KU student’s alleged false rape report case dismissed; her lawyers want Douglas County district attorney to apologize

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson is pictured in this Journal-World file photo from May 2018.

The Douglas County district attorney’s office has dropped its case against a University of Kansas student who prosecutors alleged had falsely filed a report that she was raped.

In a news release Monday, District Attorney Charles Branson announced: “While we believe in the merits of this case and are confident the facts would be borne out at trial, the cost to our community and the negative impact on survivors of sexual violence cannot be ignored. We are concerned this case, and the significant amount of misinformation surrounding it, could discourage other survivors from reporting their attack. That is unacceptable.”

A Lawrence police detective had written in the affidavit supporting the woman’s arrest that he believed she had lied when she said she was raped by a friend of another man with whom she’d had an on-and-off relationship. The detective wrote that he thought the woman became angry when she found out that the man had been seeing another woman, and she wanted to pursue charges of rape against his friend to “punish” him.

The woman has been represented by defense attorneys Cheryl Pilate and Branden Bell of the Kansas City, Mo., law firm Morgan Pilate LLC. She was charged with three counts of interference with law enforcement, a low-level felony, for allegedly falsely reporting a crime. The charge was punishable by nearly two years in prison.

In an August motion calling for the case to be dismissed, Bell wrote about how the woman woke up after the alleged incident, naked, bruised and with no idea how she ended up in bed with the man. Bell also wrote that the detective had lied to the woman in order to get her to come into the station for an interview when he actually had a warrant for her arrest.

Douglas County District Court Judge Amy Hanley ultimately denied the motion to dismiss, and the case had been set to go to trial — first this week, then it was continued to early next year. But in the DA’s statement, he wrote that he will be working with law enforcement to update guidelines for investigating and prosecuting sexually violent crimes.

Branson wrote about the challenges of prosecuting sexual assault cases: They often involve the most private details of someone’s personal life, and his office has to “make difficult judgments about whether to proceed with the case.”

“But the challenges facing law enforcement and prosecutors in sexual assault cases pale in comparison to the challenges facing survivors,” Branson wrote. “Rape survivors in particular already face many obstacles to obtain justice. My team of dedicated prosecutors see this every day. We have worked hard over the years to address those obstacles, but we know at trial the survivor will still face unwarranted skepticism and questions of credibility.”

Going forward, the DA wrote, he wants to communicate with the people of Douglas County how his office approaches these types of cases.

“I will ensure our community is confident we are doing everything allowed by our laws to prosecute sexual assaults and support survivors,” he wrote. “It is my hope that new guidelines in our jurisdiction will allow for a better understanding and more clarity for everyone involved from reporting to prosecuting to supporting survivors through their recovery.”

Bell and Pilate wrote in a statement to the Journal-World that they were pleased their client could finally put this “nightmare” behind her and that the case should never have been brought to begin with.

“It is clear from the Douglas County District Attorney’s statement that they still lack an adequate understanding of the trauma suffered by sexual assault survivors and the unique and different ways each one may respond,” Pilate and Bell’s statement continues. “We are disappointed that the DA’s office continues to promote the fiction that this case was supported by the facts. It was not. Instead of blaming the media for spreading ‘misinformation,’ the DA should take a long, hard look at its own practices, admit that it got it wrong and give our client the apology she deserves.”

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