By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun
7:54 PM EDT, July 25, 2010
The young East Baltimore woman gave police a vivid description of her rape: A man snatched her off the street and used a pocketknife to force her into the darkness of Ellwood Park.
Then the pregnancy test conducted during her medical examination came back positive. Police grew skeptical and confrontational. The details of her story changed with each telling.
"They started making it seem like I had cheated on my boyfriend, got pregnant and wanted to hide it," she said recently as she hugged her son, now 9 years old. "I guess my details weren't as good as they were the first night."
The woman stopped cooperating, and police classified the case as "unfounded," meaning they found the woman's report to be baseless.
But it wasn't.
Last year, Lawrence Mosley, a Baltimore man behind bars for another crime, was convicted of raping the woman, who was 19 at the time of the December 2000 attack.
Not only did the woman testify in court, but DNA evidence from her rape kit — which had been kept and catalogued for nearly a decade even though police didn't believe her — was central to the trial.
Mosley's DNA also matched evidence from the kit of another woman who had been attacked two days earlier under similar circumstances, according to police reports.
The case of Lawrence Mosley and his victims is perhaps the most troubling illustration to date of the way Baltimore police handle some claims of rape and sexual abuse.
A Baltimore Sun analysis of federal crime statistics showed that for the past four years, Baltimore has led the nation in the percentage of rape cases that police say are false or baseless. Many victims of sexual abuse say police interrogators ask confrontational questions and challenge their motives and veracity; as a result, many women decide not to cooperate, leading to the cases being shelved.
The Sun's analysis also shows that four in 10 emergency calls on sexual abuse never make it to detectives specializing in sex crimes, having been dismissed by police officers at the scene.
Police initially defended their practices. But after reviewing the analysis, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for an audit into all such "unfounded" cases, which began earlier this month. Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III also announced the creation of a hot line for victims to share their stories of interacting with police or to request that their cases be reviewed by the audit committee. More than two dozen cases reported to the hot line will be reviewed by the committee.
The commissioner also announced last week that officers will no longer be allowed to reject calls on the spot without a more thorough review.
Advocates for sexual abuse victims say Baltimore police have taken a wrong approach to rape and similar crimes, demeaning those who say they were accosted in an apparent effort to weed out cases where those making the claims might be lying.
The two women attacked by Mosley experienced that firsthand, according to them and their family members. The Sun does not, as a matter of policy, name victims of sexual crimes or provide the names of family members through which they might be identified.
In the first case, the woman attacked in Ellwood Park said that in the days after making her initial report, she put forth her best effort to recount details that detectives were seeking: whether her attacker took off her clothes or she removed them herself; whether she was walking to her boyfriend's or cousin's house when the attack occurred; whether her rapist had used a condom when he forced himself on her.
But she said detectives focused on inconsistencies.
"No matter what I said, they kept saying, 'Well, the other night you said this,''' the woman said. So she stopped participating in the investigation. "After that, I didn't go back."
Two weeks later, her case was reclassified as "unfounded."
The classification, though wrong, brought a sense a relief, she said. While it took more than five years for her to be able to walk alone at night, she was happy to no longer have to relive the ordeal for detectives.
"I wanted to forget," she said.
The fact that detectives showed up at her door nearly six years later and said they found her attacker brought little solace, she said. But she decided to cooperate with prosecutors, she said, because it was the right thing to do.
"It made me blame myself because he wasn't caught right away," she said. "I'm glad it's over, but I'm still not right."
Two days before that rape, on Dec. 15, 2000, another 19-year-old woman was walking a younger friend home along Pulaski Highway when she said she was grabbed by a man in a supermarket parking lot, just blocks from her Highlandtown home, police reports said. Her mother told police she had watched through a bedroom window until her daughter and the friend had walked out of view.
Within the hour, the mother said, she was rushing to Mercy Medical Center to join her daughter as she underwent a rape examination. She said she was approached by a detective who asked her if she thought her daughter was lying about the rape to avoid admitting that she was sexually active.
"I'm not a confrontational person, but I automatically raised my arm to punch him in the face," the mother recalled in an interview with The Sun.
Her daughter agreed to be questioned in the days after the 2000 attack, and the mother said the line of questioning remained confrontational. After about a week, her daughter pleaded not to have to return to the police station.
Detectives called for a while, but the family hung up. Her case was suspended due to a lack of leads.
The mother said she felt she had to protect her daughter from further badgering from police.
"They just degrade women," she said.
Then in 2006, police said they had identified the suspect by matching the DNA, as they had in the other woman's case. The mother said police told her that if her daughter didn't testify, the case could be thrown out. But the family still wouldn't cooperate.
The young woman did not testify at the rape trial, leaving prosecutors unable to pursue a second conviction.
"This is a problem in many of our cold cases," said Marty Burns, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office. "We must have the victim's willingness to go forward years later, otherwise we have to nolle prosse or dismiss the case."
Experts say the lines of questioning pursued by police in both Mosley cases is all too common, and needs to change.
Dave Thomas, a retired Howard County police officer and program administrator for the Domestic Violence Education Program at the Johns Hopkins University, said police detectives need to be trained in what to expect when dealing with victims of trauma.
"The investigators are viewing the victim through the same scope as they'd view the suspect," Thomas said. "When there are inconsistencies, they automatically think this person's lying to them. Investigators tend to try and prove their hypothesis, instead of trying to prove a crime occurred."
Thomas said that in any case where trauma is experienced, from a rape to an officer-involved shooting, "it's consistent that [the victim will] be inconsistent."
"These victims, in wanting to help the case so much, they think they have to remember everything," he said. "Having to relive all of that can be very overwhelming."
Police and prosecutors acknowledge that the Mosley case reveals shortcomings in rape investigations that still need to be addressed.
The case was solved not because of detective work or a good working relationship between police and prosecutors, but because of DNA evidence that was collected and kept, despite police officers' and prosecutors' initial judgments.
"It is our job, our mission, as prosecutors to pursue justice for all crime victims," said State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy in an e-mail to The Sun. "For too many victims of sexual crimes, that justice comes years later with newly discovered evidence, most often the result of a cold case DNA hit."
DNA swabs taken from rape kits are routinely entered into a state database, which was created in 1994, police officials said, even if a case ends up classified as unfounded. Under a 1999 law, all felons convicted of violent crime have their DNA collected, providing a resource that police can use to try to solve other crimes.
At the time of the rape conviction, Mosley was serving 13 years in prison for a 2002 robbery with a deadly weapon. He is appealing the rape conviction.
City police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi echoed the sentiment that a better collaboration between detectives and the city state's attorney office could have improved the effectiveness of pursuing the women's cases.
Police "can't tell" prosecutors "what makes a good case, just like they can't tell us how to investigate," he said.
Even though the Ellwood Park rape case has been resolved, the effects linger.
The woman who faced Mosley in court said she's still angered by her encounter with police.
In the years since her attack, she said, she's witnessed a woman lie about being raped, so she understands that it can be tricky for police to pursue reports of rape.
But, she asked, "isn't it their job to tell the lies from the truth?"
Sun reporters Andrea F. Siegel, Peter Hermann and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.
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