed against him earlier this year that collectively allege that he’d been raping the three women from 2016 until September 2019.
Two of the three women were assaulted over some of the same months in late 2018 and early 2019, the charges said. Combined, the charges allege, Gilliard carried out no fewer than 50 sexual assaults and possibly more than 70.
Court documents also say he took sexually explicit images of all the women and shared some of them on the internet and elsewhere as part of his desire to control them. A law enforcement search of Gilliard’s home in February turned up several pieces of evidence supporting the women’s allegations of physical abuse.
Gilliard remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail before a court appearance Monday. A message was left with his attorney seeking a response to the allegations.
Gilliard is an up-and-coming photographer, having been mentored by McKnight award-winning Twin Cities photographers Wing Young Huie and Inna Valin.
Gilliard’s photography was included in a Gordon Parks/Jamel Shabazz exhibit that opened in January at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Gilliard was scheduled in April to appear at the museum to discuss Parks’ influence on his career.
A spokeswoman said the museum had removed all social media references to Gilliard in light of the charges.
Gilliard used his background in photography to lure in at least one of the women, according to the charges.
Prosecutors allege that Gilliard victimized the women at his home in the 4000 block of S. Oakland Avenue in much the same pattern using intimidation, blackmail, captivity and threats to their lives and reputations over many months.
The case filed Monday came after the woman told an investigator last month that Gilliard had been raping her starting in spring 2016 until summer 2017.
According to the complaint:
The woman said Gilliard contacted her saying he was interested in taking photos for her website. They soon started a romantic relationship, and Gilliard soon started pressuring her into sex, the complaint read.
At one point, Gilliard photographed the woman and then used the images to “intimidate and blackmail” her.
By summer and fall 2016, Gilliard became increasingly violent. He would throw things at her and destroy the woman’s cellphone and computer in “fits of rage.” He once punched her in the face and squeezed her neck either with his hands or a leather belt on at least three occasions. She said Gilliard committed 10 to 20 “forcible rapes” over the course of their relationship and threatened the lives of her and her family.
Gilliard controlled the woman’s movements by removing interior doorknobs in the home, preventing her from leaving without his approval.
The woman broke up with Gilliard in June 2017 but he assaulted her twice more over the next month.
Prosecutors say that another of the women told investigators that Gilliard had sexually assaulted her 40 to 50 times. Two friends of the woman broke a window in Gilliard’s home and rescued her from captivity.
All three of the women went to court seeking an order for protection from Gilliard at one time or another.
Gilliard hunted down one of the women at her job at the Mall of America in May 2019, when he refused to turn over her car and called her 49 times while she was at work, according to separate felony charges.
Police arrived, prompting Gilliard to speed away as the officers pursued, the charges continued. Gilliard soon stopped in a parking lot off mall property and was arrested. The officers reported seeing the woman’s phone number “keyed” on the exterior and a disparaging word written on the dashboard, according to the complaint.
The County Attorney’s Office said in a statement that it “appreciates the hard work conducted by law enforcement and investigators on these cases,” but declined to comment further.