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Trooper Newton Higginbotham followed a woman from her night shift at a gas station. He pulled her over and approached her vehicle. It was nearly midnight on a back road in Petersburg. So she took her clothes off. Higginbotham sexually assaulted her, putting his fingers in her vagina, according to internal police records and a lawsuit.
The assault lasted about two minutes until a car drove past, ending the encounter. As authorities investigated her allegation, another woman came forward and accused Higginbotham of another sexual assault. Higginbotham claimed both encounters were consensual, but acknowledged to a State Police investigator that he used his status as a trooper to get himself alone with the women. In its internal administrative investigation, the State Police was clear — it believed the women.
The department found that Higginbotham broke the law.
Kevin Smouse wrote in the report. The FBI investigated and determined a sexual encounter occurred during the traffic stop, but it was consensual. Both women filed lawsuits against Higginbotham. One case, filed under a protective order that shields the complaint from public releaseis ongoing. The State Police internal report, which had not ly been made public, was obtained via Freedom of Information Act request.
However, the State Police redacted the specific sex acts Higginbotham is said to have performed. In an interview with the Gazette-Mail, Ours stood by his decision. He said he has no documents or notes to memorialize his decision.
Several experts in criminal law and working with sex crime victims criticized the handling of the Higginbotham case. William Ihlenfeld, a former U. The vulnerability of the two alleged victims is no coincidence, according to Camille Cooper, a spokeswoman with RAINN, a prominent anti-sexual assault organization. In a place like Grant County, with fewer than 12, residents, a prosecutor should not be investigating the same officers he works with on cases every day, Stark said. If prosecutors opt against charging an officer, they should provide a clear reason why.
The episode is not without precedent. In MarchTrooper Ralph Justus allegedly sexually assaulted a woman after arresting her boyfriend. Justus reed, but was never charged. Superintendent Jan Cahill declined an interview request and did not answer specific questions. The Department of Justice chose not to pursue the matter criminally. A Gazette-Mail review of other State Police disciplinary records reveal other alleged criminal behavior the agency substantiated. Spearen reed. Demaske was fired. They both eluded criminal charges. In other words, even when police explicitly wrote, as with Higginbotham, that their troopers committed a crime, the troopers were quietly forced out of the department, but steered free of public or criminal scrutiny of any kind.
She said the trooper took some pictures, then said he was going back to his car. Higginbotham violated her during the search, she said, requiring her to throw her elbows into his vest and call a friend to intervene and help end the episode. The judge denied the request. However, its investigation states that the search was performed in a manner indicating it was performed for sexual gratification, not officer safety.
Higginbotham acknowledged that he searched her for sexual purposes but Charleston West Virginia women for sex assaulting her or imposing any kind of ultimatum, the report said. The FBI never interviewed the woman. The State Police report does not indicate why. The bureau declined to answer questions and denied a FOIA request for its report. Two months after the first alleged assault, Higginbotham turned on his police sirens to pull over the second woman who would accuse him of assault. She had just finished her night shift at a gas station. Higginbotham followed her from there and pulled her over and, as she told the State Police, coerced her to remove her clothing.
Higginbotham told investigators that when he spoke to the alleged victim at the gas station the night of the alleged assault, she asked what he was doing that night. He said he was looking for drunk drivers. She then took his hand and pulled it toward her genitals, prompting him to penetrate her with his fingers — all according to Higginbotham. Even taking him at his word, she questioned what kind of ethical law enforcement officer engages in two consensual sexual encounters that occur while on the job in a two-month period. However, they processed them differently.
After the alleged assault, Higginbotham estimated that he called the woman between five and eight times. She answered twice and recorded the calls and gave the tapes to investigators. The State Police, however, found different witnesses who spoke to the alleged victims after the reported assaults.
They reportedly told investigators what the women told them at the time, and how upset they sounded when they did.
This line of thinking is a common pitfall for law enforcement, Cooper said. Spotty memory is a symptom of trauma, not a reason to discredit an alleged victim of sexual assault. Although the FBI did not interview Higginbotham when its agents became aware of the search-and-frisk allegation, the State Police did. Immediately after his interview about the encounter, Higginbotham reed from the State Police. When the offenders get away with it, victims stop coming forward to try to hold them able, said Nancy Hoffman, state coordinator of the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information Services.
She reviewed the investigation and pointed out several criticisms of investigative techniques and treatment of alleged victims. Thank you for reading! Purchase a Subscription. Thank you for Reading! Log In. We hope that you continue to enjoy our free content. Edit Close. Toggle Menu. Don't have an ? Up Today. Close 1 of 2. Learn more about HD Media. On Sept. Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.
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