Washington, DC - Danielle Hicks-Best was arrested when she was 11 and spent her teenage years as a ward of the state because she reported to police that she had been raped.
When the situation occurred, Danielle was young, scared and confused. When she was interviewed by police, her retelling of the events were not coherent, so they automatically assumed that she was lying. Danielle had informed the officers that she had been raped on two separate occasions. She was even able to provide medical evidence of the assaults via rape kits that confirmed her assault, as well as the identities of the attackers.
Instead of taking the matter seriously, the police insisted that the girl was promiscuous and that the sexual assaults were actually consensual.
The police then coerced Danielle into taking a plea, where she was charged with making false police reports. However, Danielle did not understand the terms of the plea deal, and according to her family, the officers were dishonest about how the case would play out.
“I don’t remember giving lots of different accounts. What I remember was being confused, and I was exhausted, and I was still wearing the same clothes and I felt horrible," Danielle said.
Danielle was then arrested just after her 12th birthday.
The officers did not give Danielle the benefit of the doubt because she was poor and came from a troubled family. Instead, they expected the worst of her, and essentially banished her to a soft form of imprisonment for the duration of her teenage years.
A later investigation revealed unscrupulous mails between officers who were working the case. They insisted that the 11-year-old was having consensual sex, despite the fact the age of consent in Washington, DC is 16. A consensual sexual relationship with an adult was legally impossible for a child of her age.
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One email from a lieutenant working the case, dated on July 27, 2009 said, “Danielle was convicted of lying. No other evidence, so I’d suspect therefore based on poor victim credibility all other cases she reported were suspended. . . . All sex was consensual. Parents are unable to accept the fact of this child’s promiscuous behavior caused this situation.”
However, according to police reports, the family had ample evidence to convict the attackers, who were both adult males.
“I was desperate for the police to do their job six years ago and get those guys off the street and away from Danielle. It’s hard not to be angry when she was the one locked up and labeled . . . A delinquent,” Danielle's mother Veronica told The Washington Post.
Roger Canaff, a former prosecutor from the area, says that more should have been done to investigate the case.
“I understand why the police may not have believed Danielle’s version of events, because it was unreliable; the account of what happened is so mixed up. But she’s 11, and you have strong medical evidence that she has been sexually assaulted, and she has a history of mental-health problems. I don’t know if they could have prevented the second rape, but the police could have worked with Danielle to develop suspects and, if nothing else, warned them away from her while they were conducting their detailed investigation,” Canaff said.
Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who was just starting her position with the city at the time of the assaults, has admitted that what happened was unacceptable.
“If there is a case that has not been handled properly, I think it’s important that that victim or that family hear from the chief of police that we screwed up and we want to fix it. Obviously we cannot turn the clock back and fix things that have happened in the past. . . . The best I can offer the hypothetical victim from six or seven years ago . . . is to make sure if there were any investigative leads that were never followed or things that should have been done that they are done. It’s never too late to try to correct things,” Lanier said.
Danielle says she hopes to get her GED so she can work in a profession where she can help rape victims.
Police officers convincing children to confess or plead in cases where they are innocent is a common occurrence. In a Free Thought Project investigation last month, we revealed the heavy-handed procedures, banned in other countries, for coercing juveniles into confessing to crimes they haven't committed.
John Vibes is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture and the drug war. In addition to his writing and activist work he organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference, which features top caliber speakers and whistle-blowers from all over the world. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can find his 65 chapter Book entitled “Alchemy of the Timeless Renaissance” at bookpatch.com.