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.”
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.