Man Exonerated Of Bogus Rape Charge After 5 Years In Prison – Victim Lied About Kidnapping, Rape, Received $1.5 Million In Civil Suit, And Probably Won’t be Prosecuted For Lying

May 24, 2012

LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA — A former high school football star whose dreams of a pro career were shattered by a rape conviction burst into tears Thursday as a judge threw out the charge that sent him to prison for more than five years.

Brian Banks, now 26, pleaded no contest 10 years ago on the advice of his lawyer after a childhood friend falsely accused him of attacking her on their high school campus.

In a strange turn of events, the woman, Wanetta Gibson, friended him on Facebook when he got out of prison.

During an initial meeting with him, she said she had lied; there had been no kidnap and no rape and she offered to help him clear his record, court records state.

But she refused to repeat the story to prosecutors because she feared she would have to return a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against Long Beach schools.

During a second meeting that was secretly videotaped, she told Banks, “`I will go through with helping you, but it’s like at the same time all that money they gave us, I mean gave me, I don’t want to have to pay it back,'” according to Freddie Parish, a defense investigator who was at the meeting.

It was uncertain whether Gibson will have to return the money and unlikely she would be prosecuted for making the false accusation so long ago, when she was 15.

Gibson did not attend the hearing and she could not be reached for comment. Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they were unable to find her recently.

Banks, once a star middle linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, had attracted the interest of such college football powerhouses as the University of Southern California, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan, according to the website Rivals.com, which tracks the recruiting of high school football and basketball players.

Banks said he had verbally agreed to attend USC on a scholarship when he was arrested.

He still hopes to play professional football and has been working out regularly. His attorney Justin Brooks appealed to NFL teams to give him a chance.

“He has the speed and the strength. He certainly has the heart,” Brooks said. “I hope he gets the attention of people in the sports world.”

Gil Brandt, an NFL draft consultant, said Banks would be eligible to sign with any team that might show interest. However, his years away from the game will be hard to overcome.

“History tells us guys who come back after one or two years away when they go into the service find it awfully hard,” Brandt said. “And this has been much longer a time.”

Brandt compared the challenge to someone who has been out of high school for years trying to get an A in their first class in college.

Banks said outside court that he had lost all hope of proving his innocence until Gibson contacted him.

“It’s been a struggle. But I’m unbroken and I’m still here today,” the tall, muscular Banks said, tears flowing down his face.

He recalled being shocked and speechless on the day Gibson reached out to him after he had been released from prison, having served five years and two months.

“I thought maybe it wasn’t real,” he said. “How could she be contacting me?”

He said he knew that if he became angry when he met with her it wouldn’t help, so he struggled to keep calm.

“I stopped what I was doing and got down on my knees and prayed to God to help me play my cards right,” he said.

In court, Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira told Superior Court Judge Mark C. Kim that prosecutors agreed the case should be thrown out. Kim dismissed it immediately.

Banks had tried to win release while he was in prison, but Brooks, a law professor and head of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego, said he could not have been exonerated without the woman coming forward and recanting her story.

Brooks said it was the first case he had ever taken in which the defendant had already served his time and had been free for a number of years.

Banks remained on probation, however, and was still wearing his electronic monitoring bracelet at the hearing. His lawyer said the first thing the two planned to do was report to probation officials and have it removed.

“The charges are dismissed now,” Brooks said. “It’s as if it didn’t happen. … It was the shortest, greatest proceeding I’ve ever been part of.”

Banks had been arrested after Gibson said he met her in a school hallway and urged her to come into an elevator with him. The two had been friends since middle school and were in the habit of making out in a school stairwell, according to court papers.

There were contradictions in Gibson’s story, as she told some people the rape happened in the elevator and others that it happened in the stairwell.

A kidnapping enhancement was added to the case because of the allegation Banks had taken her to the stairwell. That enhancement also was thrown out Thursday.

Outside court, Banks donned a sweat shirt that read “Innocent,” as several friends and family members wept. His parents were jubilant, and Banks thanked them for standing by him.

“I know the trauma, the stress that I’ve been through, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your child torn from you,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done without my parents.”

