Rape victim awarded $150,000 after police and youth program forced her to say she lied
A woman won a $150,000 settlement from city officials in Lynnwood, Washington for being forced to say she lied about being raped, KIRO-TV reported on Wednesday.
The woman, identified as “D.M.” in court documents to protect her privacy, was 18 at the time of the August 2008 attack and living in transitional housing through Cocoon House, a non-profit program serving at-risk youth. A man later identified as Marc O’Leary entered her apartment and, according to court documents, tied her wrists with shoe string, gagged her with a pair of underwear and threatened her with a butcher knife, on top of blindfolding, photographing, and raping her.
“The detectives took pictures of the binding marks,” one of the woman’s attorneys, Yvonne Ward, told KIRO. “They themselves took those pictures. The detectives saw the scene.”
However, documents also showed that one detective, Jerry Rittgarn, and local police Sergeant Jeff Mason came to believe allegations by D.M.’s stepmother, a friend, and an anonymous caller that she made up her story, despite a local hospital noting that she suffered signs of rape trauma.
The victim’s attorneys argued that police charged her with falsely reporting the rape and fined her $500 when she attempted to re-establish her complaint. Police then told Cocoon House they thought she was lying, leading to the program forcing her into a counselling program where she had to tell other participants that she lied about the attack under threat of eviction. Cocoon House reached a separate settlement with D.M. for an undisclosed amount last month.
“Our hearts go out to D.M. and her family,” Cocoon House chief executive officer Cassie Franklin said in a statement to the Seattle Times. “We strongly believe that Cocoon House and its employees acted appropriately on behalf of the client.”
O’Leary was arrested in Colorado in 2011, where detectives found photographs of the victim and her driver’s license. The Times reported that at the time of the attack, he was stationed at Army Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He is currently serving a 327-year prison sentence for raping three other women in Colorado, and admitted to raping another woman in Washington state before moving there in 2009. Mason is still employed by the police. Rittgarn is no longer with the department.
Attorneys for the victim, now 23 years old, told KIRO that she is engaged and living in Wyoming.
“I give our client a tremendous amount of credit,” H. Richmond Fisher said. “She’s excited, because now she can go on in a whole new wonderful chapter of her life. She has a fiancé and she’s looking forward to a fabulous life. She’s been inspiring to me.”
Watch KIRO’s report on the settlement, aired on Wednesday, below.