It sounded like a womans worst fear.
A young woman leaving work about 11 p.m. tells police that as she starts to pull her car out of a West Jefferson Boulevard parking lot on the citys southwest side, a man approaches on foot.
He needs help getting his car started, and the woman agrees to provide a jump-start. The woman gets out of her car and the man grabs her shirt, tearing it. The woman screams.
He grabs her hair, slamming her head into her car. She struggles to get away, she says, fearing for her life. The man pulls out a sharp object. A box cutter or a razor blade, the terrified woman is unsure. He slices her face and chest. The woman breaks free – runs for her life – still screaming. She goes to a nearby gas station and calls police for help.
Only help wasnt needed.
The reported attack never happened. It was a fake, according to Allen County police.
The story has been proven false, said Sgt. Steve Stone, a spokesman for the department.
Police investigate alleged crimes that didnt happen on a weekly basis, costing valuable time and resources. But little can be done to deter the activity, they say. Furthermore, prosecution of fabricated crime is often not pursued because of a lack of evidence and laws that provide mild penalties, according to local officials.
‘A big deal’
The story of this womans attack is similar to other reports police receive. And although police might eventually determine there is no substance to an allegation, officers must investigate each report thoroughly, according to officials.
Most of the time its in the world of a personal accusation, said Fort Wayne police Capt. Paul Shrawder, who heads the departments detective bureau.
Reports that police determine to be fabricated are filed in every police division, from sex crime investigations to burglaries and thefts.
One high-profile case, Shrawder recalled, did result in an arrest.
In 2007, a 14-year-old girl lied to police about being raped at the Georgetown branch of the Allen County Public Library. Police were called to the library on East State Boulevard for a report of teenagers misbehaving. When officers arrived, one of those teens, a girl, said a boy pushed her into the librarys restroom and forced her to perform a sex act.
It actually became a big deal, Shrawder said, adding that the alarm it caused locally warranted the charge against the teen. She got caught up in it and didnt really know what she was doing.
The girl later recanted her story and was convicted of false reporting.
False reporting of a crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. False reporting can be upgraded to a Class A misdemeanor, Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said, if the offense substantially hinders a police investigation or results in harm to someone. That offense nets up to a year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
Shrawder remembers another case in which a woman claimed her baby was abducted from her stroller at Headwaters Park. Although a fabricated story, the claim did not warrant enough attention for charges. Police say the amount of resources they devote to a case, along with attention given to it by the public and media, often factorsinto whether charges are pursued.
But its that same attention that often prompts people to fabricate stories, Shrawder said.
All that attention is on the person who reported the crime, he said. They want that.
In the case of the woman who alleged she was attacked by the man, an e-mail chain started shortly thereafter, alerting readers that an attack had been made in an area normally believed to be safe. Copies were received at The Journal Gazette.
‘Takes time away’
According to Allen County police Lt. Troy Hershberger, who oversees county detectives, people will often fabricate crimes for financial gain or attention. Reports of fake burglaries are common, he said.
It uses a lot of resources, Stone said. Detectives are looking for suspects that dont exist. It takes time away from police doing other work.
Police say rapes and sexual assaults are among their most common fabricated reports. Teens might lie about non-consensual sexual activity to justify a pregnancy. Adults might lie about sexual activity to hide an affair, Shrawder said.
But most sexual assaults show no sign of visible injury, according to Michelle Ditton, chief nursing officer for the Sexual Assault Treatment Center.
Thats the part thats really hard, she said.
When people come to the center for an evaluation, they receive a physical exam and medical interview. The treatment center cannot determine whether the crime happened. They merely pass their findings to police, Ditton said.
If a person reports a rape, how do you prove its false? Richards said, adding that these cases are often most difficult to prosecute.
Richards said that in her eight years as prosecutor, she can recall – aside from the case involving the 14-year-old girl – only one or two other cases in which police asked that charges of false reporting be filed against a person. Neither case was prosecuted.
Richards said these cases are difficult to prosecute because they are often a case of he said, she said.
So many crimes are committed without any witness except the person that reports the crime, Richards said. Just because Person A says one thing and Person B says another thing, doesnt mean its a false report.
Other times, prosecutors choose not to file charges because the person who reported the crime has signs of mental illness, she said.
Such was the case in which a man came to Fort Wayne police, saying he wanted to confess to the 1996 high-profile slaying in Boulder, Colo., of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, Shrawder recalled.
More commonly, Richards said police file false informing charges, which are similar. False informing involves a person who is accused of giving police a fake identity. This often happens during traffic stops or when someone has a warrant out for their arrest, she said.
In the case of the woman who said she was attacked by a man after leaving work, her story did not match the evidence police found, according to Stone. But police also did not have enough evidence to present charges for prosecution of the woman. While no charges could be filed, the rumor that a woman was so brutally attacked has been quashed.
Before charging a person or closing the case, police determine whether a story makes sense and whether the reported victim took steps that made sense when they reported the offense, Shrawder said.
Its a matter of doing a good investigation, Shrawder said. Sometimes the most outlandish story can turn out to be true.