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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

When the "Victim" is Lying

How many people have endured the pain of false accusations?

March 21, 2008  |  by - Also by this author

There are those we're dying to arrest, but can't; those that we don't want to arrest, but must; and those we're going to arrest and who have it coming.

Then there are those who haven't done anything wrong—at least not that for which they have been accused—yet who nonetheless find themselves facing the same fate as those who have.

Among them are those falsely accused of battery, molestation, and rape. Those so maligned include fathers, husbands, and occasionally some of our own.

How many people have endured the pain of false accusations?

Who knows?

I like to believe that cops are like most people, perhaps even more so, in their desire to see just outcomes in life. It is that innate desire for fairness that finds our imaginations captivated when we do encounter them, be it the fictional likes of the Count of Monte Cristo, or the all too real example of Atlanta bombing hero-cum-pariah Richard Jewell.

I am reminded of this when I consider the Duke Lacrosse rape case, an ongoing serial too convoluted to be fiction, although the "victim's" fabricated story was the wellspring that gave its genesis. Having already damaged the reputation of the Durham Police Department, this miscarriage of justice may additionally impact the city to the tune of $30 million—not to mention all manner of in-house overhauls.

One of the three men who were falsely accused and are currently suing the department said that the ordeal has caused him to become distrustful of the law enforcement community for the rest of his life.

And that depresses me.

Think about that: He's talking about us.

Normally I am one to shudder at such broadstroking of our profession; yet I could hardly blame him.

For while the self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, parasitic prosecutor, Mike Nifong, bore the brunt of the blame, there was no shortage of others who played a hand in this mess. The usual suspects included the news media, community activists, student protestors, militants, and outraged clergy—all of whom brought their own kindling to the bonfire.

But most pathetically, it also included those who were sworn to protect them.

Of the latter, there were investigators determined to shoehorn in a predetermined and politically motivated outcome. They stayed the course through the "suspect only" photo lineup; the willed denial of the victim's inconsistent descriptions of her "attackers"; the discounting of a second exotic dancer's statements that refuted those of the victim; the victim's own vacillating version of events; her history of having made prior allegations against three men; the absence of implicating DNA or corroborating physical injuries; and abdicating control of the investigation to D.A. Nifong. And for all this, they not only went over the line, but over the edge and into a freefall.

What was it that saw so many in the criminal justice system hauling ass lemming-like for that same damning precipice? Why did so many co-sign her B.S.?

Was it a desire to accommodate the alleged victim, a woman possessing the temperate nature of Rosie O'Donnell, the lucidity of Britney Spears, and the credibility of Tawana Brawley?

Was it to keep those above them off their own backs?

Liberal guilt?

Intimidation?

Whatever the reasons, they became co-conspirators in the travesty.

As a result, that miscreant of malicious malfeasance Nifong lost his job, two lead investigators submitted their resignations just this month, and three young men's lives have been forever impacted in a manner that I find no less offensive than the racial scapegoating of the Scottsboro Boys in the thirties. Perhaps, even more so, as 70 years on we're supposed to live in more enlightened times. Today, we're supposed to know better than to judge men and women by the color of their skin.

But you wouldn't know it by watching this three ring circus.

And that's why the criminal justice system needs to extend the bare minimum of respect to those who pass through it by evaluating not only the character of its suspects, but character and veracity of its victims, informants, and witnesses.

Often it starts with you, the patrol officer. As the handling officer, you are often the first line of defense for identifying the true victim. It's a heady responsibility, and if you spend any length of time at all in this profession, I guarantee that sooner or later someone will lie their ass off to your face—and it won't be your "suspect."

The thought of being used as someone else's instrument of revenge is something that should incense any officer. It is something that he or she should be forever vigilant against. But beyond that, officers should recognize that they have a vested interest in being the fact finders they're paid to be. As evinced in this case, the fallout of precipitous arrests are myriad and enduring.

I hope and suspect that there were those officers who refused to be part of the terrible charade and offered their dissent to little avail. At least, they need not consider themselves party to the judicial bum's rush that these three men received. I'd like to hear from these voices of reason.

The people I did reach within the Durham Police Department declined to discuss the matter, citing the ongoing litigation. Messages with the public information officer went unanswered. One officer did admit to being familiar with the litany of investigative shortcomings documented above and did not refute them.

So when you get that call, get all the facts. Take your time. If you get a hinkey feeling about your victim, don't suppress it. Do what it takes for you to sleep well at night and look at yourself in the mirror in the morning.

The buck may not stop with you. But by being as vigilant in your documentation as you are in your investigation, you may have some say as to where the case ends up, be it in the filing tray—or the trash.


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

randy janes @ 3/21/2008 5:25 PM

I can't tell you the number of times that I was "forced" to take rape report from "victim's", knowing them to be unfounded. And yet I took them. Even more depressing, when we proved that the "victim's" report was knowingly false, it was next to impossible to get a deputy district attorney to prosecute for making a false report. Oftentimes dozens, if not hundreds of investigative hours, went into proving something never happened (and the alleged victim KNEW IT!). In this time of political correctness, its nice to see your magazine getting the true story out. Thanks!

squiggy7361 @ 4/17/2008 4:18 PM

I've been a police officer for 28 years and the one thing I know is I don't know anything. I agree that we need to handle each case thoroughly to find the facts and not just what fits our conclusions or we will occasionally be wrong. Let me tell two of my experiences while trying to be brief.

One night I took a runaway report and later in the night she returned reporting that she was raped. The person she accused of the rape was an uncle that sat at the kitchen table when I took the runaway report, which was also the time she claimed she was raped. I was the suspect's alibi and there were other glaring inconsistencies in her story. I took her to the hospital for an assault exam while accusing her of lying and threatening to throw her in jail when I proved it.

In short, the uncle did rape her. She needed surgical repair from the assault and the officers that processed the scene said, "It looked like someone gutted a deer".

Another case I arrested a man for domestic assault that I had arrested before for the same crime. The accuser even had a witness and the suspect admitted to an argument so I was confident in my case. When I left him at the jail, he begged me to check with some of his witnesses claiming he didn't do it.

I hesitated but did follow up and returned to the hotel room where he had taken refuge from the accuser. There in his room was a credit card receipt with date and time proving he was not with the accuser at the time she claimed the assault occurred. I had to work twice as hard to get the prosecutor to charge her for a false report than I ever would have to have gotten him convicted on something he didn't do.

My point is if we shortcut our job or make assumptions instead of finding facts we can be VERY WRONG. We have to do the RIGHT THING and do our BEST, , , ALL OF THE TIME.

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