Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Man sues Det. Sgt. Ingrid Jonas for allowing him to sit in jail on a sexual assault charge and not revealing that his accuser is a serial false accuser

UPDATED June 26, 8:30 pm: The jury found the Detective Sgt. not liable for her delay in telling prosecutors about the voicemail message accusing yet another man of another sexual assault. This, despite the fact that John Grenier was released from jail after a state prosecutor learned about the voicemail message.  http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120626/NEWS07/306260027/Jury-clears-state-trooper-over-handling-of-arrest?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE
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John Grenier, 46, has sued detective Sgt. Ingrid Jonas for money damages because, Mr. Grenier maintains, he was falsely imprisoned for 74 days on a sexual assault charge after Sgt. Jonas learned of evidence that would have cast considerable doubt on the accuser's credibility, but Sgt. Jonas sat on it. Trial is going on this week.

Mr. Grenier alleges that his accuser was a serial false accuser with a lengthy history of making false rape claims, and that there were at least a half dozen earlier police re­ports indicating the wom­an, now 43 years-old, had filed false sex crime claims.  (In addition, the alleged victim supposedly became infatuated with a police officer who investigated one of the false complaints in 1992, and she stalked him, including phone calls to his home and getting ar­rested multiple times on minor offenses so she might get to see the offi­cer.)  These facts should have been known to police, but they weren't revealed to Mr. Grenier.

In December 2007, the alleged victim told Sgt. Jonas that Mr. Grenier sexually assaulted her on Nov. 2, 2007, and that she repeatedly had told Mr. Grenier “no.” Mr. Grenier was arrested. However, when Sgt. Jonas interviewed the accuser again a few days later, the accuser said the assault happened in October; she also said she never said a word to Grenier during the incident because she was afraid.  Jonas did not report this change in stories to prosecutors.

A judge denied Mr. Grenier bail, partly because of two lewd-conduct convictions in the 1990s.

While Mr. Grenier sat in jail awaiting his trial, he learned in February 2008 about a voicemail from his accuser to Sgt. Jonas, made possibly as early as mid-December 2007, that indicated the accuser wanted to report yet another rape, by a different man. Sgt. Jonas retrieved the message in January 2008 after returning from vacation, but did not reveal it to the prosecution until mid-February, the lawsuit noted.

Jonas never inves­tigated the second rape claim and never spoke with the woman or her alleged attacker. She deemed the claim false without inves­tigating, Mr. Grenier claims. Yet Mr. Grenier remained locked up on the claim she made against him.

While Mr. Grenier's past sexual misconduct was used to justify how he was treated (e.g., he was denied bail because of it), his accuser's lengthy past history for making false sex claims was not deemed important enough even to reveal.

Mr. Grenier’s lawyers maintain that other prose­cutors had refused to file criminal charges in the past against other men the alleged victim wrongly accused because she was so lacking in credibility. Mr. Grenier claims that Sgt. Jonas failed in her responsibilities as a detective and should have questioned the validity of the alleged victim’s claims after she first changed the story.

At trial this week, Sgt. Jonas said she never told prosecutors about either the change in the alleged victim's story or the questionable voicemail because the officer said she “wasn’t asked” to do so. 

The trial continues, and we will provide updates.  After the jump are a series of news reports about the lawsuit:

Detective takes stand in lawsuit alleging she failed to disclose exculpatory evidence

BRATTLEBORO — A veteran Vermont State Police detective testified Monday she never told prosecutors about differences in the the stories from an alleged rape victim or a questionable voicemail from the woman because the officer said she “wasn’t asked” to do so.

Detective Sgt. Ingrid Jonas of Underhill is facing a civil-rights lawsuit filed by John Grenier, 46, of Winooski, who maintains he was falsely imprisoned for 74 days because she failed to investigate the case properly, including the woman’s lengthy history of making false rape claims.

Jonas, who spent most of Monday, the trial’s first day, on the witness stand, is the lone defendant.

The trial is focusing partly on the woman’s background and whether Jonas looked into it before she arrested Grenier in December 2007. The woman initially reported in November 2007 she was sexually assault and said it happened a month earlier.

