Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
This may surprise you, but lawyers have limited free-speech rights
September 13, 2009
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
DAYTON, OHIO – Yesterday, Joseph E. Cotterman, who served as Jackson Center's police chief from 2009 to 2016, filed a federal-court civil complaint alleging that Shelby County sheriff John Lenhart, along with chief deputy sheriff James Frye and detective Chris Brown, aggressively pursued bogus rape charges against Cotterman—despite possessing substantial evidence that Cotterman's accuser had likely made up her story of the alleged seven-and-a-half year-old assault.
The complaint alleges that accuser Allisha McElfresh, who is currently serving three years in prison for drug-trafficking, fabricated a rape allegation against Chief Cotterman to curry favor with Allen County police and Shelby County detective Chris Brown. While being interviewed by Detective Brown, the complaint says, McElfresh alleged that, in 2009, Chief Cotterman invited the then-17-year-old to his house after a meeting of the Jackson Center “Explorer’s Club” (a program enabling area youths to learn about police work, ride along in cruisers, etc.). While at his house, McElfresh told Brown, Cotterman digitally raped her.
The story lacked plausibility, according to the Complaint, for several reasons. McElfresh could not be specific about when the incident occurred, saying only that it happened at some point “between January 1, 2009 and May 31, 2009.” During that time frame, moreover, there were no Explorer’s Club meetings. And McElfresh, the Complaint states, did not even apply for membership in the Explorer’s Club until at least two years later, and then was rejected by the Club because of prior felony convictions. Cotterman’s then wife, finally, was home every evening and would have known if her husband had brought home a teenage girl.
Neither Detective Brown nor Chief Deputy Sheriff Frye, however, interviewed Cotterman’s ex-wife or otherwise sought to verify any of the details of McElfresh’s allegation, according to the Complaint. They instead decided to charge Cotterman with rape on the very day McElfresh was interviewed, according to Brown’s incident report. They may even have sought to conceal or destroy records of McElfresh’s involvement with the Explorer’s Club that would have refuted her story.
During her interview, McElfresh gave Brown the name of a girlfriend whom she had told about the incident. But when interviewed by Brown and Frye seven months later, Krista Bundy, who was in a relationship with McElfresh from 2011 through 2014, denied having been told anything about a 2009 incident. McElfresh did tell Bundy that Cotterman had raped her, but gave so many conflicting stories that Bundy did not believe her. On one day, McElfresh alleged that Cotterman shoved her in the backseat of his cruiser, tied her up, choked her, applied handcuffs, and had forcible, unprotected intercourse with her. Two days later, however, McElfresh changed her story and claimed that the rape had occurred on a couch at Cotterman’s house, next to his big-screen TV. Bundy offered that McElfresh was likely just seeking attention. She told Frye and Brown that McElfresh’s dishonesty led to their breakup.
Frye and Brown concealed the Bundy interview and other witness statements from Cotterman’s defense team, according to the Complaint. Together with Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell, they continued to aggressively prosecute Cotterman until, on May 19, 2017, the trial court ordered them to turn over all exculpatory materials. Three days later—the day before the trial was set to begin—Sell dismissed all charges against Cotterman. Publicly commenting on the case afterward, Sell admitted that the conflicting statements would have made it difficult to prove a case against Cotterman.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, is entitled Cotterman v. County, et al., Case No. 3:18-cv-00177, and is assigned to U.S. District Judge Walter Rice. The Complaint, which can be found here, alleges federal and state claims for malicious prosecution, failure to investigate, civil conspiracy, failure to train, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil liability for criminal acts.
Donald Screen and Subodh Chandra of the Chandra Law Firm LLC, www.ChandraLaw.com, represent Mr. Cotterman.