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Additional Secret Service Agent Misconduct Surfaces In Prostitution Scandal Investigation

May 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Amid an ongoing investigation into a prostitution scandal involving Secret Service members, new details have emerged about additional sexual misconduct allegations that have been leveled at Secret Service agents over the last five years.

In a Wednesday Senate Homeland Security hearing investigating the scandal, which rocked the agency in April after a dozen secret service officers were implicated for hiring prostitutes in Colombia, Senator Joe Lieberman, the chair of the committee, noted 64 additional allegations of misconduct over the last five years – including one complaint of non-consensual sex.

Lieberman said that most of the complaints “involved sending sexually explicit emails or sexually explicit material on a government computer,” but that three of the complaints involved charges of a relationship with a foreign national, “and one was a complaint of non-consensual sexual intercourse.”

Mark Sullivan, the head of the Secret Service, testified that the allegation of non-consensual sex had been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement, which ultimately decided not to go forward with charges. The other three incidents, he said, involved contact with foreign nationals and that all of the incidents “were investigated and the appropriate administrative action was taken on all three.” According to Sullivan, none of those three incidents involved prostitution.

Sullivan also discussed an incident in which an agent was “separated from the agency” after soliciting an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute in 2008.

In his opening remarks, Sullivan apologized for the Colombia incident and emphasized that what happened in Cartagena last month “is not representative of [the agency’s] values or of the high ethical standards we demand from our nearly 7,000 employees.”

“I am deeply disappointed and I apologize for the misconduct of these employees and the distraction it has caused,” he said.

Of primary concern among the committee members was the question of whether or not there may have been a “culture” within the Secret Service that tolerated the sort of behavior in which members engaged last month — particularly after the Washington Post reported Wednesday that several implicated agents charged that was the case.

“It is hard for many people, including me, to believe that on one night in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia, 11 secret service agents – there to protect the president – suddenly and spontaneously did something they or other agents had never done before,” Lieberman said in his testimony.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, also seemed skeptical that the incident in Colombia was a unique case.

“The facts so far lead me to conclude that, while not at all representative of the majority of Secret Service personnel, this misconduct was almost certainly not an isolated incident,” she said in her opening statement. “The numbers [of agents] involved, as well as the participation of two senior supervisors, lead me to believe that this was not a one-time event. Rather, and it suggests an issue of culture.”

Collins later pointed to the fact that the involved agents had engaged in similar behaviors independently of each other, as well as the fact that they disguised neither their own nor the prostitutes’ identities when signing into the hotel, as evidence that similar conduct may have been tolerated by the Secret Service in the past.

“Two of the participants were supervisors — one with 22 years of service and the other with 21 — and both were married. That surely sends a message to the rank and file that this kind of activity is tolerated on the road,” she said.

Throughout his testimony, Sullivan disputed that characterization and reiterated his belief that the incident in Colombia was not reflective of the agency as a whole.

“I do not think this is indicative,” he said. “I just think that between the alcohol and, I don’t know, the environment, these individuals did some really dumb things. And I just can’t explain why.”

He also emphasized that President Obama’s security was never at risk because the agents had not yet been briefed on relevant security-related details.

“At the time the misconduct occurred, none of the individuals involved in the misconduct had received any specific protective information, sensitive security documents, firearms, radios or other security-related equipment in their hotel rooms,” he said.

Lieberman reported that the investigation had revealed “troubling” incidents but said that so far it had failed to show “a pattern of misconduct” within the agency at large. He called on whistle blowers to come forward with any additional reports of untoward behavior.

“Our initial review of our Secret Service Agency’s disciplinary records for the last five years … show some individual cases of misconduct that are troubling but are not evidence yet of a pattern of misconduct,” Lieberman said. “These records do reveal 64 instances, again over 5 years in which allegations or complaints concerning sexual misconduct were made against employees of the Secret Service.”

According to acting Inspector General Charles Edwards, who is conducting a three-part independent review of the Secret Service investigation, conclusions from the first phase of the review will be made public in July.