When Grenier was confronted in December 2007, he denied the woman’s claim, but was jailed by Jonas on a charge of sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult. A judge denied him bail the following day, partly because of two lewd-conduct convictions in the 1990s.

Grenier learned in February 2008 about a voicemail from the woman to Jonas, possibly as early as mid-December 2007, that indicated that she wanted to report another rape — this time by a relative of Grenier. Jonas retrieved the message in January 2008 after returning from vacation, but did not reveal it to the prosecution until mid-February, the lawsuit noted. She also discounted that crime report.

Attorneys spent Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro arguing whether the voicemail, in which the woman states another man also sexually assaulted her, would have prevented Grenier from being incarcerated.

“It’s not as if everyone saw this voicemail as proof Grenier didn’t do it,” Assistant Attorney General Keith Aten said. “The voicemail didn’t prove Detective Jonas violated his civil rights by not turning it over.”

Grenier’s attorney, Robert O’Neil of Burlington, said Jonas failed in her responsibilities as a detective and should have questioned the validity of the alleged victim’s claims after she changed the story.

“This case isn’t about John or what he’s done, (the alleged victim) or the witnesses ... it’s about whether the detective followed through with her responsibilities,” O’Neil said during his opening statement. “It’s about the system.”

Initially the alleged victim told Jonas the sexual assault happened Nov. 2, 2007, and that she repeatedly had told Grenier “no.” However, when Jonas interviewed her again a few days later, the woman said the assault happened in October, and she never said a word to Grenier during the incident because she was afraid.

A second charge of sexual assault was added about two weeks after the initial arrest, and bail was denied a second time.

Jonas testified she didn’t show the December message to the state prosecutor until Feb. 13, 2008, after Grenier’s attorneys learned about it.

After an emergency court hearing two days later, a Franklin County judge released Grenier on conditions — two and half months after his initial arrest.

A month later the state dropped both charges against Grenier.

Grenier is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, and legal fees.

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120625/NEWS02/306250026/Detective-takes-stand-lawsuit-alleging-she-failed-disclose-exculpatory-evidence?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE


Winooski man charges false imprisonment

A Winooski man says he was improper­ly imprisoned for 74 days because a veter­an Vermont State Police detective with­held critical information from prosecu­tors that eventually led to the dismissal of a sexual assault charge.

A federal jury will be asked this week whether claims by John Grenier, 46, are true and whether he is entitled to finan­cial compensation due to the actions of State Police Detective Sgt. Ingrid Jonas of Underhill.

Part of the civil lawsuit centers on the reliability of the alleged victim, who has a long history of filing false sex crime com­plaints with police, according to court pa­pers. The alleged rape in 2007 was report­ed a month late and there was no physical evidence in the case to tie Grenier or any­body to the claim.

Grenier’s lawyers maintain that prose­cutors in Chittenden County and the At­torney General’s office had refused to file criminal charges in the past against other men because the alleged victim lacked credibility when filing similar com­plaints. The lawyers maintain that infor­mation was available to Jonas, but she opt­ed not to use it.

Those earlier false claims were handled by Burlington Police and the Chittenden Unit for Spe­cial Investigations, which specializes in sex crime cases.

Part of those earlier records also show the woman became infatuated with a Burlington Police officer, who investigated one of the false complaints in 1992 and began to stalk him, including phone calls to his home and getting ar­rested multiple times on minor offenses so she might get to see the offi­cer.

The plaintiff maintains there were at least a half dozen earlier police re­ports indicating the wom­an, now 43 years-old, had filed false sex crime claims, court papers show. After Grenier was jailed, Jonas got a voice mail message from the woman claiming she also had been raped by a rela­tive of Grenier. Jonas nev­er retrieved the message until early January be­cause she was on vacation and finally told the state prosecutor about it Feb.13, 2008, court records show.

After an emergency court hearing on Feb. 15, 2008, a Franklin County judge released Grenier on conditions — 2½ months after being jailed. The state dismissed the felony charge about a month lat­er.
Jonas told her boss, Ma­jor Edward Ledo, about the woman’s phone call the day the judge freed Gre­nier from prison, records show.

