What Briscoe launched as a light romantic drama has become a serious legal one, with allegations of slander and harassment both by and against her.
The 39-year-old, whose legal name is Crystal Nicole Briscoe, has gathered thousands of followers on TikTok as she chronicles her attempts to find love as a recent D.C.-area transplant. Gradually, she has focused less on the men she’s seeing and more on a group of Arlingtonians, including two local bartenders, who she says made demeaning comments about her and shared her personal information in a large group text chat.
The bartenders say Briscoe was the one stoking harassment with inaccurate videos watched by hundreds of thousands of people. People on both sides of the dispute, which largely played out on social media, said it led to anonymous messages that left them frightened.
One of the bartenders has twice gone to Arlington County General District Court and secured restraining orders barring Briscoe from referencing her on social media, saying the TikTok videos spurred a wave of insults online and by phone that led her to flee her apartment and send her son to his father.
A judge dismissed the protective order Wednesday, and two legal experts said such blanket bans on speech violate the U.S. Constitution. Yet Briscoe, who has filed her own police report, could still be guilty of a misdemeanor, in a case that shows how social media disputes can run out of control and into the First Amendment.
It started with a date that wasn’t.
Briscoe says that earlier this summer she was stood up by a local chef and then rescued by a male bartender who bought her drinks — a saga she relayed to her fans first with excitement and then through tears.
She said on TikTok that someone showed her a group text chat that led her to believe the entire incident was staged to mock her. Members of the text chain called her a whore and endorsed violence against her; one posted a video of her biking home and the name Crystal, which she said she had not shared.
“That’s when this all became scary,” she said in one TikTok video.
In an interview, Briscoe said she learned of the texts when a member of the group showed her parts of the conversation, which Briscoe took a screenshot of and shared with The Washington Post. She said the bartender who had joined her for drinks appeared in the text group, along with a female bartender at another local bar she patronized.
Briscoe has made claims on TikTok that she concedes she cannot substantiate, including that the two bartenders and their bars were behind a wave of offensive comments on her page and that one of them gleaned her address from her credit card to file the first protective order. That order initially listed Briscoe’s address as “unknown.”
While at first she was vague in her videos, eventually she shared the bartenders’ first names — Charlotte and Nic — and their workplaces. Both establishments were flooded with negative reviews on Google and Yelp, referencing harassment against women. And both bartenders say they personally got nasty messages.
“I’m terrified,” the bartender who sought the protective orders testified in court Wednesday as she asked for the second order to be extended. “I’m not sleeping. I’m not eating. I haven’t slept in days. I’m suffering, my hair’s falling out.” She said she had left her apartment and sent her son to stay with his father.
She acknowledged in court that there had been no direct threats from Briscoe or anyone else. A judge dismissed her petition, saying there was no basis for it.
Protective orders “can only be issued if there is evidence of an act of violence, force or a threat to make such an act,” Judge Richard J. McCue said. “There has not been any evidence that supports that.”
The woman did not provide further comment to The Post, which agreed not to identify her because of her safety concerns.
Nicholas Grey, the other bartender Briscoe accused, said he got more than 100 obnoxious calls at his bar the night Briscoe was arrested.
“I’m fearful for who is going to come in,” he said. “This is going to get crazy.”
It was Grey who Briscoe accused of taking her out with the intention of humiliating her, a charge he denies. It was just a casual get-together, he insists, that he offered to pay for because he gets a discount at the bar where he works. He barely uses social media, he added, and had no role in any anonymous comments.
“I’m none of the things she says I am,” he said.
While “some derogatory things were said about Ms. Briscoe” in the group chat, Grey acknowledged, “the only time her location was ever discussed was for people to avoid her. Whether right or wrong, that’s what it was. She’s trouble.”
The female bartender likewise admitted taking a video of Briscoe biking and sharing it with the text group, but she said it was to warn other bars that Briscoe might be coming.
Briscoe says she never behaved inappropriately at any bar and insists that she is the victim. She was the first to go to authorities, filing a police report on July 19.
“I fear for my safety,” she wrote in the report. “I no longer feel safe in my neighborhood.”
The next day, Briscoe said, she was served by four police officers at 4 a.m. with a protective order mandating that she “not discuss” the female bartender “or related matters on social media.”
She stayed off TikTok for three days. When she came back, she told her followers that the dispute was behind her absence. If anyone had guessed someone from the group chat “filed a restraining order against me . . . you would be correct,” she said.
Up to that point, she had not named any establishment and had used only the bartenders’ first names. She said that her followers convinced her that if she really felt the bars were dangerous she should warn others, and that she no longer trusted the police because the female bartender had described her boyfriend as an Arlington cop.
She named the bars where Grey and the female bartender work and added, “Don’t support these places; they’re garbage people.”
Both establishments were flooded with negative reviews on Google and Yelp, referencing harassment against women.
The next morning, this time at 5 a.m., police officers appeared at Briscoe’s door with a new restraining order. She told them to wait outside, then brushed her teeth and posted another video naming the female bartender and the bar where she worked.
“In retrospect, not the right decision,” she said in an interview. But in the moment, she said, she couldn’t believe she could be put in jail for something so “ridiculous.”
Less than an hour later, she was. The police were “really unkind,” she said in the interview; “it was a horrible experience.”
A spokeswoman for the Arlington police said there was no record that Briscoe had made a complaint about the circumstances of her arrest.
During her three hours in jail, Briscoe appeared by video before a magistrate who told her she could go to prison if she kept violating the order.
“I said, ‘Really? For making a TikTok?’ ”
Yes and no, says Eugene Volokh, a legal scholar at UCLA who has been tracking these kinds of protective orders.
“An order that says ‘stop talking about this person’ is unconstitutional, no matter who you are,” he said. Yet he has identified more than 200 such injunctions, which are often hard to find because they are not available on searchable databases.
The bartenders could seek a protective order to stop direct threats, he said, but not negative commentary. If she’s making false accusations, he said, they could sue Briscoe for libel, but even if they won at trial they might not be able to bar her from making similar statements.
“While speech to someone might, in certain circumstances, properly be deemed harassment if it is unwanted, the same doesn’t hold true for speech about someone, even if it’s unwanted,” Vera Eidelman, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed in an email. “And that’s for good reason: any number of people — from racist cops to corrupt politicians to too-busy parents — might want to silence speech about them, especially if it’s critical, but the Constitution doesn’t allow that outside of very specific, narrow circumstances.”
Briscoe said she tried to get a protective order herself and was denied.
Even though the judge dismissed the order against her, Briscoe is still facing a misdemeanor charge for violating it. Called to the stand Wednesday, she invoked her right to remain silent, on the advice of her attorney.
“I need a glass of wine and a nap,” she told her followers after court.
She has another hearing in September.