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Maule Guards At Alabama Tutwiler Prison For Women Abused Female Inmates For Years – At Least 20 Guards Transferred Or Fired In Past 5 Years After Sex With Inmates

May 23, 2012

WETUMPKA, ALABAMA – Male guards at an Alabama women’s prison engaged in the widespread sexual abuse of female inmates for years, a nonprofit group alleged in a formal complaint filed with the Justice Department on Tuesday.

The Equal Justice Initiative asked the Justice Department to investigate alleged incidents occurring between 2009 and 2011 at the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama. The federal agency confirmed that it received the complaint though declined further comment.

“In interviews with more than 50 women incarcerated at Tutwiler, EJI uncovered evidence of frequent and severe officer-on-inmate sexual violence,” the Montgomery-based group said in a statement.

“This troubling cycle of abuse and lack of accountability has established a widespread pattern and practice of custodial sexual misconduct,” said Bryan Stevenson, the group’s executive director.

Stevenson also blamed the Alabama Department of Corrections for under-reporting the alleged attacks, which the group says include rapes, and for responding inadequately.

The group claims that more than “20 Tutwiler employees have been transferred or terminated in the past five years for having illegal sexual contact with prisoners.”

“It’s an ongoing thing, a daily thing,” said Stefanie Hibbett, 31, a former Tutwiler inmate. “You see women raped and beaten, and nothing is ever done.”

Hibbett said she was the victim of sexual assault in November 2010. She said she told the prison’s warden about the assault, but no charges were ever filed against the prison guard she says attacked her. An Alabama judge dismissed a civil suit she filed in the case in August.

Several imprisoned women also allegedly became pregnant after being raped by guards, giving birth while in custody, the nonprofit group reported.

CNN cannot independently confirm that account. The Alabama attorney general’s office referred questions to the Alabama Department of Corrections, which did not immediately return a call for comment.

A 2007 Justice Department report found that Tutwiler maintained the highest rate of sexual assault among prisons for women and 11th overall of those evaluated across the United States.

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Senate Wants Travelers To Pay More For Mistreatment By TSA Agents

May 22, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday moved forward with legislation to increase airline passenger security fees, beating back a GOP attempt to keep them at current levels.

The 2013 Homeland Security appropriations bill would increase one-way fees for passengers from $2.50 to $5 in order to close a budget shortfall at the Transportation Security Administration.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said the $350 million in funding would otherwise come from taxpayers and argued it is better to stick passengers who rely on TSA with the bill.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) sponsored an amendment to strip out the fee increase and offset the loss of revenue with cuts to state and local grants, emergency food and shelter funding, and dropping $89 million in funding for a new highway interchange leading to the Homeland Security’s new headquarters in southeast Washington, D.C. Hutchison noted that the Senate had decided not to increase the fees in the recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill.

That amendment was defeated on a 15-15 vote. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) joined Republicans in supporting the measure to strip out the fee increase.

Hutchinson joined Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) in voting against the DHS bill as a whole. Johnson and Moran have been voting against non-defense 2013 appropriations bills because they support the House GOP position that the spending caps in last August’s debt ceiling deal should be lowered. The other Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee have all voted to support the August debt ceiling deal levels.

The committee on Tuesday also approved the 2013 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill, traditionally the least controversial of all 12 annual spending bills. The vote was 30-0.

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Buffalo Police “Find” Suspect In Cold Case, Who They Would Have Found In 1994 Had They Conducted A Real Investigation – Man Says Someone Dumped Victim’s Bodyparts In His Backyard, And He Just Happened To Prior Conviction For Killing Another Woman, And Was Convicted A Year After 94 Murder For Attempted Rape

May 17, 2012

BUFFALO, NEW YORK – James Fountain seemed terrified when he called 911 to report a grisly discovery 18 years ago: Stuffed inside a wooden nightstand left in the backyard of his Montana Avenue home, he told the operator, he had found the chopped-up body parts of a woman.

Fountain, who had come off as meek and soft-spoken, cooperated with the investigation into the murder of Cynthia Epps, a 29-year-old mother of two young daughters, according to police who probed the horrific 1994 murder.

But last week, Buffalo’s Cold Case Squad detectives watched as the man who had seemed so shocked by the mutilated remains was arraigned in State Supreme Court on a charge of second-degree murder, accused of killing Epps and dismembering her body. He pleaded not guilty.

