Police jail rape victim for two days
By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published January 30, 2007
TAMPA - First, police say, a 21-year-old woman was raped at Gasparilla. Then, she was handcuffed and jailed - for two nights and two days.
A jail worker with religious objections blocked her from ingesting a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, her attorney says, keeping her from taking the required second dose for more than 24 hours longer than recommended.
The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office wouldn't talk about her medical treatment in jail. But Tampa police are investigating why more compassion wasn't shown toward the woman after she reported her sexual assault to law enforcement.
"We may need to revisit our policy," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.
The premedical student attended Saturday's Gasparilla parade and veered off from her friends shortly before 1:30 p.m., police said. The Times is not naming her because police say she is a victim of a sexual crime.
As she walked north on Howard Avenue at Swann Avenue, she was grabbed by a man with crooked teeth and raped behind a building, McElroy said.
After the assault, the man ran off. The woman walked to her car, which was parked on the University of Tampa campus. At 3:40 p.m., after finding her vehicle, she called police.
As police assisted her, taking her to a nurse examiner's clinic, and processing her report, an officer found two outstanding warrants for the woman in Sarasota County.
Attorney Virlyn "Vic" Moore III of Venice said his client was seated in the front seat of the police cruiser, on her way to the scene of her attack when the officer learned of the warrant, cuffed her and placed her in the back seat.
"To stop the rape investigation and instead victimize her again," Moore said. "I'm aghast, astonished and outraged. I have never, ever heard of this happening."
The officer arrested the woman at a sergeant's instruction, McElroy said.
The student had failed to pay $4,585 restitution after a 2003 juvenile arrest, McElroy said. Moore said his client is convinced that she paid the fine and that the warrant was probably the result of a clerical error.
The judge set no bail.
"As soon as the chief's office found out about it Monday, detectives were assigned to get her out of jail," McElroy said. "Obviously, we're very concerned about this young woman."
Jail records show the woman was booked about eight hours after the reported rape.
A doctor had given her Plan B, the so-called "morning-after pill" approved by the FDA, to prevent pregnancy. But Moore said a medical supervisor at the jail refused to let her take the second of the two pills on Sunday.
For the emergency contraceptive to work, the first pill must be taken within three days of unprotected sex and the second 12 hours after the first. The woman had already taken the first pill soon after the assault Saturday, Moore said. She was unable to take the second pill until Monday afternoon. The jail allowed it, he said, after media inquiries.
Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail, said she couldn't comment on the situation because medical information is private. But she said medical service policies are set by Armor Correctional Health Services, which contracts with the jail.
Armor's corporate offices were closed late Monday when the St. Petersburg Times tried to reach a spokesperson.
Police administrators learned about the woman's arrest Monday, McElroy said.
Moore worked with police to petition the court to reinstate the woman's bail so she could be freed. Jail records indicate the woman was released Monday at 5 p.m. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Walter Heinrich ordered the change in bail.
If the warrants had been for misdemeanors, the woman would not have been jailed, under a TPD policy enacted in 2002.
But she faced felony charges for failing to pay restitution, McElroy said.
"But we always have to balance that with compassion for the victim," McElroy said.
The rape suspect was described as a black man, 5-foot-7 to less than 6 feet tall, medium build with a dark complexion, in his mid 20s. He has a short Afro, brown eyes, a large flat nose and no facial hair. He was wearing a tan T-shirt and jeans.
Anyone with information is asked to call TPD at (813) 231-6130.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.