Defamation Conspiracy Leads to Judgment Against Molestation Victim

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 24, 2009

The judgment stood for one day before unraveling. It was a plot so off the wall, so bizarre, that U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said it was "like something out of a novel."

After serving a prison term for molesting an eighth-grader in Ohio, David Copeland-Jackson moved to the District to live with his mother. He e-mailed a buddy and together, federal authorities said, they came up with a plan that would fool a respected judge into issuing a $3 million defamation order against Copeland-Jackson's victim.

Copeland-Jackson relied on forged documents, the victim's unwitting assistance and the help of a 71-year-old paralegal who had become interested in his case. He even hired a handwriting expert and impersonated a private detective, authorities said.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Copeland-Jackson on charges of conspiring to commit perjury and obstruct justice. Copeland-Jackson, 36, of Southeast Washington, has pleaded not guilty.

Copeland-Jackson's attorney, Robert Lee Jenkins Jr., said that his client was contrite and that "we are trying to resolve this matter by way of plea." His mother said she can't believe this is happening. "He would do anything for anybody," Peggy Copeland said.

On Friday, his friend Peter J. Brandel, 71, of Mansfield, Ohio, pleaded guilty to conspiracy before Leon, whose facial expressions signaled increasing astonishment as the details tumbled out. Brandel faces up to 2 1/2 years in prison under federal guidelines at his sentencing in November.

The victim, Joseph Cutlip, now 24 and still living in Ohio, learned about the scheme only when it was too late -- two years ago, when he received a court notice about the defamation suit in the mail. "My body felt numb," Cutlip said. He was just getting over the trauma of the abuse, said Cutlip, who agreed to be named for this story. "It all sent me back into a deep depression. I just didn't understand how he had taken advantage of me twice."

To understand what happened, it helps to start at the beginning.

In 1999, Cutlip was an eighth-grader in Ashland, Ohio, and Copeland-Jackson, then 26, was one of his tutors. Copeland-Jackson molested Cutlip while helping the 14-year-old on a school project. He was convicted of two counts of gross sexual imposition of Cutlip and another boy and sentenced to three years in state prison, court records show.

While in an Ohio prison, he befriended Brandel, a paralegal who had learned about the case and believed that Copeland-Jackson had been wrongly accused, federal prosecutors said.

Copeland-Jackson was released from prison in late 2003. He changed his name legally to Xavier Justice in 2004, but he used both identities interchangeably and filed the federal suit under his original name, prosecutors said.

He moved to the District to live with his mother, and in 2006 he contacted Brandel and they started work on a scheme that they hoped would "coerce or fool" Cutlip into recanting his accusations, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mitzelfeld wrote in court papers.

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