Christian Slater, Starring in an Unscheduled Courtroom Drama

Broadly speaking, Hollywood performers churn out two types of entertainment: the kind that appears on film and often earns the actor money, and the kind that takes place off screen, is free for public consumption but is often costly to the performer, both financially and psychically. Christian Slater, the movie star who currently appears on Broadway in "The Glass Menagerie," is a prodigious producer of both.

Mr. Slater, 35, has been handsomely rewarded for his roles in more than three-dozen films, including "True Romance" and "Untamed Heart," and has suffered grandly for his repertory of public dramas: violent tussles with a Los Angeles police officer, his wife at the time and a stalker in London, as well as a dustup in 1994 when he inadvertently tried to carry a handgun onto a plane.

Yesterday, Mr. Slater was again back in the public eye, this time for what prosecutors describe as a wanton brush with a stranger who was patronizing an Upper East Side deli around the same time Mr. Slater and his girlfriend were having an argument. The victim told the police that she was groped by Mr. Slater, who was arrested, charged with sexual abuse and forced to spend a night behind bars, according to law enforcement officials.

Mr. Slater's publicist, Evelyn Karamanos, said she believed that the entire matter was a result of a "misunderstanding."

As for the public, the denouement would take place at the hulking courthouse at 100 Centre Street, where several dozen news photographers and entertainment reporters in pancake makeup waited for Mr. Slater's arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court. A few had been awaiting Mr. Slater's appearance since the night before, and the anxiety level was high.

For some, the expected payoff would be a shot of Mr. Slater walking out of the courthouse. For others, it was a courtroom witticism or memorable flourish. For Elena Bisordi, an associate producer on Fox's "A Current Affair," "the big story is the other woman."

Vanessa Puzio, an assistant district attorney, provided the narrative to a courtroom audience that included a gaggle of curious prosecutors, an unusual number of court officers whispering and pointing and an irritated judge. For the record, Mr. Slater wore a powder blue polo shirt in court under a khaki jacket, a pair of blue jeans and a black baseball cap. He was not, contrary to some news reports, visibly drunk.

At just before 2 a.m. yesterday, Ms. Puzio said, Mr. Slater was outside a deli on Third Avenue at 94th Street, arguing first with a cabdriver and then with his girlfriend. In the midst of the quarrel with his girlfriend, Mr. Slater spotted the victim, who had just bought a soda, and "grabbed and squeezed her buttocks," Ms. Puzio said. Mr. Slater's girlfriend, whom prosecutors declined to name, shouted at him to stop, and he complied, but the victim called 911, and Mr. Slater was arrested a few blocks away, Ms. Puzio said, by a police officer who described his reaction as being: "I didn't do anything. I'm suing you. I'm suing the Police Department. I'm suing everybody."

In court, Mr. Slater said nothing beyond "not guilty," and Judge Patricia M. Nuñez ordered him released on $1,000 bail, meaning that he would make his 8 p.m. curtain. One bit of drama remained: Where, exactly, would Mr. Slater take his leave from the courthouse and satisfy the public's need for closure, or perhaps give them a picture of him shielding his face from the cameras?

With three potential exits, the media contingent was forced to jog around the block-long building like participants in a game of musical chairs. When Mr. Slater finally appeared out of a garage door out back, the tussling was so fierce that Christina Torres, a producer for the show "Xtra," lost her white leather sandal. Rather than duck into his waiting Town Car with a scowl, Mr. Slater reached down to pick up the sandal, handed it back to its owner and produced a crowd-pleasing smile.

Mr. Slater is scheduled to make another court appearance on July 14.