The trial

Jonas acted alone to vio­late Grenier’s constitu­tional rights, according to the civil lawsuit filed by Burlington lawyer Robert O’Neil of Gravel and Shea, who represents Grenier.

O’Neil declined com­ment on the upcoming trial when reached by the Bur­lington Free Press on Fri­day afternoon.

Jonas also declined comment. She referred questions to her lawyer, Assistant Attorney Gener­al Keith Aten, who said he believes Jonas acted prop­erly.

The trial in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro could last for up to four days.

It is expected to include testimony from Jonas, Grenier and the woman’s adult protection case worker, who was aware of the various fabricated sto­ries. Also a police expert from Florida is expected to talk about the modern standards for police dis­closure in criminal investi­gations.

Grenier, who is seeking compensatory and puni­tive damages, and legal fees, has had run-ins with the law, including two lewd and lascivious conduct convictions in the 1990s.

Grenier is claiming “lost wages, emotional dis­tress, mental anguish, stig­matization of his reputa­tion, damage to personal relationships, loss of free­dom, pain, suffering, dep­rivation of his constitu­tional rights, loss of priva­cy” and that he also in­curred lawyer’s fees.

The Arrest

The federal court case this week is based on a late reported sexual assault complaint by the woman. The woman sought treated at the Richford Health Center on Nov. 26, 2007 and told clinic personnel she was sexually assaulted sometime in October. Jo­nas, who was assigned to the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations, was summoned and began conducting interviews.

On Dec. 3, 2007 she con­fronted Grenier, who de­nied the sexual allega­tions, but Jonas arrested him. She jailed Grenier pending arraignment the following day in St. Al­bans. In court Grenier de­nied a charge of sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult and a judge ordered him held without bail.

The state later amend­ed the charge to sexual as­sault, but the judge denied Grenier bail a second time on Dec. 21, 2007.

Grenier was freed on Feb.15, 2008 after an emer­gency court hearing.

Grenier had learned the woman had called Jonas, possibly on Dec. 13, 2007, and left a voice mail indi­cating the then-Richford woman also was claiming that she had been sexually assaulted by a neighbor, records show.

Also Jonas never inves­tigated the second rape claim, never spoke with the woman or her alleged attacker, but deemed the claim false without inves­tigating, court paper show. According to court pa­pers there is some ques­tion when Jonas became aware of the December 2007 message. It appears she may not have heard it until returning from vaca­tion in early January 2008, court papers indicate.

The lawsuit centers on Jonas not telling the prose­cutor until mid-February about the information that might exonerate Grenier.

Lt. David Notte, the head of state police train­ing, testified during a de­position that he was al­ways trained to hand over any evidence favorable to the accused, even in situa­tions where there may be in a gray area as to wheth­er evidence is favorable, court papers show.


Sex offender files suit against police detective


BARRE – A repeat sex offender from Winooski who was jailed on a new sex-crime charge in late 2007, and later had the charge dropped, is suing the state police detective who investigated that case.

John Grenier, 44, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Burlington last week, accusing Vermont State Police Detective Sergeant Ingrid Jonas of violating his due process rights for allegedly withholding key evidence that freed him from prison once it came to light.

Grenier, who has two convictions of lewd and lascivious conduct on his record, was charged in December 2007 with sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult after a woman accused him of assaulting her, court records state.

At his arraignment on that charge, Grenier was held without bail, and despite contesting that decision at a separate hearing, he remained jailed for 74 days, according to the lawsuit.

Grenier was freed and the charges against him were dropped after a message that the accuser left for Jonas on her voicemail came to light, and he argues the voicemail is what directly led to his release from prison. And Grenier contends that Jonas "intentionally, knowingly and with deliberate indifference" withheld the voicemail from prosecutors for more than a month in order to keep him behind bars.

The voicemail was left on or around Dec. 13, 2007, the lawsuit states, nine days after Grenier was originally held.

