One Police Detective’s POV: Fallout from a False Accusation

There is no such thing as a simple case of ‘he said-she said’ when one of the parties could end up in prison.

california innocence project and brian banks

The California Innocence Project was instrumental in securing exoneration for Brian Banks (center). Brian’s ordeal was very similar to Eric Walterscheid’s story of Henry, except that Brian spent crucial years in prison before the truth emerged. (Photo: Screen Grab/California Innocence Project)

The story you are about to read is true.

In our society, probably no greater power over an individual’s freedom and liberty is entrusted to a single individual than that power which is given to police officers.

I worked for more than 20 years in police work in Los Angeles County. I realized early on in my career how much incredible power was entrusted to me by the People.

The power to take someone off the street and deprive them of their freedom is, quite frankly, scary. I also realized that coupled with this power and trust is an even bigger responsibility. In police work, it is vitally important to realize that trust, responsibility and integrity can never be compromised or taken for granted. At the end of the day, you are going to positively or adversely affect another person’s life and, in many cases, their very freedom

I’m also an evidence and facts guy. Decades before I ever strapped on a gun and badge, I had the moral foundation to tell the truth and stand up for what’s right. In police work, the path was clear: There would be no compromise or cutting corners in investigations.

It sounds simple enough, but in reality we know this doesn’t always happen. The results: Innocent people are sent to prison and their lives completely destroyed.

Is this always the result of slipshod investigations or poor police work? Not always. Unfortunately, people lie. For whatever reasons, they decide to give inaccurate information to the police. In any investigation, it becomes incumbent upon the detective to seek out the truth, turn over every stone, run down every lead and keep digging until the truth is revealed.

Now for Henry and Suzie…..

Suzie was a very attractive 16-year-old high-school student who came to the police department one day to report that she had been drugged, kidnapped, raped, sodomized and falsely imprisoned.

While we were interviewing Henry, a telephone call came in from Suzie’s father. He told me that Suzie had something to tell me. He wanted to bring Suzie to the police station. What would she like to tell me?

My partner and I were assigned to this case and started the investigation by conducting a thorough interview with Suzie. Suzie was very articulate. She gave us the name of the suspect and told us exactly what happened.

Suzie was able to tell us she met Henry, a fellow high-school student, 17 years old, at school. They shared a class together.

One day in class, Suzie expressed to Henry how she was thirsty, and Henry went to get her a Gatorade from a vending machine. Suzie told us that not too long after consuming the beverage, she felt sick and dizzy and told this to Henry. He offered to drive her home. Instead, Henry took her to a remote area where—keeping her restrained in his vehicle—he raped her, sodomized her and forced her to orally copulate him. All while, she felt “drugged” and incapacitated.

Suzie was very believable, often tearing up during her recall. She told us she didn’t remember where she had been driven to. Her vision was fuzzy, and she was in a dream-like state that she attributed to whatever drugs Henry had put in her Gatorade.

Our next question to Suzie: “When did this happen?”

“Oh, about three weeks ago.”

“Do you still have the clothing you wore that day?”

“Yes, but I washed it.”

In essence, the DNA and vital evidence had been compromised.

“How come you’re just now reporting this to the police?”

“Because I told one of my girlfriends about it, and she said I should report it.”

“Okay. Do your parents know about this?”

“Yes.”

“Good, let’s go talk to them.”

“Does Henry know you came to the police?”

“No.”

“Good, we’re going do a pretext telephone call. We’ll explain how that works.”

Within an hour or so after interviewing Suzie, we were at her parents’ house discussing the case and how to do a pretext telephone call to see if Henry would admit to the acts.

Bear in mind, I had already gone over with Suzie the importance of telling the truth. If we arrested Henry on these charges, he might very well be tried as an adult and go to prison for the rest of his life.

Suzie: “I understand. I’m telling you the truth.”

Pretext telephone-call time: Suzie is very nervous (understandable—most civilians aren’t used to this), but goes through with the call.

Henry claims he doesn’t know what she’s talking about and never cops out.

Next step: Let’s talk to Henry.

My partner and I went to Henry’s house. Henry walked out of his house, and we stopped him and had a chat. He agreed to come to the police station.

Suzie had painted Henry as this evil rapist. He turned out to be a very good-looking, athletic, straight-A student on his way to work. During our interview, Henry admitted to having sex with Suzie and stated that it was consensual and that he never drugged her, kidnapped her or did anything to her against her will. 

While we were interviewing Henry, a telephone call came in from Suzie’s father. He told me that Suzie had something to tell me. He wanted to bring Suzie to the police station. What would she like to tell me?

“She wants to tell you she lied and made up the story about Henry kidnapping and raping her.”

So dad brought Suzie to the police station, and my partner and I re-interviewed her.

Suzie told me she had thought about what I had told her regarding the importance of telling the truth.

Suzie then told us that she did have sex with Henry, but he never drugged, kidnapped or raped her.

Suzie made up the story because one of her girlfriends saw her leaving the campus with Henry and was going to tell Suzie’s steady boyfriend she was cheating on him; so Suzie decided to fabricate the story about Henry.

I explained to Suzie that I appreciated her honesty and asked her if she knew it was a crime to file a false police report.

She did.

I also explained to Suzie that I would still present this case to the District Attorney.

My partner and I confirmed Suzie’s story with her girlfriend, which served to exonerate Henry.

I took this case to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for review and filing status consideration: Rejected.

The filing D.A. told me: Go arrest Suzie. Had she not decided to tell the truth, we would have most likely tried Henry as an adult. He could have gone to prison for a very long time.

I arrested Suzie.

Now let’s get back to trust and responsibility.

It was my responsibility to conduct a full and complete investigation and get to the truth. It was my responsibility to make sure Suzie was well aware of the consequences of her allegations at the outset of the investigation. And Henry, well Henry was cleared of any wrongdoing because the People trusted me to do my job.

You may be lulled into thinking: “That couldn’t happen to me.”

Henry never thought that either, nor did Brian Banks or any of the other people that the California Innocence Project has helped—and the many more who need CIP’s help.

Get involved and make a difference!

After finally coming forward with the truth about Harry, should Suzy have been arrested? State your case in COMMENTS.

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