“Unbelievable” tells the story of a Lynnwood teenager charged with lying about being raped. (Beth Dubber / Netflix)

“Unbelievable” tells the story of a Lynnwood teenager charged with lying about being raped. (Beth Dubber / Netflix)

Lynnwood police chief reflects on ‘Unbelievable’ rape case

In a letter, the chief calls the investigation unacceptable, and highlights progress since then.

LYNNWOOD — A new Netflix series about a Lynnwood teen’s rape, and detectives’ reluctance to believe her, has caused the city’s police chief to pause and reflect.

In a two-page letter released Thursday, Lynnwood Police Chief Tom Davis called the eight-episode show “impactful and thought-provoking,” and the circumstances of the sexual assault horrendous.

“Quite simply, there is no acceptable explanation for what occurred at that time,” he wrote.

“Unbelievable” recounts the true story of how the teenager reported to Lynnwood police in 2008 that she was raped at knifepoint by a masked intruder in her apartment — and how she later retracted her claim under pressure from male investigators and even her foster mothers, who suggested she made up the story for attention.

The girl was charged and then convicted of false reporting. A judge ordered her to pay $500 and undergo mental health counseling.

It would be another three years before her rapist, Marc Patrick O’Leary, was arrested in Colorado for attacking four more women. He was sentenced to 325 years in prison for the Colorado assaults. Then, in 2012, he was sentenced to 28 years for raping the Lynnwood woman and another woman in Kirkland.

The Lynnwood woman filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Lynnwood, which ended in 2014 with a $150,000 settlement.

Davis wasn’t chief of police when the rape was first reported, nor when her rapist was arrested in 2011, but, he wrote, “I am no less distressed by the decisions and circumstances from 11 years ago that undoubtedly caused additional harm to the victim.”

Lynnwood Police Chief Tom Davis (Lynnwood Police Department)

Lynnwood Police Chief Tom Davis (Lynnwood Police Department)

The show caused Davis to think about how the department has evolved since. After O’Leary’s arrest, and detectives’ realization they were wrong, the former police chief, Steve Jensen, had an outside team conduct a review of how police handled the Lynnwood woman’s rape, as well as the department’s general approach to sexual assault investigations.

As a result, the department adopted a victim-centered investigative philosophy and now provides additional training to detectives and patrol staff for sexual assault investigations, Davis wrote. The department also employs a full-time coordinator who works directly with crime victims.

Davis declined to elaborate on his thoughts or the departmental changes beyond what he wrote in his letter.

The state, too, has taken steps. In 2017 the Legislature passed a law mandating that every officer who regularly conducts sexual assault investigations take part in trainings, focused on how to work with rape survivors.

In response, the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission developed a 24-hour course training officers “to recognize and apply a trauma-informed, victim-centered lens and approach to sexual assault investigations,” offered to departments throughout the state.

By July 2020, every officer who regularly conducts sexual assault investigations will have taken part in the training, according to the state law.

“While officers are already well trained in conducting sensitive investigations, working with people who experienced psychological trauma requires a special approach,” said Jen Wallace, program manager for sexual assault investigations.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

More in Local News

Some old Snohomish County road names are rural vestiges

Roads with names aren’t uncommon. Some of the older ones’ namesakes are legacies of local history.

Oh, about that financial aid state lawmakers promised …

It’s Day 9 of 60 of the 2020 session of the Washington Legislature in Olympia.

Bite-sized solar powers programs at two local nonprofits

Solar energy panels in Arlington will generate savings for organizations in Everett and Stanwood.

Straight-shooting fire chief retires after 40 years

District 7’s Gary Meek was respected for leading, listening and having a great mustache.

Fixing cars, drumming with a rock icon, living with dyslexia

Jack Tutt once traded a drum set for a Ford Bronco. He also hung out with the drummer from Heart.

Front Porch

EVENTS Friends of Edmonds Library meeting The Friends of the Edmonds Library… Continue reading

No more ‘black boxes’ in patrol cars, new sheriff says

The tech was meant to promote traffic safety. Sheriff Adam Fortney said he trusts his deputies.

Sheriff reinstates deputy who was fired over fatal shooting

Sheriff Adam Fortney said his predecessor erred when he concluded Deputy Art Wallin violated policy.

Martin Luther King’s spirit of service, selflessness still needed

A celebration of the Civil Rights leader’s legacy and life reflected on past and present struggles.

Most Read