Fairfax County Police Chief David M. Rohrer sent out a statement to his department Thursday defending his detectives in the case of Sean Lanigan, the Fairfax schoolteacher who was arrested and then acquitted last year after a 12-year-old girl claimed he molested her.
Rohrer says that an article Sunday in The Washington Post and a subsequent blog post unfairly criticized the detectives in the case, and that they “followed all appropriate investigative protocols.” It is worth noting that long before the article was published, the Fairfax police were given ample opportunity to respond to the allegations made in the article, were provided specific details of the allegations, and chose not to respond. Another offer to respond was made last Friday, and again was declined.
Rohrer also states that neither the accuser nor her friend ever recanted her allegations, and that Fairfax prosecutors never offered Lanigan a plea deal to a misdemeanor. Defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun Thursday strongly stood by his contention that Lanigan was offered a plea deal.
On the “recantation”: The police’s own press release stated that Lanigan “pushed her down and lay on top of her.” That release has been removed from the county’s police Web site. The first police report written in the case stated that the accuser reported that Lanigan “pushed her down and laid on top of her.” The accuser’s handwritten statement says that “he was kind of laying on me.” At Lanigan’s arraignment, a Fairfax prosecutor informed a judge that Lanigan “laid on top of her and thrust his pelvis into her.” At Lanigan’s preliminary hearing, the accuser acknowledged that the teacher did not physically lay on her, but was looming closely over her. The accusation was then not repeated at trial.
Here is Rohrer’s full statement:
“Recently, several articles and blogs have been published in The Washington Post and now reported in other various media expressing concern and sharply criticizing the performance and conduct of the Police Department and several detectives in a criminal investigation and prosecution of allegations against a Fairfax County Public Schools teacher. In particular, Detective Nicole Christian and Detective Richard Mullins have been harshly, and I strongly believe unfairly, criticized for their actions and their “rush to judgment” in the obviously one-sided reporting.
Allegations of improper conduct by police officers are always taken very seriously.
“I have reviewed the investigative report in the past, and I recently met with Detective Christian, Detective Mullins, and their supervisor and commanders to discuss and review the investigation. I have also spoken with the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Ray Morrogh, to ensure he had no concerns as to the conduct of the investigation, and, again, specifically our detectives’ actions. He does not, and he too has done an independent review. He has affirmed that they acted appropriately and properly.
In a trial held almost a year ago, the teacher was found not guilty by a jury on the charges of abduction and aggravated sexual battery. Yet, as we all know, trials, particularly in a case involving allegations and subsequent testimony by a young victim and/or a young witness, can be difficult. Most of us also know that in many trials some evidence is presented, some is not or cannot be used, and some witnesses testify, others do not. We also know that a much higher burden of proof is required to convict a person, one higher than that required to support an arrest.
Probable cause remains the standard necessary for an arrest to occur. Probable cause is not simply a suspicion on the part of the police, but rather a legal standard in which the facts and circumstances known at the time would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the individual in question has committed a crime.
In this case, the detectives conducted a thorough investigation and considered all of the evidence and information on hand to establish the probable cause necessary to arrest the teacher. In addition, before arresting him, the police discussed the evidence they had with an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, who agreed that the evidence existed for the arrest and subsequent prosecution of the teacher. The evidence was then presented to a magistrate, who determined that probable cause existed and, therefore, issued arrest warrants for the teacher.
As with any felony charge, the teacher was entitled to and had a preliminary hearing in the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to determine whether a judge also thought that there was probable cause to believe that the crimes were committed. The judge did find that probable cause existed and certified the case to the Fairfax County Circuit Court. Prior to being tried in the Circuit Court, a grand jury composed of citizens of Fairfax County also found probable cause that the teacher committed the offenses with which he was charged.
In order to convict a person of any criminal offense, the Commonwealth is required to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest burden of proof in our legal system. At trial, the jury determined that the evidence presented against the teacher fell short of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The legal process regarding this case was consistent with established legal standards of due process and the right of the accused to have his case heard before a jury of his peers. Unfortunately, although we always respect a verdict as rendered by a judge or jury, almost any experienced officer and detective has experienced a verdict that is sometimes unpredictable -- yet it does not mean that the investigation was improper.
There is simply no evidence that the proper protocols were not followed in this case. In fact, the detectives followed all appropriate investigative protocols.
Just to highlight a few key points that have been reported that are either in error or require clarification:
· Most importantly, neither the victim nor the witness ever recanted their allegations during the preliminary hearing or at the subsequent trial. Their statements and testimony remained consistent throughout the investigation, preliminary hearing, and trial.
· The interviewing of the victim by a CPS investigator, one who is well trained, is a standard and acceptable protocol. Detective Mullins observed the interview, as is also standard, and the CPS investigator and he spoke before the conclusion of the interview to ensure both had the information needed to proceed with the respective investigations.
· The Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney never offered a plea agreement to misdemeanor assault.
· The detectives did check the equipment room in question, and although there were no mats in there at the time they ascertained from other witnesses that they were occasionally stored or placed there.
The detectives conducted a professional investigation, and the evidence required to support the arrest was certainly sufficient given that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, a magistrate, a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge, and a grand jury each determined that there was probable cause that the alleged offenses were committed by the teacher.
I stand behind and by all of our detectives’ actions, specifically Detective Christian and Detective Mullins, in this case and I am satisfied that their investigation was thorough and in accordance with applicable law, policies, and procedures. As detectives they work hard to protect and serve our community, and, in particular, to protect the children of Fairfax County. I strongly refute the allegations and character assassination statements made against our detectives in the media reports and blog comments, and will be taking additional steps along with Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh, to protect their character and integrity, along with the integrity of the Police Department and his office.
Colonel David M. Rohrer ”