College student thrown in jail after reporting rape
Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:02 a.m.
TAMPA — A 21-year-old rape victim who was helping police search for her attacker was thrown in jail for two nights, when an officer found a warrant accusing her of failing to pay restitution for an earlier theft.
While she was locked up, a jail worker refused to give her a second dose of a morning-after pill to prevent a potential pregnancy because of religious convictions, said Vic Moore, the college student's attorney. She was released from jail Monday night only after Moore reported her plight to the local media.
"Shocked. Stunned. Outraged. I don't have words to describe it," Moore said Tuesday of his client's arrest and treatment in jail. "She is not a victim of any one person. She is a victim of the system. There's just got to be some humanity involved when it's a victim of rape."
Tampa Police Chief Steve Hogue said the arrest led to a new policy Tuesday that tells officers not to arrest a crime victim who has suffered injury or mental trauma whenever "reasonably possible."
"Obviously, any policy that allows a sexual battery victim to spend a night in jail is a flawed policy," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail, said in a statement it is investigating the complaint and declined further comment.
The woman is not being named by The Associated Press because she reported being the victim of a sex crime.
The pre-medical student was in Tampa on Saturday afternoon for Gasparilla, a pirate-themed celebration that draws thousands of revelers to the city's waterfront each year. She said she was walking alone to her car when a man pulled her behind a downtown building and raped her, McElroy said.
She reported the rape to police at 3:30 p.m. Responding officers took her to a rape crisis center, where she was given a medical exam and the first of two doses of a morning-after pill, McElroy said. The second dose of the emergency contraceptive is supposed to be taken within 24 hours.
She was riding in a patrol car trying to locate the crime scene in the dark when a police check revealed the outstanding warrant. She was arrested around 8:50 p.m.
"They stopped the investigation right there," Moore said. "She was riding in the front of the patrol car. They put her in handcuffs and put her in the back."
The warrant stemmed from a 2003 juvenile arrest for grand theft and burglary. It said she owed $4,585 in restitution.
But Moore said his client believes she paid the fine for what he described as a childish mistake by a then-17-year-old. He didn't have details of the previous arrest, but the woman has no criminal history as an adult, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The April 2006 warrant required the student to pay the full restitution or stay in jail until she could face a judge in Sarasota.
McElroy said the arresting officer checked with a sergeant before taking her into custody.
"It appears at face value that they didn't violate policy," she said. "It's just we had a flawed policy."
Moore said the woman was allowed to take the second contraceptive pill Monday afternoon, a day late, and only after reporters started calling police and jail officials.
Authorities then arranged a special emergency bond hearing on Monday afternoon.
"When the chief's office learned we had a rape victim in jail, we began working very aggressively to get her out," McElroy said.
Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, praised the Tampa police's new policy, but wanted more explanation from the county jail.
"It makes people think law enforcement doesn't have a victim-centered approach," Dritt said. "And the fact is it is complicated by the poor response by the nurse in the jail. That's outrageous. That's inexcusable. There is no way that nurse should have been allowed for her personal views to decide whether or not someone gets medication."
Moore said it was too soon to say if his client would sue. Her first priority was making sure detectives arrest her attacker, whom police were still seeking.
"She is brave," Moore said. "We are going to work with police to catch this monster."
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