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College student jailed after reporting rape; police found an old warrant

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TAMPA, Fla. -- A woman who told police she had been raped was jailed for two days after officers found an old warrant accusing her of failing to pay restitution for a 2003 theft arrest.

While she was behind bars, according to the college student's attorney, a jail worker refused to give her a second dose of the morning-after contraceptive pill because of the worker's religious convictions.

The 21-year-old woman was released Monday only after attorney Vic Moore reported her plight to the local media.

"Shocked. Stunned. Outraged. I don't have words to describe it," Moore said. "She is not a victim of any one person. She is a victim of the system. There's just got to be some humanity involved when it's a victim of rape."

Moore said the woman was not allowed to take the second emergency contraceptive pill until Monday afternoon, a day late, after reporters called police and jail officials.

Tampa police said they were changing their policy to give officers more discretion on when to arrest a crime victim who has outstanding warrants.

"Obviously, any policy that allows a sexual battery victim to spend a night in jail is a flawed policy," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. "So our city attorney is writing a new policy right now."

The woman is not being identified by The Associated Press because she reported being the victim of a sex crime.

Moore said it was too soon to say if his client would sue. Her first priority was making sure detectives find her attacker.

"She is brave," Moore said. "We are going to work with police to catch this monster."

She was in Tampa on Saturday for Gasparilla, an annual pirate-themed parade that draws thousands of people. She said she was walking alone to her car when a man pulled her behind a building and raped her, McElroy said.

She reported the rape Saturday afternoon, and officers took her to a rape crisis center where she was given the first of two doses of the morning-after pill, McElroy said. The second dose is supposed to be taken within 24 hours.

Later, as she was riding in a patrol car trying to locate the crime scene in the dark, police found the warrant stemming from a 2003 juvenile arrest for grand theft and burglary. It said she owed $4,585.

"They stopped the investigation right there," and put her in handcuffs, Moore said.

Authorities arranged a special bond hearing Monday. "When the chief's office learned we had a rape victim in jail, we began working very aggressively to get her out," McElroy said.

Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, wanted more explanation from the jail, saying the woman's arrest "makes people think law enforcement doesn't have a victim-centered approach."

Moore said his client believes she paid the fine for what he described as a childish mistake. He didn't have details of that arrest, but the woman has no criminal history as an adult, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The sheriff's office, which runs the jail, said in a statement Tuesday that it is investigating the complaint and declined to comment further.


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