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?
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