No Reason To Investigate If You “Believe The Victim”

The list of accusations by Eboni Sanders against Thomas Mowbray, and later Patrese Thompson, because she “put herself into the situation when she began seeing Mowbray,” is long and prolix. And if that was as much as you knew about the situation, this poor woman who was subject to threats, harassment and domestic violence, you wouldn’t feel all that bad about the time Mowbray and Thompson spent in cells after their being arrested by Pittsburgh cops.

Except none of it was true. Sanders fabricated all of it, from calling in threats to herself to creating a phony Facebook account to solicit a contract killer to do her in. And almost every aspect of the accusations against Mowbray and Thompson was subject to collateral evidence, videos, fingerprints, telephone records, that would have proven as conclusively as possible that Sanders was fabricating it all.

But the cops didn’t bother to investigate her claims. Instead, they believed the victim.

In reviewing the charges filed against Mr. Mowbray by Zone 2 officers, Cmdr. Zett — who did not take over the station until April 2017 — noted that no officer ever responded to Ms. Sanders more than once.

“They were spread just far enough apart that we didn’t see a pattern,” the commander said.

A curious place to start making excuses. While there was a pattern of false accusations, would it have been fine with the cops had there been only one false accusation? But there wasn’t one; there was an avalanche, and there was no communication between officers that the same “victim,” the same “perp,” were involved? Is there no mechanism by which complaints made by the same person against the same person, over and over, are noticed? Is each cop a department unto himself?

Mug shot of Eboni Sanders.

Cases like these, she continued, are also difficult because Ms. Sanders presented herself as a victim of domestic violence.

“You’re trying not to revictimize the victim,” she said. “Our officers will always err on the side of caution with what a person is telling them and file a report and then send it over to detectives for further investigation.”

The trauma-informed approach to policing that has become so popular with advocates of “believe the victim,” pushes the cops to “err” rather than investigate. The argument proffered is that the police shouldn’t make the “victim” feel like the abuser by questioning her accusations, challenging her claims, asking for, if not demanding, proof that there is any truth to her allegations.

The idea that police shouldn’t “err,” one way or the other, but go where the evidence leads is anathema to advocates. As Zett says, they don’t want to “revictimize” the victims. Except one can’t revictimize someone who isn’t a victim, and one can’t tell who the victim is until the facts are investigated.

So why was there no investigation?

Cmdr. Zett could not say what follow-up investigation happened in Mr. Mowbray’s cases. If there were none, she said, it would have been because Ms. Sanders provided all the relevant information that was necessary for the charges to be filed. She noted that most of the counts against Mr. Mowbray were low level and charged by summons. Still, she said she would have expected officers to follow up.

There was video. Mowbray’s lawyer, William Bickerton, got the video, brought it to the cops, brought it to the prosecutor, and they didn’t give a damn. Why watch video when we’ve got a story with “all the relevant information” they needed? They had a guy in the slammer, a story that sounded good enough and didn’t need extra work that would only screw up their case.

Cmdr. Zett said the entire incident exposed ways victims can exploit the system.

Of course, Sanders was no “victim.” Then again, there is a strong likelihood that Sanders was suffering from mental illness, as people who enjoy good mental health don’t do the things she did. And yet, Zett blames her for “exploiting the system” when there was a mountain of available evidence that would have blown Sanders’ accusations out of the water, had the cops bothered to look.

“It made me think, ‘How do we not have something in here that shows she’s filed as a victim nine times in 18 months?’” she said. “This is a good question for our entire criminal justice system. So much rides on the credibility of the victim, suspect and witnesses.

Is it “our entire criminal justice system,” or lazy cops plus a nonsensical narrative of “believe the victim” and ignore the evidence, even when defense counsel does the investigation for you and serves it up on a silver platter?

“I’m not saying [the whole system] didn’t fail this guy somewhere along the way,” she said. “Nobody should spend six months in jail for something they absolutely did not do.”

Nobody should, a facile observation after the fact. But does Zett ever come to the epiphany that the cops, rather than the “whole system” may have completely blown this, taking six months from Thomas Mowbray’s life for nothing? Don’t be ridiculous.

But Cmdr. Zett also questioned why Mr. Bickerton did not seek to lower Mr. Mowbray’s $250,000 bond in the 2016 cases.

“That defense attorney seriously failed him,” she said.

Putting aside that reducing bond doesn’t work that way, Bickerton not only did everything possible to try to get the police and prosecutor to take a peek at the videos, to fingerprint the “weapon,” to get hold of the phone records, all of which would have disproven Sanders’ wild claims.

Mr. Bickerton expressed his frustration to Assistant District Attorney Michael Ahwesh during an email exchange.

“Trust me, I’m not pleased that I have to look for needles in haystacks to prove my client’s innocence, again. The police find Eboni to be very convincing, but so is Meryl Streep,” Mr. Bickerton wrote.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” the lawyer continued. “I’m tired of dealing with Eboni, and I’m frustrated. Unfortunately, I have to make broad requests because Eboni changes her story and blatantly lies…If you can think of way [sic] that your office or the police can assist in proving the guilt or innocence of my client based on objective evidence and not solely on the credibility of a known liar, I’m all ears. Otherwise, it is what it is.”