Recently uncovered evidence led investigators to Fountain.

More than a year ago, Cold Case Detective Charles Aronica was sifting through unsolved cases involving the slayings of women in the early to mid-1990s. He was hoping that recent innovations in DNA technology might reveal new leads.

The Epps case, from 1994, jumped out at Aronica. It had occurred during the city’s worst year for homicides in modern times — 92 killings. In contrast, there were 36 homicides reported in the city last year.

“Her murder was horrific, and I knew if we got evidence, that this might be the last cold case I reopened before retiring next year,” Aronica said.

Aronica, along with fellow Detective Lissa Redmond, began poring over the old evidence.

They went over crime scene photographs to identify where they might still find DNA evidence that would lead them to the killer, and they gave Erie County Central Police Services Forensic Crime Lab official Paul Mazur a long list of items to be tested. Mazur put forensic biologist Michelle Lillie on the case.

Months passed as Lillie conducted “meticulous testing” on the many pieces of evidence that were nearly two decades old.

Finally, they got a break.

DNA different from Epps’ was isolated. But whose was it?

The cold case detectives already were suspicious that Fountain was the man they were looking for.

Back in 1994, he had been ruled out after interviews determined he had not known Epps.

“Detectives had no reason to suspect Fountain had anything to do with it because he had no connection to her,” Redmond explained.

Investigators were left to assume Epps’ body parts, wrapped in a green blanket and placed in a wooden nightstand, had been randomly dumped in Fountain’s backyard on the 100 block of Montana.

But Aronica and Redmond learned that four months after the June 1994 slaying of Epps, a resident of Goodyear Avenue who lived only a couple of blocks away from Montana Avenue, Fountain was arrested for attempting to rape a woman.

In that case, Fountain had placed the woman inside a box and locked her inside a bathroom at her home.

“Fortunately, she managed to escape,” Redmond said.

Aronica and Redmond busied themselves digging further into Fountain’s past and discovered he had been convicted in 1977 of killing a woman in New York City.

“We would not have known about the manslaughter conviction at the time of the Epps murder because the records weren’t as easily available back then,” Redmond said.

A check of the New York State Sex Offender Registry revealed that he was convicted in 1984 for sexual attacks involving 7- and 8-year-old girls in the New York City area.

Sometime later, Fountain moved from New York City to Buffalo because he had relatives here, Redmond said.

The detectives didn’t have a hard time finding Fountain.

He was at Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy, where he had been placed in indefinite civil confinement after he had completed his lengthy prison sentence on the attempted rape from 1994 and other charges.

A judge agreed with the state’s claim that he had a “mental abnormality” and, if released, would pose a threat to society.

Obtaining a sample of his DNA to compare to the one found at the Epps crime scene was the next step.

That also proved easy for the detectives. After Fountain’s 1995 conviction on the felony attempted rape, a sample of his DNA was taken for a statewide criminal data base.

The results came back in October 2011. Lillie determined that the unidentified DNA taken from the Epps slaying matched Fountain’s.

“Given what we now know about the Epps homicide, I believe this is proof that civil confinement works,” Redmond said. “Who knows what could have happened if he had been released?”

Police are not saying much about Fountain’s motive for allegedly killing Epps, but Aronica did say, “It may have been an argument between the two of them.”

Two months ago, Redmond and Aronica interviewed Fountain at Marcy. And though the detectives declined to release the results of the interview, they said it went well.

What surprised them was the manner in which Fountain conducted himself. A small man who presents himself as unassuming, Fountain was extremely polite, they said.

The unexpected solving of the cold case has left the Epps family grateful that their daughter, sister and mother was not forgotten.

“This won’t bring my sister back, and I will not be held hostage or victim for what he did to my sister, but I am very grateful to both detectives,” said Epps’ sister, Roxanne McKinney Cumberlander.

Cumberlander added that when she saw Fountain in court last week, she realized he was a sick man.

“I forgive him and pray that he gets help and that God will save him,” she said.

Redmond said, “The family’s gratitude is overwhelming and makes our job meaningful.”

Fountain is now being held in the Erie County Holding Center, awaiting his next appearance before State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang.

