HATE CRIME LESSONS: False report case prompts reflections on what Nebraska learned

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Charlie Rogers (center) arrives at the courthouse. (Photo by Bill Kelly, NET News)
Rogers and attorney Brett McArthur listen to the judge's statement (Photo by NET News)
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April 19, 2013 - 6:30am

Calling the widely reported claim of an anti-gay hate crime against former Husker basketball player Charlie Rogers “an incredible and outrageous lie,” a Lancaster County judge sentenced the woman to seven days in jail, two years on probation and 250 hours of community service.  Rogers must also continue treatment with a psychiatrist and submit to testing to monitor her dosages of prescription medications. 

Following the attack in July 2012, the investigation by local police, the FBI and arson investigators concluded Rogers had used a box cutter to carve anti-gay slurs into her own skin and spread two different flammable liquids on the floor of her home, but not in a manner that likely would have done serious damage. 

Photo by NET News

Rogers and attorney Brett McArthur listen as the judge reads his sentencing order. 

The judge's sentencing statement also stated the pre-sentencing report from the prosecutor revealed “it appears that this would not be the first time” Rogers might have fabricrated reports of being assaulted.  It cited four other occasions.

The Rogers case brought national attention to Lincoln and Nebraska both because of its apparent brutality and the woman’s stature in the state’s gay and lesbian community.

Judge Gale Pokorny said Rogers' choice to enter a plea of no contest while proclaiming her innocence prior to sentencing “denies Lincoln any kind of closure.”

Pokorny recalled the anti-hate rallies that attracted thousands of people, saying, “The people who came out on those dark July nights to hold a candle in one hand and their child’s hand in the other deserve a better explanation.”

Rogers remained silent, only indicating her attorney, Brett McArthur, would speak on her behalf.  There was still no admission of guilt, but McArthur hoped the judge would limit the punishment to probation. 

He cited her continued professional counseling to “deal with some of the issues that brought her here today” and her lack of any previous criminal record. 

“The only reaction I’ve seen from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community is one of support,” McArthur said.  “We received many, many letters vouching for Charlie’s good character and some of the positive things she has done in this community.”

(VIDEO:  Watch Rogers' sentencing hearing at the bottom.)

A learning experience

WHAT IS A ‘NO CONTEST’ PLEA?

Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute explains “no contest” this way:  In a criminal proceeding, a defendant may enter a plea of no contest (sometimes the Latin term "nolo contendere" is used). In these cases, the defendant does not accept or deny responsibility for the charges but agrees to accept punishment. The plea differs from a guilty plea because it cannot be used against the defendant in another cause of action.


WHAT IS "FALSE REPORTING"?

Here's how Nebraska state law defines the crime of false reporting:

If someone:

  • Furnishes material information he or she knows to be false to any peace officer or other official with the intent to instigate an investigation of an alleged criminal matter or to impede the investigation of an actual criminal matter;
     
  • Furnishes information he or she knows to be false alleging the existence of the need for the assistance of an emergency medical service or out-of-hospital emergency care provider or an emergency in which human life or property are in jeopardy to any hospital, emergency medical service, or other person or governmental agency;
     
  • Furnishes any information, or causes such information to be furnished or conveyed by electric, electronic, telephonic, or mechanical means, knowing the same to be false concerning the need for assistance of a fire department or any personnel or equipment of such department;
     
  • Furnishes any information he or she knows to be false concerning the location of any explosive in any building or other property to any person; or
     
  • Furnishes material information he or she knows to be false to any governmental department or agency with the intent to instigate an investigation or to impede an ongoing investigation and which actually results in causing or impeding such investigation.
Before Friday’s sentencing, police and members of the gay community were already reflecting on what was learned from the Rogers case. 

For Lincoln Chief of Police James Peschong, it reinforced “the importance of establishing good working relationships with groups that may have mistrust of the police department in advance, before you even get involved in those situations.” 

The police division believes of the 120,000 crimes reported in the city each year, a “relatively small fraction” are false reports.

But while false hate crime reports are rare, they can have negative consequences for minority groups, said the Southern Poverty Law Center.  SPLC tracks the number and types of hate crimes in the United States, including those targeting people in the LGBT community.

“It makes concerns about what is really happening to gay people smaller. It diminishes them,”  said Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the SPLC. “The fact is LGBT people are very much victimized still in this society by criminal violence, hate violence.” 