Eboni Sanders was, apparently, a very believable victim. And the police and prosecutor believed. There was only one, kinda really huge problem, which was that it was all, every bit of it, false. And the irony is that Sanders was never challenged as she lied about Mowbray and Thompson, but was “revictimized” when she was charged for her lies rather than recognized as a mentally ill woman who pulled one over the cops’ eyes.

That was probably defense attorney Bickerton’s fault too. It’s not clear how, but then the cops wouldn’t be to blame.

H/T John Humpty

24 thoughts on “No Reason To Investigate If You “Believe The Victim”

  1. B. McLeod

    But. . .but. . .Eboni’s a “victim.” It’s right there in the story. Maybe that’s actually the Eboni from the evil parallel universe. That might explain the facial hair.

    1. SHG Post author

      Of the many problems Eboni faces, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say facial hair isn’t in the top 10.

  2. Skink

    Give the cops a break on this one. Investigations are difficult and can be traumatic. Put yourself in their shoes. They talked to Sanders 18 times, but got no useful information because their minds were stuck on what was happening to her face.

  3. Steve White

    This really hits home for me I had a drawn out trauma like this when a relative made repeated false accusations against me , partly out of mental problems but also to steal a house we co-owned.
    In my case, the DA did not buy into the false accusations and they would never file charges – the relative blew her credibility early on = but individual cops would do NO actual investigation – it was easier to arrest me – in one case I had a video camera in my hand and told them, “I can play the video I just made proving this allegation is false” and they would not let me do it- they did offer to look at it if I gave them permission to do so – but I figured since they had already arrested me that would mean they would erase the video so then there was no false arrest – and they made me go to court to get the camera back – even though I was not charged- right, even if you are not charged, you have to go to court to get your own property back.
    I totally agree this is a matter of “believe the victim” – and that is why abuse in this area of law is so rampant – though it was proven to the DA- they did not admit it, but it was – that the accusers had lied on two occasions – they got no charges for that – “revictimizing the victim” or more likely feminist politics – the relative was my brother but he used his wife to attack, to claim she was being stalked, threatened and so forth.
    Despite an obvious economic motive to lie, and despite being proven liars, it took years for the system to correct it’s own mistakes.

    1. SHG Post author

      Steve,

      This one time, and one time only, I’m going to post your comment about you so as to give you a catharsis. This is a law blog, neither reddit nor a cause blog. No more about you, your life, your story, your feelings, or anything else about Steve. If you have something to say (and brevity and/or humor will be greatly appreciated) about the substance of the specific post that could possibly illuminate the subject matter, feel free to comment.

      But this is the only catharsis you get. I’ve trashed all your prior comments. I’m giving you this one. But this is it.

          1. Steve White

            Well, honestly my feelings are hurt – I thought my post was about the subject matter. Your posts, and the title “Simple Justice” both lead me to believe it’s about the importance of fundamental due process and not just a place for lawyers to trade one-liners – but I go it wrong. I really do hope you will think about the post about Michele Dauber. Goodbye.

            1. SHG Post author

              Yes, you got it wrong. It’s not just a place for lawyers to trade one-liners, but it’s also not a place for you. It’s not that your sympathies are necessarily wrong or misguided, but you have nothing to contribute here. Best of luck and good-bye.

  4. Jim Majkowski

    “Our officers will always err on the side of caution…”

    Caution against what? Obviously not against improperly jailing an innocent person. or, in other contexts, removing a child from a loving home. Or…

    Brandeis again vindicated (yeah, yeah, I know, a broken record…)

  5. grberry

    Perhaps we should go back to the Deuteronomic approach: “If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:16-20, NKJV). The non-charges, or minimal charges for “false reports” or “obstruction of justice” don’t seem to do the trick in our society. So when someone makes a accusation proven false, they should get to serve the prison sentence, be put on the sexual offender list, pay the fines, get expelled from college, etc… that a perpetrator of the crime they said happened would get.

    1. DaveL

      Because turning punishment up to 11 has worked for every other social ill on which it’s been tried, right?

      1. PseudonymousKid

        Draco thought so. Too bad he didn’t study the effectiveness of making theft punishable by death or we might have learned our lesson 2,700 years ago.

  6. Billy Bob

    Before you believe the victim, you have to investigate. What is so hard about that? Why is that so difficult to understand? Inquiring Minds demand answers, immediately if not sooner.
    Don’t they teache that in school, or might it be on-the-job training? In either case, it’s imperative that they, the underworked and overpaid functionaries, get it straight. Otherwise, there is catastrophic collateral damage coming down the pike, which must be footed by the blind-sided taxpayers for the incompetencies/flubups of the so-called and erstwhile authorities.
    Yup, it’s a great judicial system we have, the best the world has ever known or seen. Repeat after me,… If you say it enough times, you might start believing it. Color us skeptical.

  7. John Rew

    No doubt Ted Bundy was mentally ill too. In fact it’s arguable that most crime is a product of mental illness. The point is that we have systems in most countries that protect mentally ill or criminal women from prosecution and it’s getting worse. Are you sure that saying she is “mentally ill” is not just another way of saying women don’t do bad things? I think calling these people mentally ill and victims may be part of the problem.

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