Looking Back: When People File False Police Reports

Jeffrey Deskovic speaking in Davis last year at the Annual Vanguard Event

“Looking back” will feature reprints of articles that Jeff previously wrote while a columnist at The Westchester Guardian, which encompass topics that are applicable here in CA as well as across the country and not simply applicable to NY.

By Jeffrey Deskovic

On Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009, the following story was reported by Fox: “Five men gang raped an 18-year-old Hofstra University student on campus early Sunday morning after one of them lured her away from a party by snatching her cell phone, according to police. Detectives have arrested four men and are looking for the fifth suspect. Cops would not say whether the victim knew any of the men beforehand or where on the sprawling Hempstead campus she was attacked. Jesus Ortiz, 19, and Rondell Bedward, 21, both of the Bronx were arraigned on rape charges on Monday. Ortiz also faces grand larceny charges for allegedly stealing the woman’s mobile phone. Stalin Felipe, 19, of the Bronx, and Kevin Taveras, 20, of Brentwood, Long Island were arraigned Tuesday in Hempstead. A judge set bail at $500,000 bond or $350,000 cash for each defendant. They are due back in court on Sept. 17, according to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.”

Nassau County police said that Ortiz lured the student off campus by grabbing her phone while they were dancing at a party, the New York Post reports. “Immediately following that dance, he did snatch her cell phone from her waist,” Lt. John Allen told the Post. “She repeatedly asked for the cell phone but he was not responsive. He left the club. She followed him out of the club. The cell phone was taken to lure her away from the crowd.” She followed him into a nearby high-rise dorm and into an elevator, the report said. They got off on a floor, where they encountered the other suspects, police said. They then forced her into a bathroom where they took turns raping her, Lt. Allen said. Bedward is a Hofstra student, police said. The others are his friends. Nassau cops said that Bedward had signed them in through security. Danmell Ndonye, an 18-year-old student, said that he had raped her in a dorm at the university’s Hempstead campus on Long Island.”

On Sept. 17, 2009, the story came out that the allegations were false. Ndonye confessed to police late on Wednesday that she made the whole story up after a cell phone video surfaced showing her involved in consensual sex with several men in a bathroom in the dorm. According to NBC, “The female student who made the allegations against the four men is under investigation. A prosecutor is assessing whether she should face criminal charges in connection with the hoax. First the student charged the men with viciously attacking her; then she acknowledged the sex was consensual, according to the District Attorney’s office.”

The alleged victim of the sexual assault admitted that the encounter that took place early Sunday morning was consensual,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement. “I have launched an immediate criminal investigation into the statements and reports given by the woman in connection with this incident.”

I have reflected about this case and I have a variety of different thoughts about different aspects of it.

My first thought was what it would be like to be charged by a civilian witness. While I know what it is like to be arrested for a crime I didn’t commit, my arrest grew out of a coerced, false confession, which is different than the police coming up to me, out of the blue, and making an arrest based upon a report filed against me by a civilian complainant.

Stalin Felipe, a defendant in the case who denied having any sexual involvement whatsoever with the victim, had the following to say: “I went out to get food. I come back, and I’m being handcuffed,” Felipe told FOXNews.com.

It was not until he was sitting in the back of a Nassau County police car, surrounded by officers, that he began to get an idea of what he had been accused of. “They are asking me, ‘Was there rope? Was there rope?’ But they’re being indirect, so I’m not really sure what they mean,” Felipe said. He was taken to prison, where he and his 20-year-old brother, Kevin Taveras, another suspect named by Ndonye, were held on $500,000 bail each.

“I was devastated. At first I kept thinking ‘we’ll get through this,’ but then it just kept getting worse, saying we raped her, then that there was rope. And I know no one’s going to pay one million dollars,” he said, referring to the bond. “We’re looking at least six to eight months due to the trial.” Being in prison was like being “in a cage,” Felipe said.

But the worst part was being perceived as a monster when he knew the truth. “It seems more like you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Another one of the boys, Kevin Taveras, said “It didn’t look good for us,” Taveras, a dispatcher for Cablevision, told NBC New York. “I thought we would do time. I was really scared. I couldn’t believe what was basically going through my mind. It was like a big nightmare, and I thought I was going to do time for something I didn’t do,” 20-year-old Kevin Taveras told HLN’s “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell.” It was devastating,” he said. “I was there just letting the clock tick and tick.”

Being falsely charged with any crime, particularly rape or any other sex offense, has many different implications and effects even after the charges are either dismissed, an acquittal is obtained, or an exoneration following conviction is secured. Reputations are damaged, names are tarnished, and futures are often unalterably changed. There will be some people who wonder whether the boys really were innocent, either openly or on a level of private thoughts within their own mind. That has both economic and social implications.

Should the boys go on a job interview, and the employer, exercising due prudence, does a Google search of their names the story will come up. The employer may only see the story about their being charged, and thus decide not to hire them.

Or, perhaps he or she sees an article about their being cleared. There could be some residual doubt within their mind and thus they don’t get hired.

Maybe there is no doubt, but there is a concern about either general public perception or it bothering just some small but significant segment of their customer base. An employer may not want to take the risk. For every job they don’t get, there will always be that doubt within the boys’ minds regarding what the real reason they didn’t get hired was, and it will be next to impossible to be sure.

It hurts the boys socially. To begin with, I am sure that it caused hurt and embarrassment to their families. Additionally, possibly some of their friendships could be affected. In terms of dating or finding a wife, it could make a big difference, proving one additional hurdle in what many consider a difficult goal of finding a good life partner.