Fountain’s court appearance was on the same day Aronica, a city officer for 40 years, celebrated his 60th birthday.

“This turned out to be a great birthday present, helping the Epps family get some closure,” Aronica said.

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Pedophile Milwaukee Wisconsin Sheriff’s Sergeant Phil Wentzel Quits After Child Pornography/Molestation Arrest – Drugged, Molested, And Photographed Girls 6 To 14 – Uploaded Pictures To Internet From Home And Work

May 8, 2012

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – The Milwaukee County sheriff’s sergeant who has been accused of producing child porn resigned effective Monday, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

That immediately stops the internal investigation that the sheriff’s office had initiated last week.

“We did initiate an internal investigation, hence he resigned today,” Capt. Scott Stiff said Monday. “Effective immediately, he’s no longer employed with our agency, so there’s no need to conduct any further (investigation).”

Phil Wentzel, a former spokesman for the office, was accused in a federal complaint Thursday of taking photos of girls between 6 and 14 years old at a campsite in Campbellsport in Fond du Lac County, where he had rented a spot for his recreational vehicle since 2008.

Wentzel, 41, is accused of producing most of the child porn in April 2011, but files were created starting in May 2010, a criminal complaint states. He shared the photos in seven different photo albums through an Internet peer-to-peer file-sharing network.

Wentzel admitted to the FBI that he drugged and molested girls and took pornographic pictures of them, U.S. Attorney James Santelle said in a news release Friday. Wentzel also said he had a difficult time controlling his urges.

The complaint states he had accessed his accounts from several computers, including Milwaukee County computers in August 2011.

Arrested last week

He was arrested May 2 at the Sheriff’s Department and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Wednesday.

It was a search warrant in Denver that led investigators to the images.

According to the criminal complaint, Wentzel agreed to fully cooperate and give investigators the password to an encrypted hard drive they seized from his West Allis home in exchange for a tentative plea agreement and a reduced prison sentence.

Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. said in a statement to media last week that he was “disgusted with the nature of the allegations against the deputy as they were briefed to him.” He had no further comment while the issue is under investigation.

If convicted, Wentzel is facing a minimum of 15 years in jail and a maximum of 30 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

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Brooklyn New York District Attorney’s Office Hid Rape Recantation From Defense Lawyers For A Year While Two Men Sat In Jail

April 19, 2012

The Brooklyn DA’s office sat on a rape recantation for nearly a year while two men accused of the crime sat behind bars, documents reveal.

Last June, Damien Crooks and Jamali Brockett were arrested for forcing a 13-year-old Jewish Orthodox girl into prostitution in 2003, and then raping, assaulting and sexually trafficking her for the next 8 years.

Two other men, Jawara Brockett and Darrell Dula, were also arrested and charged with raping the girl.

A day after accusing Jawara Brockett and Dula, however, the girl, then 22-years-old, went back to the police, and told detectives she was simply a prostitute for 5 years and made up the allegations against Brockett and Dula.

“I once again asked [her] if she was raped,” a detective wrote in a police report after the interview. “She told me ‘no’ and stated to me, ‘Can’t a ho change her ways?’ ”

The woman also signed a recantation, but the case proceeded and in spring 2011, a grand jury voted to indict Dula, Crooks and two others who were allegedly part of the crew.

Defense attorneys for the men didn’t receive the woman’s recantation until April 2012, when prosecutor Rebecca Gingold, who replaced Assistant District Attorney Abbie Greenberger, discovered the documents and turned them over.

“[The girl] indicated the night of the alleged rape that she had made up the story,” Crooks’ lawyer, Elliot Kay, told The New York Post. “She indicated that she was in a consensual relationship, as opposed to being the victim of sex trafficking.”

The Brooklyn DA’s office–who publicized the big bust last year–has yet to comment on the newly-discovered documents.

“How do they go on TV talking about this huge sex-trafficking bust when they had written documentation from police officers in which she admitted lying?” Kay asked.

Dula was released from prison Tuesday and spent time with his family in Crown Heights.

“I’m glad to be home with my family,” he told The Daily News. “I’m still in shock. I’m traumatized. It wasn’t a good experience. They took me away on my son’s birthday. It was heartbreaking.”

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