Victim upset with DA over dropped sex charge
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Editor’s note: The Post Independent ordinarily does not name victims of sexual assaults. This case was out of the ordinary in that the victim and her mother contacted the Post Independent and were willing to use their names to bring attention to this case.
A Glenwood Springs woman says the district attorney’s office failed her in handling her allegation of sexual assault, letting the perpetrator walk away from the sex charge with only probation on a lesser charge.
Last November Megan Henrie, a waitress, was about to get off her evening shift. Instead of going straight to her Rifle home, she said she waited for a co-worker to give her a ride home.
Her boyfriend, Rickey Thompson, also the father of Henrie’s son, was waiting at home with her two children. Thompson suspected that Henrie was cheating on him, she later told police.
Thompson would later tell officers that Henrie didn’t show up at home until two hours after she’d initially said she was getting off work.
When she got home, her boyfriend became angry, shouting at her and accusing her of cheating, she told police.
To prove that she’d given her co-worker a ride home she showed Thompson her text messages. But he also saw that she’d called her cousin’s husband, and grew angry, according to an affidavit.
Henrie told police that Thompson then violently forced his hand down her pants and grabbed her genitals, which he said was to check if she had been cheating on him. District Attorney Sherry Caloia said Thompson vehemently denied reaching down Henrie’s pants.
The Post Independent does not ordinarily name victims of alleged sex abuse, but Henrie granted the PI permission to name her.
The arrest affidavit in the case said she ran toward the back door screaming “Help! Rape!” Thompson grew infuriated, she told police.
Henrie then ran to another room to grab her children, but Thompson blocked her way out of the house and refused to give her phone back to let her call the police, she told Rifle officers.
He grabbed their son away from Henrie, hard enough to make the boy go limp, she said.
Henrie grabbed a plastic bat and hit him in the knee; she bit him on the hand at one point while trying to get her phone away from him.
It was Thompson who called police, reporting that Henrie had attacked him.
After officers arrived and took statements, Thompson was the one who was arrested.
He told officers at the scene that his girlfriend had in the past called the police and lied to get him in trouble, according to the affidavit.
He was arrested on charges of unlawful sexual contact, obstruction of telephone services, false imprisonment, reckless endangerment and child abuse, all misdemeanors. He was also charged with domestic violence, a sentence enhancer.
This case concluded Aug. 1 with Thompson accepting a plea deal that dropped the unlawful sexual contact charge. He pleaded guilty only to obstruction of telephone services and the domestic violence sentence enhancer. He got a year of probation and must have a domestic violence evaluation. A protection order barring him from contact with Henrie remains in effect.
Henrie, who attended every court proceeding in the case, said the DA’s office didn’t inform her of Thompson’s sentencing date. The right to appear at critical stages of the offender’s case generally is granted to sexual assault victims.
Henrie said she has contacted Alpine Legal Services to study filing a grievance against the DA’s office for violating her rights as a victim.
Evidence didn’t stack up, says DA
By law, to prove a charge of unlawful sexual contact, the prosecution must prove that the contact happened for at least one of three reasons: for sexual gratification, sexual arousal or sexual abuse.
District Attorney Caloia said Friday that she decided to drop the sex charge because she did not believe her prosecutors could convince a jury the contact was for one of those reasons.
Caloia also said she didn’t think the judge would find enough evidence to go forward with that charge.
“The facts in this case were that he touched her intimate parts, but we could not prove that it was for any of those three reasons. And remember, this is based on what the victim reported to the police,” Caloia said.
“I don’t make the law up. That’s the law we’re given, and the law I have to follow.”
“Thompson vehemently denied touching Ms. Henrie as she alleges,” Caloia later wrote in an email to the PI.
That they were in a relationship, were living together and had a child together all influenced the situation, she said.
“I agree that touching someone’s intimate parts … when not wanted, then it’s very disturbing, but the issue is whether it was sexual contact,” she said.
“It might have been done for abuse purposes, but it had to be done for sexual abuse specifically” to fulfill criteria for the charge, she said.
Caloia she said her office didn’t pursue a simple assault charge because Thompson pleaded guilty to a Class 1 misdemeanor, the same level of misdemeanor as unlawful sexual contact or third-degree assault. The punishment would have been the same, except that with a conviction on unlawful sexual contact, Thompson would have to register as a sex offender — which the DA’s office did not think fit this incident.
“I didn’t feel that rose to the level of labeling him as a sex offender,” said Caloia.
Sarah Buckley, Advocate Safehouse Project’s community education advocate, said, “If he forced himself onto her, touching her genitals and her not wanting that, that’s absolutely sexual abuse.”
She said a case like this is closely tied to domestic violence, with the perpetrator wanting power and control over the victim.
Unfortunately a lot of sexual assault charges are being dropped or lessened so the final charges don’t show exactly what happened, said Buckley.
People get unlawful sexual contact charges and often there’s not much ramification behind it, perhaps only a couple of days in the county jail and having that charge on their record, said Buckley. “That’s considered fair punishment.”
Worse, this result makes victims wonder why they should even go through the process, Buckley said.
It’s important to also recognize some fundamental differences between Buckley’s and Caloia’s jobs.
Advocate Safehouse starts from a position of always believing the victim. “If they say they’ve been sexually assaulted, that’s all the evidence we need,” said Buckley.
“We understand [prosecutors) need proof and evidence, and that’s the hardest part of these cases, that there’s no way to prove it. No DNA passed from one party to the next. It becomes a he-said-she-said.”
“If you were punched in the face, we could see the black eye, but you can’t necessarily see anything from a man touching a woman unwantedly,” said Buckley.
Caloia agrees that her office often pleads down these kinds of charges, but almost always to another sexual assault provision.
It can be hard to prove sexual assault in court and a very difficult process for the victims, she said. “And many victims are happy to have their case resolved with convictions and not have to testify.”
To move forward with charges “because I have probable cause but don’t think I can prove it at trial, I think that’s abuse of power,” and those cases become detrimental all around, including to the victim, she said.
It’s even worse if the victim has to go through the process and the case is eventually dismissed, said Caloia.
“I do hold cases to a high standard; if I don’t the risk that people will be charged and go through a lengthy, expensive system is too great, and they might be actually not guilty.”
“I am very, very strict on sexual assault,” Caloia said. “I want to charge it as much as I can.”
“It’s unfortunate the victim in this case feels so let down by the system,” she said, but the case was not discarded, and sentencing was ultimately left up to the court, said Caloia.
Henrie said she was devastated by the outcome.
“I’m mainly concerned that they seemed more interested in protecting the offender, my ex, than they were about protecting me and my children,” Henrie told the PI Thursday.
“I’m constantly afraid. I circle around inside my house every day to make sure no one is there. For the first six months I would leave the kids locked in the car to check the house when we got home.”
Henrie said she worries that Thompson will show up at her work. She’s called her mother and the police several times in tears when her porch light would come on or when she’d hear knocking at the window.
Her mother, Kimberly Henrie, emailed the DA’s office trying to grasp why the sexual assault charge wasn’t being prosecuted.
“Megan’s fear of this man is justified,” the mother wrote to Caloia in an email. “Megan has been living this very warm summer with no air conditioning and no open windows. She is petrified of any chance of Mr. Thompson being able to access the home. The curtains are always drawn now, and she has tin foil covering the bedroom window so that no one can see in.”
“This is why women don’t come forward with cases of sexual assault, because they don’t believe it will do any good,” said Kimberly Henrie.
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