Aggressive Advocates For Your Rights

Officer Held Accountable For False Arrest

It may haven taken time, but for one particular rape victim, she will now have her day in court against a police officer her accused her of falsifying a report about being robbed and raped.

In Reedy v. Evanson, Sara Reedy, a rape victim, was accused of falsifying a police report by one over-zealous Officer, Detective Frank Evanson. 09-2210, (3d Cir. 2010). Evanson suspected Reedy had fabricated her story while working in a Gulf gas station and convenience store in order to hide her own theft of cash. Ultimately, all charges against Reedy were dropped after a serial rapist was captured and confessed to a string of attacks, including the one on Reedy, but not before Reedy was falsely accused of lying, spent 5 days in jail, had to deal with Evanson calling her a liar multiple times and even threatening her family that he will find the proof to convict her so they should get her to admit to lying and the robbery.

On July 14, 2004, Reedy was working alone as a cashier at a Gulf Station when a man came in, sexually assaulted her, robbed the store and then escaped with over $600. She reported the crimes and by the time the night of the assault was over, Reedy had provided separate, detailed, and consistent accounts of the incident to three different times but had been accused by Evanson of being a liar and a thief.

Not only was she called a liar and a thief, but Evanson specifically "asked her how many times she did 'dope' each day, called her a liar and repeatedly accused her of stealing the money from the store." Additionally, he asked Reedy "where she had put the stolen money, to which she responded that she did not know where the money was. When Reedy began to cry under this hostile questioning, Evanson told her not to bother, 'because [your] tears aren't going to save [you] now.'" Evanson even went so far as to, direct the hospital to perform additional toxicology testing on Reedy's blood samples.

Next, Evanson and another detective went to visit Reedy at her home, and had her sign a waiver of her Miranda rights. Once signed, they interrogated her some more and tried to persuade her to change her earlier written statement about the assault. Evanson then presented Reedy with the hospital toxicology report he had specifically asked for without her knowledge and demanded to know why her blood contained illegal substances. She answered him, but also asked him "to leave several times, just leave, leave me alone. [I said] I'm not changing my statement." He however refused and continued to pester her. That was the last meeting between the two before she was charged five months later.

Then, on October 13, 2004, approximately three months after the attack on Reedy, another woman was sexually assaulted and robbed at gunpoint in the same Township, no more than 1.5 miles away from where Reedy was assaulted. That attack was the only other reported sexual assault in the Township that year and was also assigned to Evanson as the lead investigator. It bore several similarities to the attack on Reedy and had DNA evidence linking it to a known serial rapist. At that point, logically, the officer should have released Reedy of any wrongdoing or at least bring her back in to see if the two stories matched in anyway, but Emerson did not.

In January, 2005, Evanson began drafting the Affidavit he would submit with the criminal complaint against Reedy. Evanson sent an initial version of the Affidavit to William Fullerton, an Assistant District Attorney for Butler County, Pennsylvania. Fullerton reviewed the draft and advised Evanson that it was inadequate because it was almost identical to the police report. Further, Fullerton told Emerson to change it and re-submit it. However, the only changes Evanson had made to the Affidavit from the draft was only that he removing portions from the prior draft. A warrant was then put out for Reedy's arrest.

Reedy was notified of the warrant for her arrest and, on January 19, 2005, turned herself in. She was unable to post bond and she spent five days awaiting a bail reduction hearing. Later, in February, Reedy called a State Police tip line that had been set up to obtain information about the serial rapist. She explained that she had been sexually assaulted but had been criminally charged for reporting the assault.

On May 9, 2005, while charges were still pending against Reedy, Evanson was advised by the State Police that Reedy had contacted the task force tip line about the assault at the Gulf Station. Reedy's criminal trial was scheduled to begin on September 19, 2005. On August 22, 2005, Wilbur Brown was apprehended while he was assaulting a female convenience store clerk in Brookville, Pennsylvania. Brown subsequently confessed to both the attack on Reedy and the Landmark attack. On September 1, 2005, the Butler County District Attorney dropped all charges against Reedy.

