By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — The victim of a serial rapist is now suing the Lynnwood police detectives who once accused her of lying about being sexually assaulted.
The woman alleges that police bullied her into recanting her story despite physical evidence supporting her report that she was tied up, threatened with a knife and attacked inside her Lynnwood apartment on Aug. 11, 2008.
The woman, then 18, was charged with false reporting. She eventually pleaded guilty and was ordered to undergo mental health counseling and pay a $500 fine.
Lynnwood police detectives, however, reopened the rape investigation in 2011 after they were contacted by police in Colorado who had discovered pictures of the Lynnwood woman and a photograph of her identification card among evidence seized during their investigation into serial rapist Marc O’Leary.
“We were wrong. Everybody feels terrible about it,” Lynnwood Police Chief Steve Jensen told The Herald in 2011. “We take sexual assaults very seriously. Our investigators always get charged up to get the bad guys in these cases.”
At the time, Jensen also explained that doubts were raised because the woman’s story had changed and details she provided were inconsistent. Her foster mother and friend were also skeptical about the woman’s story, court papers said.
“Suffice it to say, certain pieces of information just led investigators to the wrong conclusion,” Lynnwood police Cmdr. Steve Rider told The Herald in 2011.
Police on Tuesday referred questions to their attorney.
O’Leary later admitted to raping the Lynnwood teenager and a Kirkland woman within two months of each other. The former Mountlake Terrace man snuck into their homes, bound their hands and gagged them. He repeatedly sexually assaulted the terrified women, snapped photographs of them and threatened to post those on the Internet if they reported the assaults to police.
He was identified as a suspect in the Washington attacks after he was arrested by Colorado detectives for a series of sexual assaults there.
Detectives found the name of the Kirkland woman linked to an encrypted file on O’Leary’s computer. Later, lab results showed his DNA matched genetic evidence collected from the shoelace used to bind the Kirkland woman’s hands.
Colorado investigators searching his home also found hundreds of images documenting rapes. Among the photographs were pictures of the Lynnwood teen. One photograph showed the woman’s identification card placed on her bare chest.
Last year, O’Leary was sentenced to more than 28 years for raping the Lynnwood woman and another 40 years for the Kirkland attack. He already was serving a 327-year sentence for the Colorado rapes.
At the sentencing, the prosecutor told the judge that the Lynnwood woman never again wants to be in the same room as O’Leary.
“He crushed her dignity and sense of security and belief in the goodness of people,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Adam Cornell said at last year’s hearing.
During that same hearing, O’Leary’s attorney took a rhetorical swing at the cops, saying that the victim likely suffered additional psychological damage at the hands of the police officers who accused her of lying.
“I also hope the Lynnwood Police Department is held accountable,” public defender Rachel Forde said.
Last week, the Lynnwood woman filed a federal lawsuit in Seattle, alleging that the police failed her, unlawfully arrested her and violated her civil rights. The woman, who is only identified by the initials “D.M.” in court papers, also alleges that police were negligent and caused her extreme distress. Jensen is named in the lawsuit along with the two detectives, Jeff Mason and Jerry Ritgarn.
Jensen declined to comment on Tuesday. He referred questions to Lynnwood’s attorney.
“The city is aware of the lawsuit and we don’t comment on pending litigation,” Seattle attorney Thomas Miller said.
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Everett-based nonprofit youth advocacy agency, Cocoon House, and two of its former employees, Jana Hamilton and Wayne Nash.
Cocoon House was a subcontractor for a pilot project in which the woman was enrolled. The program provided social services to young people no longer eligible for the state’s foster care system. The woman was living on her own in a privately leased apartment but was receiving case management services from Cocoon House.
The agency’s CEO Cassie Franklin issued a statement Tuesday, saying that officials there “strongly believe that Cocoon House and its employees acted appropriately on behalf of the client.”
“Our heart is certainly with this young woman,” Franklin added.
The lawsuit alleges that the woman reported the rape to Lynnwood police and provided them a written statement about what happened. Police officers made observations and collected evidence that supported the woman’s story, according to the lawsuit. A police officer noted red marks on the woman’s wrists where they had been bound with shoelaces. A doctor noted abrasions to her genitals.
The lawsuit alleges, however, that police focused on conversations that they had with the woman’s foster mother, a friend and an anonymous caller. These people doubted the woman’s story and suggested that maybe she made up the rape.
“Their opinions had no factual basis. They were based solely on speculation and conjecture. Yet, (Mason and Ritgarn) seized on these unfounded speculations and conjecture as ‘fact.’ They ignored all the objective evidence collected by Lynnwood Police Department and Providence Hospital on the day of the rape that corroborated the rape,” Seattle attorney H. Richmond Fisher wrote.
The lawsuit alleges that the detectives pressured the woman to recant her story. They confronted her with inconsistencies in her story, including who and when she called after the attack.
The officers also told her that if she failed a lie detector test that she would lose her housing, according to the lawsuit.
The woman later met with her Cocoon House case manager and the agency’s director. She reportedly insisted that she had been raped and wanted to return to the police department and take back her statement that she hadn’t been assaulted, according to the lawsuit. She told them she recanted her original story under duress, the lawsuit said. She said she wanted to get a lawyer because the police didn’t believe her.
The lawsuit alleges that the Cocoon House employees did nothing to help the woman get a lawyer. Instead they reportedly told the woman if she lied to police she would be removed from the program. The lawsuit alleges that they also forced they woman to tell the other program participants that she made up the story about being raped and had filed a false report.
The woman was forced to undergo mental health counseling to remain in the program, according to the lawsuit.
The woman eventually wrote that she may have dreamed she was raped, police reports said.
Later, city prosecutors charged her with false reporting. She was represented by a public defender and eventually pleaded guilty in Lynnwood Municipal Court. A judge granted her a deferred sentence and she was ordered to get counseling and pay a fine. The charge was dismissed in 2010 once she met all the conditions of her sentence.
Her record has since been expunged and the fine refunded.
Lynnwood police have since received additional training about sexual assault investigations.
“We’re doing our best to make it right,” Jensen said in 2011.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.