Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Santa Rosa woman accused of false rape report

A Santa Rosa woman charged with filing a false report after she claimed she was drugged and raped by a police officer and others is fighting the allegation in court.

Danielle Charter, 24, faces up to six months in jail if prosecutors can prove she knowingly lied about the litany of assaults she said she suffered after being arrested for public drunkenness by Santa Rosa officers.

The rare criminal charge was filed after an investigation by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office concluded that her claims, laid out in a graphic detail in a 23-page statement, were baseless.

“Any time someone makes false allegations, it’s doing a disservice to all true victims out there,” said Capt. Matt McCaffrey, a sheriff’s office spokesman.

Her attorney, Santa Rosa women’s rights activist Tanya Brannan, said Charter stands by the story and will appeal any conviction to a higher court. She accused prosecutors of bringing the charges to intimidate Charter.

“This is retaliatory prosecution, pure and simple,” Brannan said in a court hearing last week.

Prosecutors and law enforcement said they chose to file against Charter because they believe her claims are bogus and undermine laws intended to protect women.

The case stems from Charter’s Nov. 30, 2009, arrest after midnight near her apartment on Occidental Circle in west Santa Rosa.

In her statement, she admitted to being drunk and fighting with her boyfriend, whom she had misled into believing that she had swallowed 20 over-the-counter sleeping pills.

After she cut her boyfriend’s hand with scissors and fell down stairs, he called the police and she fled into the cold night on foot, dressed in a tank-top and drawstring pants, she said.

Moments later, she was stopped by two officers who confirmed her identity and detained her. A third officer handcuffed Charter and placed her in the back of his patrol car, she said.

Charter said she lapsed in and out of consciousness, but described being driven somewhere by the officer, injected with drugs and raped by a number of men who paid the officer to have sex with her.

At some point, the men turned on the officer and took back their money, she wrote in the statement.

Charter wrote that near the end of the ordeal, she was beaten, told she had been infected with AIDS and photographed naked, and was visited by one of the two original officers, who also raped her. Charter was then driven to the Main Adult Detention Center and booked.

Two weeks after her arrest she reported her account to authorities.

The Press Democrat is not using the officers names because they are not charged with, or being investigated for, a potential criminal offense.

A key issue is the amount of time that passed between when Charter was arrested and jailed.

Her lawyer said she was booked into the county jail more than two hours after police arrived at Occidental Circle and that police are unable to account for their whereabouts at certain times.

The investigation by Sgt. Cecile Focha, a detective in the sheriff’s sexual assault unit, concluded that Charter was admitted to the jail seven minutes after officers left the scene at Occidental Court.

A GPS device in the officer’s car indicated the trip occurred from 12:58 a.m. to 1:05 a.m. and followed a direct route from Charter’s home to the jail, the investigation found.

“There are only so many things that can take place in that period of time,” McCaffrey said. The criminal charge was recommended because of the seriousness of the claims that “we could show were completely manufactured,” he said.

“We do not want to deter anyone from reporting criminal misconduct,” District Attorney Jill Ravitch said. “On other hand, you need to hold people accountable if they are indeed misrepresenting the truth.”

Charter contends she is being punished for speaking out. This week, her lawyer sought GPS records, any video recordings of the incident and personnel files of the officers. Judge Shelly Averill denied the last request and set the next hearing for April 19.

Brannan said she’s prepared to argue Charter’s story is true. If nothing else, she said, Charter was drugged and lacked the state of mind to deliberately falsify a report.

“We’re going to take this as far as it needs to be taken until there are no charges against Danielle Charter,” Brannan said.

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