Monday, September 12, 2011

The shameful treatment of a deputy sheriff accused of rape

Last September, Deputy Michael Canizales was acquitted of "he said/she said" rape charges brought against him after a colleague claimed he raped and sodomized her in her home. Now he is suing the Pima County Attorney's Office, his accuser, and others, for the harm inflicted on him.

The accuser claimed that she met Deputy Canizales, a colleague and longtime friend, for drinks in January 2009. At the end of the evening, her daughter picked them up and drove them to the accuser's home so they could talk about his recent breakup with a girlfriend. When they got to her house, her daughter went to bed, and, she claimed, a drunken Deputy Canizales raped and sodomized her in the living room.  She claimed she repeatedly told him "no," and he stopped after she told him he was hurting her. She drove him to his brother's house afterward. She claimed it was the fastest way to get rid of him.

Deputy Canizales' version of the alleged crime was markedly different. He claimed that he and the woman had a one-night stand three years earlier. He said he had often teased her, saying she "owed" him another encounter, but she declined because he had gotten involved with another woman. When he and his girlfriend split in January, 2009, he immediately contacted his colleague to let her know he was available.  When they met up at the bar that night, Deputy Canizales testified that the accuser reached over and held his hand, and seemed pleased when he asked her if she wanted him to go home with her. The sexual encounter was a consensual one, he said, and she became angry only when he decided to go to his brother's house immediately afterward.

During a police interview, the accuser said that Deputy Canizales didn't seem to realize he'd raped her.  She also said, "Let's go to my bedroom" during the sexual encounter, but the accuser justified this comment as an attempt to distract Deputy Canizales by suggesting they leave the living room for her bedroom.

The Tucson Police Department determined there was no probable cause for a criminal charge against Deputy Canizales.  But the Pima County Attorney's Office had other ideas and asked the accuser to testify before a grand jury in June 2009. Deputy Canizales was then indicted on multiple sexual-assault counts.

Deputy Canizales was suspended without pay on June 17, 2009. On July 31, 2009, he was placed on administrative leave with pay. But then, in May 2010, he was fired. Why, after all that time, was he suddenly fired? Captain Byron Gwaltney of the Pima County Sheriff's Department said: "We separated ourselves from an employee who was not capable of fulfilling the duties for which he was hired."  Captain Gwaltney said that they have a responsibility to maintain the public's trust. "How do we do that when we have a police officer who is under a formal indictment for violent felony offenses? It simply can't be done."

But then, in September, 2010, after a Superior Court jury acquitted him of all charges, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik rescinded his termination and authorized back pay.

Deputy Canizales was forced to undergo two trials because the first ended in a mistrial, for the reasons explained below. 

During his first trial, Deputy Pima County Attorney Susan Eazer complained to the judge that several members of the Tucson Police Department sex-crimes unit were in the courtroom when the accuser testified. Eazer told the judge that this is the same unit that -- and this a quote from a news article --"'immediately decided not to believe the victim' and was angry Canizales was indicted."  (The reference to "the victim" are the prosecutor's words.) Eazer noted that the detectives who came to the trial sat on the defense side of the courtroom, and were seen on breaks shaking hands with Deputy Canizales and his counsel, and acting "buddy-buddy."  Pima County Superior Court Judge Terry Chandler rejected Eazer's argument, noting that she doubts the jury was paying any attention to anyone in the gallery, and she had not heard of any improper conduct from the jurors or her staff. As long as seating is available and nothing untoward happens, Chandler said her courtroom will remain open to all. "I'm going to conduct a fair trial," Chandler said. 

Nevertheless, Police Chief Robert Villaseñor ordered the officers to stay away from the trial because "we don't want to jeopardize the case or make the prosecutors uncomfortable."

During the trial, the Arizona Daily Star explained the newspaper is not identifying the accuser because she is "a sex-crime victim."

The trial continued, and both sides presented their cases and closing arguments.

The accuser testified she didn't report the incident immediately because she was ashamed and wanted to pretend it never happened.

But during closing arguments Deputy Canizale's attorney alleged the accuser didn't tell anyone she was attacked until she'd had three days to regret having a one-night stand, three days to wait for a phone call from Deputy Canizales that never came, and three days to wonder if her colleagues would find out about it. He also questioned why the woman would take a drunken man to her house if she wasn't considering having sex with him, and why she drove him across town after the incident?  He also pointed out that the accuser said that Deputy Canizales stopped after she complained he was hurting her, telling jurors that a mad, drunken, out-of-control lout doesn't stop raping someone when his victim says he's hurting her.

That prompted Prosecutor Susan Eazer to stand up and clap her hands during her final argument. "Wow! He stopped. I guess he gets credit for stopping after" he attacked the victim so brutally she sustained injuries, she said sarcastically.  Perhaps, it just took awhile for his victim's pleas to register, Eazer said. 

The jury was instructed and sent to deliberate.  After five hours, a problem came to light.  One of the jurors revealed to the other jurors that she had been raped, something that should have been disclosed in open court during the jury selection process, before the trial. She compared her rape experience to that of the alleged victim. 

The other jurors immediately informed the judge. The judge declared a mistrial. Deputy Canizales' attorney said that was the only appropriate course of action because the other jurors were likely tainted by the comments. 

Subsequently, Deputy Canizales was tried a second time.  In his closing argument, Deputy Canizale's attorney told jurors that it was the accuser who had pursued the Deputy through text messages that night. Moreover, even the accuser herself said the Deputy stopped when she told him he was hurting her and asked if she was OK. "That's not a rapist," the attorney said. He also reminded the jurors that the accuser drove her alleged "rapist" to his brother's house after the encounter.

The jury deliberated for 2½ hours before announcing the acaquittal. When the verdict was announced, people in the packed courtroom began sobbing.

After a Superior Court jury acquitted Deputy Canizales of all charges, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik rescinded Deputy Canizale's termination and authorized back pay.  "The truth of the matter is there isn't a cloud of suspicion at the sheriff's office. The rank and file support him," Deputy Canizale's attorney said.

Denouement: A "he said/she said" rape claim that seemed to be anything but clear subjected a presumptively innocent man to all manner of hardship.

He was forced to go through the anxiety and burden of not one but two trials, even though the investigating law enforcement agency determined there was not even probable cause to arrest him, and even though there seemed to be significant evidence that cast doubt on the claim.

He was forced to endure the decree of his boss banning his fellow officers from the courtroom. His accuser's supporters were not banned from the courtroom, and they reportedly sobbed when the verdict was read after the second trial.

He was forced to listen to the prosecutor's sarcasm when she mock applauded him in open court for stopping when the accuser said she was hurting.

He was forced to endure being fired without explanation and without a finding of guilt.

He was forced to see his accuser described as a "victim" in the local papers.

He was forced to have his named destroyed in the local news media while his accuser's identity was protected -- not because her claim was more credible than his -- but because she was the beneficiary of a news media policy that protects the identities of all persons who make a claim of sexual assault.

Some will say that the system worked the way "it is supposed to" here. If that is so, then a presumptively innocent man's name is "supposed to" be automatically destroyed by a rape claim; he is "supposed to" be mocked in open court by the representative of the people; he is "supposed to" be required to fight for his livelihood at the same time he's fighting to stay out of prison for many years; and he's "supposed to" have to endure almost two years of anxiety that most assuredly precluded him from living anything even approaching a normal life.

If that's the way the system is "supposed to" work, there is something terribly wrong with the society that designed it.