I Was Raped—and Then the Police Told Me I Made It Up
If you think India is the only place cops treat rape victims like shit, think again . At age nineteen, Sara Reedy was working as a cashier in a gas station in the 1000-person burgh of Cranberry, Pennsylvania when one night a serial rapist named Wilbur Brown opened the door to the station with cellophane wrapped around his fingers. He forced her out in front of the station, where he made her perform oral sex on him, while holding his pistol against her head. There were no security cameras. He then went back inside with Sara, robbed the cash drawer of around $600, and afterwards, hid her in a room behind the office in the back of the service station, where he forced her to tear out all of the phone lines in sight. Incidentally, tangled with one of those phone cords was the power cord to the station’s meager security system, a screwy detail that would later endanger Sara’s chances for justice. The office also happened to have an emergency exit, which Sara bolted through to safety. She sought shelter in the mechanic’s shop next door. One of the tow-truck drivers on duty at the shop telephoned the police while the other went out with a gun to look for the assailant.
What followed, even after such a nightmarish encounter, was worse. Sara was accused of lying to the police. Frank Evanson, the detective who interviewed her in the hospital room where she was undergoing her rape kit examination, accused her of stealing the cash from the drawer and fabricating the assault story as a cover-up. She was put in jail for five days, and waited eight torturous months for her criminal trial. All the while, she was pregnant with her first child.
Wilbur Brown was arrested for a similar crime a month before Sara’s trial date in 2005. He confessed to both Reedy’s assault and the robbery in addition to numerous other rapes. In response, after Sara was released, she sued the Cranberry Township Police Department. But the suit was dismissed in 2009, after Detective Evanson presented evidence claiming that Sara had pulled the power cord to the gas station’s security system an hour before the time she claimed to have been assaulted. She pulled the cord, he testified, in order to steal the $600, and then invented the rape story as a mere diversion.
Except, it turns out, the good detective had misread the security company’s timestamp data indicating when the cord was disconnected, and failed to consult the security company experts who actually knew how to read it. This fact came out when, in August of 2010, attorneys of the Women’s Law Project, a civil-rights nonprofit based in Pennsylvania, volunteered to help Sara challenge the dismissal of her lawsuit. The result was that, this past spring, Sara won a settlement of 1.5 million dollars. Part of the settlement was a gag order that said Sara couldn’t talk about her case—until now.
VICE recently spoke with Sarawhile she was on Christmas vacation at her parents’ home in Florida.
VICE: Tell me what happened at the hospital.
Reedy: When I was brought to the hospital, Detective Evanson was already there. The police walked me through the waiting room and they basically put me in an office space like one of the nurses would use. It was a very small room, like a cubicle-type space, but it had doors. Evanson was sitting there waiting for me and that’s when he asked me to tell him what happened and I told him, and after I was finished telling all the details about the assault and the man, and how I was robbed, his first question to me was “How many times a day do you use dope?”
I thought that he was referring to heroin, because heroin had been a problem in that area, and I told him straight up that I did not use heroin, that I smoked pot occasionally but that I hadn’t smoked pot in about a week. Eventually, they moved me into an actual hospital room to give me the rape kit, but actually, before giving me the rape kit, Evanson and the corporal, Corporal Massolino, came in and questioned me again. And I had to go through the details of the assault all over again. Evanson basically led the whole thing—it’s cheesy to say, but it almost felt like they were playing this “Good Cop, Bad Cop” game, because Corporal Massolino just sat there. He really didn’t say anything. Evanson just kept on grilling me and it eventually turned into “Where’s the money? If you’d tell us now about what actually happened, you’d save yourself.” And he actually went to the extent of saying, “Your tears won’t save you now,” when I finally started crying. It was like a horrible Lifetime movie.
What was the first thing you felt when you realized he was accusing you?
I honestly felt like they were just playing “Good Cop, Bad Cop.” I was trying to reassure myself that this wasn’t actually happening. I was in total shock—I was trying to reassure myself the whole entire time that everything was going to be okay. I was giving myself every excuse as to why it was going to be okay, but I was definitely getting frustrated with dealing with Evanson. I almost felt like, “This couldn’t happen. It won’t happen.” You know, you’re brought up to believe that the cops are there to help you.
When did you decide to pursue litigation? You waited for your trial for several months, right?
I didn’t really have any basis to sue them until my vindication. That was the position I was in. Innocent until proven guilty, when, in the reality of it, you’re guilty until proven innocent. It’s hard to go ahead and sue the police until you actually have solid evidence. I’m sure I could have pursued it if I was found innocent in a trial, but I don’t think I would have had success if Wilbur wasn’t caught and had confessed to assaulting me.