Civil Rights

Disbelieved and accused of making a false rape report, now-vindicated victim sues

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Despite physical evidence that supported her story that a stranger had bound, gagged, raped and photographed her in 2008 in the transitional housing apartment in which she was living, an 18-year-old Washington state woman was disbelieved.

Pressured by police into recanting, she was criminally charged for making a false rape report in the Lynnwood case and, the woman says, forced to publicly admit, at a group meeting for Cocoon House participants, that she had lied about being raped. If she hadn’t done so, she says, she was afraid she would lose her housing under a federally funded shelter program for young adults who had formerly been in foster care.

But the tide turned when Marc O’Leary, a former Washington state resident, was arrested several years later in Colorado and accused of committing a sexual assault there. In his possession were photos of the young woman and her identification card. O’Leary subsequently admitted he had raped her, and was convicted of that crime after Lynnwood police reopened their investigation. O’Leary was also convicted of three rapes in Colorado and another in Washington state, according to Courthouse News and the Seattle Times, and is serving a 327-year prison sentence in Colorado.

Now the woman has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Seattle, seeking compensatory and punitive damages for alleged civil rights violations, defamation and negligence.

It contends Lynnwood police ignored evidence, including a DNA sample, once they decided, based in part on statements from individuals with no knowledge of the case, that the young woman had lied and coerced her into recanting her rape complaint after interrogating her at the police station.

Then, when she tried to get support from Cocoon House in pursuing the rape complaint, workers there did not help her stand up to a police threat to charge her with making a false report or help her get a lawyer, the complaint states.

Had police pursued her criminal case, O’Leary might have been stopped before he committed more rapes, the lawsuit alleges.

Lynnwood’s police chief declined to comment about the lawsuit, because it is a matter of pending litigation, when contacted by the Seattle Times. The CEO of Cocoon House expressed sympathy for the plaintiff and her family, but said: “We strongly believe that Cocoon House and its employees acted appropriately on behalf of the client.”

The plaintiff now lives in Wyoming. She is represented by H. Richmond Fisher.

She entered into a diversion agreement with Lynnwood in 2009 to avoid a conviction on the false-rape-report charge, the Times reports. After O’Leary was arrested, her $500 fine was refunded and the city struck the case from its records.

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