Ladies, would you want to be the one who goes on a date with one of the boys who was falsely accused of rape? Might you have second thoughts, be a little afraid, or worry what your friends or family may think if they find out their history, if and when things get serious?

As Stalin Felipe said, “Our names were tarnished. We were rapists, we were dirt, we were dogs.”

I have written before about the subject of the role of the media in setting the stage for wrongful convictions. In that article, which is available online in my website JeffreyDeskovicSpeaks.org in the articles Jeff Wrote section, entitled “The Role Of The Media”, I referenced the Duke lacrosse players, who were crucified in the newspapers for about one year, until it came out that they had been falsely charged as well.

In many other wrongful conviction cases, it has come out, that rather than the media objectively reporting on the case, the articles are guilt presumptive oriented. It is clear, based upon many articles that I came across that were guilt presumptive, that this phenomenon continues to be a problem. Police press releases should not be taken to be absolutely true, and the word “alleged” needs to be used more.

Consider this excerpt from The New York Post:

“They were ‘predators’ and she was their prey. An 18-year-old freshman at Hofstra University was lured into a dorm from a wild campus frat party, then thrown into a bathroom stall where she was tied up and gang-raped by five men, cops said yesterday. ‘This was a predatory act,’ said Nassau County Police Detective Lt. John Allen.”

The police added to this. Taveras’ attorney, according to CNN. com, “had sharp criticism for police in the case: They paraded their photos in front of the media. They held this press conference. They released all these terrible details about this alleged rape that never took place,” Victor Daly-Rivera said. Newspapers ran with it.”

Nassau Police Det. Lt. John Allen, commander of the department’s special victims squad, said in a news conference. “Clearly, I think the cell phone was taken to lure her away from the crowd to do her harm.”

In the comments sections of The Gothamist, there were, and as of this writing still are, many comments in which the guilt of the boys is presumed, along with calling them animals, saying that they should get the death penalty, and even a few calls for vigilante justice that should be wreaked upon them in jail, including being raped. Those statements are clearly below human dignity. It reminded me greatly of stories of Black people being lynched in the south based upon allegations that they had raped White women. I guess amongst some segments of the population, we are not that far re- moved from that mentality. But my main purpose in reprinting them is to hold this out as an example imploring people to hold off on opinions until all the facts are in.

This story has raised the issue of whether the woman who filed the false charges should be charged. There is reportedly a debate within the District Attorney’s Office about whether she should be charged, because after all, the filing of false charges is itself a crime.

On the other hand, there is concern that doing so will hinder other women who falsely file charges from coming forward, out of fear of being arrested, so that the end result will be that she sticks with the charges and people possibly could be wrongfully convicted. There is the additional concern that real rape victims could be discouraged from coming forward.

I have thought about the general subject about what would make someone falsely accuse another of rape. In most instances, it could be motivated by a desire to get revenge in repayment of some real or imagined offense. With others it could be in retaliation for breaking off a relationship.

In other wrongful conviction cases that I have read about, it has come out that the woman was worried about her reputation, as in either what her boyfriend would think of her and what that would mean for the future of the relationship, or out of concern for what one’s parents may think, or even being worried about what one’s friends might think. But no matter the reasoning, false charges are never justified.

Being charged with rape is a terrifying thing for a man for a number of reasons. For one thing, following consensual sex, we could all be falsely charged with it if a woman wants to be vindictive. For another, the presumption of innocence often flies out of the window, and in a he-said-she- said trial, sympathies are most likely going to be on the side of the accuser, with a jury most often being inclined to believe the accuser.

In a case where sex really did take place, how does one defend oneself? There is no alibi to be had, and most, if not all, of the times there will be no video. The absence of bruises is not always dispositive of guilt or innocence, so basically, unless there is something unusual about a case, one would be relegated to taking the stand and engaging in what amounts to a swearing match.

So should she be charged? I don’t want any victims of rape to hesitate in coming for- ward to charge their rapists. I do want to be sure that they are certain of who they identify, as misidentification is known to be the leading cause of wrongful convictions. But having established that, certainly crime victims should report crimes. And certainly I don’t want false accusers to hesitate to come forward. In the end, though, just as society needs to be protected from criminal behavior by means of having criminal penalties enforced upon those who would harm them, so too should the public be protected against those who would purposely file charges against them. I believe that she should be charged.

As my last thought, although by no means is the filing of false charges ever justified, I think that it is important for good judgment to always be utilized. What I mean is that while one of the boys denies being involved in any kind of sexual contact with the victim, it is clear that some of the boys did have sex with her. In my mind, putting aside the fact that I think that it is disgusting for multiple people to have sex with the same person, it shows poor judgment on their part. In a society, where, for one reason or another, false arrests and wrongful convictions are more rampant that what we are aware of, it would be prudent for many males not to have sex with the same woman.

“Jeffrey Deskovic, JD, MA, is an internationally recognized wrongful conviction expert and founder of The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, which has freed 7 wrongfully convicted people and helped pass 3 laws aimed at preventing wrongful conviction. Jeff is an advisory board member of It Could Happen To You, which has chapters in CA, NY, and PA. He serves on the Global Advisory Council for Restorative Justice International, and is a sometimes co-host and co-producer of the show, “360 Degrees of Success.” Jeff was exonerated after 16 years in prison-from age 17-32- before DNA exonerated him and identified the actual perpetrator. A short documentary about his life is entitled “Conviction”, and there episode 1 of his story in Virtual Reality is called, “Once Upon A Time In Peekskill“. Jeff has a Masters Degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, with his thesis written on wrongful conviction causes and reforms needed to address them, and a law degree from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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