In the voicemail, Grenier's accuser made an additional accusation of sexual assault against another man, Travis Denton, the day after Grenier was believed to have assaulted her, the lawsuit states.

Jonas was apparently on vacation until early January 2008, but Grenier contends she would have received the voicemail by early January at the latest.

The lawsuit states that Jonas did not investigate the accusation against Denton "as it was immediately deemed to be false." Jonas never interviewed the accuser or Denton, the lawsuit states.

Soon after the voicemail was disclosed to the prosecutor, the prosecutor agreed to release Grenier on conditions, court records state.

Grenier was jailed from Dec. 3, 2007 until Feb. 15, 2008, and the charges against him were dropped on March 19, 2008, records show.

"Acting in her individual capacity, (Jonas) knowingly and intentionally withheld the voicemail left by Complainant from the prosecutor and from (Grenier's) attorney for more than a month, violating Plaintiff's constitutional rights," the lawsuit states.

Grenier argues there was other evidence that should have led authorities to question the accuser's story. According to the lawsuit, Jonas reviewed records from the Burlington Police Department and the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations. Both files included a number of sexual assault complaints made by the woman who accused Grenier of abusing her, according to court papers.

The two agencies determined that many of the allegations were unsubstantiated, and their files indicate the cases involving Grenier's accuser were either dismissed or not prosecuted, according to Grenier's complaint.

Jonas "knew or should have known based on her investigation of the incident that Complainant was known to have made false sexual assault reports in the past," the lawsuit states.

Grenier says that as a direct result of Jonas' actions, he was denied bail, which led to lost wages, emotional distress, mental anguish, stigmatization of his reputation, damage to personal relationships, attorney's fees and the denial of his constitutional rights.

Grenier does not seek a specific monetary amount in the complaint, but asks for compensatory and punitive damages in an amount deemed appropriate by the "trier of fact."

Jonas, an experienced sex-crimes investigator, declined to comment for this story.

She is currently the Special Investigation Unit Coordinator for the state police, according to information she provided in a recent affidavit in an unrelated case. She has been a certified law enforcement officer in Vermont since December 1998, she stated, and was a detective assigned to the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations in St. Albans for nearly four years, starting in 2001 where she investigated sexual crimes.

She was then assigned to the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations in 2005 and continued to investigate sex crimes there, she wrote. In November 2007, she was promoted to the rank of sergeant and supervised the detectives' unit for the Northwest Unit for Special Investigations until the end of March 2008.

The Vermont Attorney General's Office is representing Jonas, and Assistant Attorney General Keith Aten is assigned to the case.

Aten said he is "in the process of reviewing" the case, but added that it's too early to comment on how he plans to respond to the accusations.

"We haven't had a chance to really digest the allegations and ponder what the response would be," said Aten.

Aten said he plans to accept the service of the complaint. Then he will either answer the complaint on behalf of his client, which would mean admitting or denying the allegations, or file a motion challenging the basis of the lawsuit.

The complaint filed on behalf of Grenier makes it clear that he is not suing the Vermont State Police, but is suing Jonas in her individual capacity.

That is because in order to sue a state employee in federal court, a plaintiff must separate the individual from the agency, said Aten.

The lawsuit also makes it clear that Grenier believes Jonas withheld the evidence knowingly and intentionally, but Grenier's attorney Robert O'Neil, of the law firm Gravel and Shea, did not want to back those assertions up this early in the legal battle.

"The complaint speaks for itself, and if the explanation that the state officer has for this is that it was just an inadvertence on her part, we'll find that out in the civil suit," said O'Neil, who said he represented Grenier when he faced criminal charges.

O'Neil added that he knows a lot of Vermont State Police officers and doesn't believe most of them would simply forget about a key piece of evidence.

"They're not forgetful," he said.

Grenier was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct in 1990 and 1999. He received a 1-to-5 year sentence for the 1999 charge and 2-to-5 year sentence on the 1990 charge, according to court records. Grenier was also convicted of failing to comply with the sex offender registry in 2007. He is not a high-risk sex offender, according to the state's sex offender registry.