Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hero's Twelve Year Quest to Make False Reporting a Felony Offense Moves Closer to Reality

Imagine having the police pay you a visit one day. You have no idea why. They tell you that you are under arrest for allegedly raping a girl.  They handcuff you, and take you to the police station. Television cameras are conveniently present to capture the moment so that the entire community can titillate to your humiliation.  The alleged rape, you learn, didn't happen last week. Nor last month. Nor last year.  Nope. How about twelve years ago?  You can't remember much about what you did twelve years ago, but you know you didn't do that, and you deny it. But they arrest you just the same, and they charge you with rape. And then they schedule a trial where, if you are convicted, you likely will spend the rest of your life behind bars.

Oh, in case I didn't mention it, this story takes place in the United States of America. Pennsylvania to be exact.

You think I'm making this up?

Meet Michael Gallagher, a retired Pennsylvania schoolteacher who was arrested in 1998 for allegedly repeatedly raping a then-fifth grade girl during the 1985-1986 school year at Willow Hill Elementary School in the Abington School District.  He was shown on television in handcuffs, to the horror of his wife, family and friends, all because a woman decided to fabricate a twelve year old rape claim against him.

Mr. Gallagher experienced nine months of hell.  "Unless you've been a victim of a false accusation, you cannot believe the mental pain and suffering our family has been through for the last nine months,'' Gallagher said.

Trial was scheduled for November 30, 1998, but in October 1998, Mr. Gallagher was exonerated. The Montgomery County district attorney who was planning to send Mr. Gallagher away for many years, announced that the purported victim, whose name is Margaret Powell, had made up the story. 

"We have determined that Mr. Gallagher was wrongfully accused by the young lady involved,'' District Attorney Michael Marino said when he announced that all the charges against Mr. Gallagher had been dropped. 

It seems prosecutors found serious discrepancies in Powell's story. During pretrial interviews with Powell, she had told prosecutors that she had not told her father about the incidents when they occurred; in September, Marino said, she said she had told him. "That was the first inconsistency,'' Marino said. "There were many others after that.''  Powell began changing her story.  "She began to add additional details,'' said another prosecutor. "It seemed to me she was trying to embellish the case and make it better as we moved closer to trial, which raised my suspicions.''  The last straw came when Powell admitted that she was "not sure'' whether sexual intercourse with Gallagher had taken place. Prosecutors then decided to drop the charges.  Powell was never charged.

Mr. Gallagher's story was big news. It ran on Dateline NBC in December of 1998. But after his moment of fame, what did Michael Gallagher do? Did he stick his head in the sand? Did he pretend nothing ever happened and turn his back on the community of the falsely accused? Did he write to news outlets and blogs asking them to remove his name from their Web sites so that no one would know of his ordeal (as some men have done with this blog)?

None of the above. Michael Gallagher wants to help other people who are falsely accused. For more than ten years, he has been quietly working to change the law in Pennsylvania to make it a felony to falsely report a felony to authorities. Such offense would carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison. Presently false reporting is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, and it carries a maximum two year prison sentence. 

Mr. Gallagher has worked behind the scenes four times to get the bill passed, to no avail. 

This week, Mr. Gallagher reports that he received word from State Representative Tom Murt that his bill to make the false reporting of serious crimes in Pennsylvania a felony offense is now in the state House Judiciary Committee and should have enough sponsors, both Democrat and Republican, to pass the House. Mr. Gallagher holds Mr. Murt, also a former teacher, in the highest regard.

On behalf of all our readers, we salute you, Mr. Gallagher, and your faithful wife.

Rep. Murt's contact information is as follows: E-mail: tmurt@pahousegop.com

And here is HB # 1506:

Amending Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in falsification and intimidation, further providing for the offense of false reports to law enforcement authorities.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:


Section 1. Section 4906(c) of Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes is amended by adding a paragraph to read:

§ 4906. False reports to law enforcement authorities.

* * *

(c) Grading.

* * *

(3) Where the information provided relates to an offense graded as a felony, a person commits a felony of the third degree if he:


(i) knowingly gives false information to law enforcement authorities with intent to implicate another;


(ii) reports to law enforcement authorities an offense within their concern knowing that it did not occur; or


(iii) pretends to furnish such authorities with information relating to an offense when he knows he has no information relating to such offense.


Section 2. This act shall take effect in 60 days.