July 21, 2010

Back Cove assault a hoax

In a case with racial overtones, a woman, 22, faces charges after admitting she lied about being attacked by five men.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - A woman who told police that she was raped by a group of black men Monday night alongside the Back Cove trail admitted Tuesday that she made up the story, said Police Chief James Craig.

click image to enlarge

Police Chief James Craig holds a news conference Tuesday along Back Cove to appeal for witnesses to come forward in a rape reported in the area, a few hours before the woman admitted she made up the story.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Police issued a summons ordering Maryanne Morin, 22, of Portland to appear in court to face a charge of filing a false report, a misdemeanor punishable by as much as one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Morin could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Before learning that the woman had changed her story, Craig held a news conference at Back Cove and appealed for witnesses to come forward. He became furious later Tuesday, and said he will push for the maximum punishment.

"I pride myself on being transparent and educating the community on crime so they can be safe, but when it's a false report of a crime, it creates unnecessary anxiety," Craig said.

"Then, when you attach a false reporting of a particular race, it even creates another situation suggesting a particular group is responsible for a particular type of crime," he said.

Morin initially reported that she was walking on the trail along Baxter Boulevard at 9:30 p.m. Monday when five black men in their 20s started making lewd comments to her. They then grabbed her, held her down and sexually assaulted her, she told police.

Morin said they ran when a passing motorist yelled at them. She reported that she made her way home and told her roommate, who called police.

The report was startling because Back Cove is a popular place for joggers, walkers and bicyclists and attracts hundreds of people on summer evenings.

There were other aspects of the case that raised questions. For instance, police said, Morin refused to go to the hospital, where health care workers could have collected DNA samples to aid in the investigation.

Police confiscated her clothing to examine it for evidence, but could not force her to go to the hospital, said Lt. Gary Rogers.

Police said they must treat such reports as credible until they're proven otherwise, and officers doubted that someone would make up such a horrendous story.

Craig said that because of the severity of the alleged crime, he opted to hold a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the Preble Street Extension parking lot, at the south edge of the trail.

As Craig was appealing for witnesses, detectives were re-interviewing Morin. She admitted to making up the story, he said later.

Morin told officers that the report was related to a fight she had had with her partner, though Craig couldn't explain her motivation beyond that.

Craig would not comment when asked whether the department or any officers should have scrutinized her report sooner and more carefully.

The incident feeds some residents' suspicions and reinforces prejudice, Craig said.

When he meets with groups of elderly Portland residents, many complain about escalating crime and blame it on immigrants, Craig said. He points out that, statistically, the vast majority of crimes in the city are not committed by immigrants.

Morin is black, Craig said, but the racial implications of the false report remain. "A bias is a bias and it's wrong," he said.

Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, called the incident "heart-wrenching."

"It continues to support the notion that race is a proxy for criminality," she said. "We're feeding into racial stereotypes that encourage fear of African-American men."

Although one would hope that a black woman would know better, racism can exist even within a race, she said.

"That's how insidious racism is. There is an element that is internalized," she said.

The incident also could make it harder for victims of sexual assault to be taken seriously, said the head of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Craig said his officers will continue to treat reports of sexual assault very seriously, regardless of this incident.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: dhench@pressherald.com

 

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