On August 14, 2006, Reedy filed the suit against Evanson, Assistant District Attorney Fullerton, and a few others. On March 12, 2008, after Butler County, Fullerton, and McCune were dismissed from the suit, Reedy filed an amended complaint16 against Evanson and a couple other defendants containing the following counts:

  • Count 1: Unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, based on the toxicology screening performed on Reedy's blood;
  • Counts 2, 3, and 4: Unlawful seizure, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment, based on Reedy's arrest;
  • Count 5: Harm to liberty interest in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
  • Counts 6 and 7: State law claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and abuse of process;
  • Count 8: A state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

On July 1, 2008, all of the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. On March 31, 2009, the District Court granted the motion for summary judgment and entered final judgment in favor of the defendants and against Reedy on all counts.

However, the Court first held that, when the evidence was viewed in the light most favorable to Reedy, there was sufficient evidence to establish that Evanson knowingly or recklessly included false statements in, and omitted relevant information from, the Affidavit he had filed in support of Reedy's arrest. The Court thus had to "excise the offending inaccuracies and insert the facts recklessly omitted [to] determine whether or not the corrected ... affidavit would establish probable cause."

The Court held that once the Affidavit was corrected, it "provides probable cause to believe ... [that Reedy] committed the crimes ... ." The Court further held that, even if a genuine issue of fact existed as to whether the corrected Affidavit establishes probable cause, Evanson was entitled to qualified immunity because "a jury could not conclude that no reasonably competent officer would find probable cause in this instance." The Court therefore granted Evanson summary judgment on Reedy's unlawful seizure claims. Additionally, the Court granted summary judgment to Evanson on Reedy's emotional distress claim, concluding that Evanson's conduct was not sufficiently "extreme and outrageous" to be a foundation for such a claim. Having lost on all her claims, Reedy filed a timely notice of appeal.

The appellate court heard the case and lambasted Emerson. It eventually held:

  1. The district court erred in granting summary judgment to the detective on plaintiff's Fourth Amendment unlawful seizure claim and her related federal and state law claims, as no reasonably competent officer could have concluded at the time of plaintiff's arrest that there was probable cause for the arrest;
  2. Summary judgment on detective's defense of qualified immunity cannot stand as the availability of the defense must be decided after fact finding by the jury to determine whether the facts as recounted by the detective or by plaintiff are more credible;
  3. The district court erred in granting summary judgment to the detective on plaintiff's unlawful search claim;
  4. The district court's grant of summary judgment as to all claims against the officer and the public safety director are affirmed; and
  5. The district court's grant of summary judgment as to plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, against the officer and the safety director is affirmed.

The crux of the opinion though discussed and debunked many sexist assumptions the police used against Reedy. The first was that victims fight back to the utmost, even with a gun to the head. Clearly, this is not always the case since some victims may freeze up, blame themselves, actually believe the assailant may come back to get them, etc. Next, that victims accept psychological counseling. In this case, Ms. Reedy had already been assaulted and as such felt that she did not need such counseling.

A third was that victims are polite and compliant even when falsely accused and do not use profane slang in describing the obscenities committed upon them. Even the most rational person under the best of circumstances likely does not respond well to being falsely accused when faced with an openly hostile interrogator. Add in the fact that Reedy had just been a victim in a heinous crime, it is understandable that she may not be perfectly compliant nor that she would use the kindest language to describe what happened.

The last debunked theory was that victims are so shattered they could not possibly remember the exact time of the rape. This does not seem based in any logical idea, when one is being raped they may not necessarily black out the experience but instead could remember key facts, such as time, very vividly.

The appellate court finally gave the victim, Ms. Reedy a sense of fairness. Though her case is far from over, she at least now has a real shot and being able to finally obtain justice.

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