Sunday, July 15, 2012

COTWA questions why a teacher was put on trial for sexual assault: his accuser said she'd "make him pay" for reprimanding her prior to the alleged incident

The Washington Post paints a picture of a shocking miscarriage of justice in a case about a school teacher accused of sexual assault, a latter day witch hunt. If the Post articles are accurate, it is unfathomable how a prosecutor would have allowed this go to trial, but don't rely on our characterization, read the articles yourself: and

According to the Post, in January 2010, Sean Lanigan -- an elementary school physical education teacher, a married father of three with a long history of service as a teacher, a top-ranked soccer coach and neighborhood babysitter -- was accused of molesting a 12-year-old girl. He was locked up and suspended without pay.  The district attorney refused to drop the charges even though Mr. Lanigan had reprimanded the girl before the alleged assault and the girl told a friend the following: “Mr. Lanigan’s a jerk. I’m going to make him pay.”  The girl told friends that she hated Mr. Lanigan before the alleged assault. Moreover, the girl recanted a material part of her story about the assault.

As the trial approached, Fairfax Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Katie Pavluchuk offered a deal: Plead guilty to misdemeanor assault — no sex offense, no jail time. Lanigan refused.

The trial ended, and the jury took just 47 minutes to acquit.  “It was an easy decision, and we were all in agreement,” juror Asman al-Ghafari said. “I just hope Mr. Lanigan can get his life back.”
“There was no evidence,” said Jacklyn West, who wept in the jury box as the lawyers made their closing arguments, later explaining that the 12-year-old accuser “had no idea of the consequences” of her allegations. “This poor man. That’s why I cried.”

Nicole Christian, the lead detective on the case, has a curious history. According to the Washington Post, several months after Mr. Lanigan was acquitted, Fairfax prosecutors dismissed another of Christian’s child abuse cases in the middle of trial, a rarity, when the detective acknowledged that she had “misstated” some key facts in her sworn testimony.

A sexual assault accusation should not be an occasion for a public official to roll the dice with a presumptively innocent man's life in the hope of "getting lucky" with a conviction. If the information reported by the Washington Post is accurate, that's what happened here, and it can only undermine public confidence in the way rape trials are handled.