An SPLC review of federal crime statistics revealed 15,351 anti-homosexual hate crimes against persons (separate from crimes against property) between 1995 and 2008, or more than 17 percent of the total number of attacks.

“What we concluded,” Potok said,  “was that LGBT people, in particular, lesbians and gay men, are very much the most targeted minority in America in terms of violent hate crimes.” 

LGBT people are 2.4 times more likely to suffer a violent hate crime attack than Jews and 2.6 times more likely to be attacked than blacks. The SPLC study, published in 2010, stated those rates have held steady for many years. 

Organizations representing LGBT interests in Nebraska were largely supportive of how law enforcement dealt with the investigation.  A joint statement from four groups released after Rogers’ arrest said, “We are confident that this crime has received a balanced and thorough investigation.”

In an interview with NET News, Peschong acknowledged there has been a long history of distrust of law enforcement by the gay community.  There had been suspicions that hate crimes often were not treated seriously. 

Several times during the Rogers investigation, the liaison officer and the chief of police met with members of LGBT organizations.  Peschong said he wanted to get ahead of the rumor mill and “to reassure them that we were not going to be hasty and were not going to go jumping to some conclusions here.” 

Tyler Richard, president of  OutLinc, attended some of those meetings.  “A breakdown in trust could have happened,” he said. “It may not have been perfect, but the dialogue was always open.”

From the start, Peschong said he “knew that something like this could potentially take on a life of its own” in regard to public opinion.

Peschong said Lincoln police detectives concentrated on collecting evidence as they would in any routine assault and vandalism case.  He added the Rogers investigation did not and should not have started with a specific label, because a “hate crime is an enhancement of a crime.  It may take it to another level.” 

The crime scene

The events Rogers described, paired with the physical evidence that was still in her home, had some of the traditional markings of a hate crime. 

Lancaster County Court document

Evidence photo of gloves found at the crime scene, later discovered to have been purchased by Rogers. 

In her statement to police, she described a home invasion by three men who bound her wrists with plastic straps known as zip ties.  Her arms were cut with what appeared to be anti-gay slurs carved into her skin.  Painted on a basement wall was a threatening phrase including a common slur used against gays. Gasoline had been poured on the floor.  

Police arrived at the home of the neighbor who called 911 and found Rogers nearly naked and bleeding.

Initially, the victim’s name was not made public.  Word spread it was Rogers, a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln basketball player and a popular figure in the gay and lesbian community. 

By then investigators were finding aspects of Rogers’ story were not meshing with the physical evidence.

“What we were being told by Charlie was not factual information,” Peschong said.

(READ JUDGE POKORNY'S SENTENCING ORDER)

Balancing his suspicions was an awareness that after any traumatic event, recollections by witnesses and victims can be inconsistent.

“Some people have very good recollection of a very traumatic event,” he said. “For others, it takes some time to come down from that emotion to recall some of the events.”

Before police had said anything publicly, rumors began to spread that police suspected the attack had been faked. Some felt that was a sign the investigation was a sham.

By then, police had already gathered what they felt was damning physical evidence against Rogers.  Receipts and surveillance video from a hardware store indicated she bought the knife, the zip ties and the gloves her attackers allegedly used.  The only DNA sample found inside the gloves came from Rogers, according to tests done at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  

As evidence mounted, Peschong said he told the detectives involved the evidence had to be “convincing and overwhelming.”  By now a series of anti-hate rallies in Lincoln, Omaha and elsewhere in the region had attracted national media attention to the case.

“Our investigation is going to stand up to the scrutiny of the national attention,” Peschong said. 

Weeks before the investigation was complete, Rogers went public in her own defense in an interview with Omaha television station KETV. She said was aware there were doubts about her story, but insisted the attack was real. 

On Aug. 21, 2012 the Lancaster County Attorney issued an arrest warrant for Rogers and police took her into custody. She was charged with false reporting, a Class I misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of not more than one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.

Within days, Rogers replied with a 15-minute video on You Tube, once again maintaining her innocence.  In it she states one explanation for her contradictory statements to police.

“I have been diagnosed prior to this with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression,” Rogers said in the video.

Three months later, in Lancaster County Court, Rogers entered a plea of "no contest" to the charges, without admitting or denying her own guilt.

Representatives of the gay community and law enforcement both hope a falsely reported hate crime in Nebraska will not affect future investigations. 


 

VIDEO:  CHARLIE ROGERS SENTENCED

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