NYC “rape cops” allegedly harassed another young woman

Let’s talk about credibility, ok? Yesterday, the Village Voice reported that the NYC “rape cops,” whose acquittal last month outraged many New Yorkers, had previously harassed an intoxicated young woman while on duty.

In the August incident, Mata and Moreno were accused of being verbally abusive to a woman, calling her a “cunt” and a “bitch,” among other things. They pushed her around, causing scratches and bruises on her wrists. They refused to take her criminal complaint for theft. They refused to identify themselves. They detained her twice on specious grounds, never read her Miranda rights, held her for several hours, and let her go without explaining why she had been arrested.

The Voice has learned that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office was not only aware of this second incident (investigators interviewed the second woman in 2009), but chose not to introduce it into evidence at trial. In addition, documents show that the Civilian Complaint Review Board substantiated—in other words, considered credible—the woman’s account for offensive language and recommended that the NYPD charge the officers with violating department rules. (Both were involved, but the CCRB only substantiated allegations against Mata.)

The woman in this incident, called Caitlin by the Voice, hadn’t known about the rape charges until she saw Mata and Moreno on TV after their acquittal and was shocked that her complaint wasn’t brought up in the trial. “My case could have helped,” she said. “You had another example of severe misconduct involving the same officers—abuse of power, involving the opposite sex, a vulnerable victim. It shows a pattern of misconduct.”

As the Voice reports, the rules for introducing “prior bad acts” are strict. But prosecutors could have used Caitlin’s case during the cross-examination–and you’ve gotta wonder why exactly they didn’t. Maybe because it would have raised awkward questions about what, if anything, the NYPD did in response to the complaint? Did they ever file disciplinary charges against Mata as the CCRB had recommended? Count me as one New Yorker who’d be curious to know.

A prosecutor told Caitlin that her complaint wasn’t “relevant” to the rape case. Which, coming in the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case being dropped because the victim’s “lack of credibility,” is astounding. Lying about other aspects of her life–most of which had absolutely nothing to do with the rape charge she made–was enough to destroy the credibility of the DSK accuser in the eyes of the legal system and the media. But acting in an unprofessional, abusive, misogynistic way towards another young woman wasn’t even deemed relevant enough to bring up during the trial for the cops?

As Thoreau wrote in response to the DSK care revelations, the standard of credibility is generally a good one–it’s just that it “shouldn’t be exclusively for accusers in rape cases.” But clearly that’s far from the way that our world works. In rape cases that are so often described as “he said-she said”, somehow “credibility” is only relevant for the accuser, never the accused.

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 6, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    My understanding is that a defendant has greater protections against character evidence than does their accuser. This is especially the case when the defendant does not testify. If the defendant does not testify, their credibility is not an issue for the jury.

    Regardless of whether the defendant testified or not, this prior bad act evidence could have come in if it was considered to show a modus operandi in terms of the charge of misconduct. This does not mean simply another happening of misconduct, but misconduct that follows a very similar pattern. It would not have been “legally” relevant to the rape charge. It may not have been similar enough under New York law, but a zealous prosecutor would probably have tried to get the judge to let her introduce it.

    This is the law because we want to protect defendants from evidence of this sort – “he has done bad things in the past, he did this current bad thing.” The trial is meant to be about the charged accusation only.

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