Arrested on DNA match, he didn't fit description of rapist
By Mara H. Gottfried
Updated: 02/15/2010 10:54:13 PM CST
A man falsely accused of a St. Paul rape last year has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Ramsey County.
Justin Sallis, 26, had consensual sex March 14 with a woman he was dating. The next morning, she reported that a stranger raped her in an alley behind the 400 block of Blair Street, according to the lawsuit, served on the defendants last week.
The lawsuit makes the following claims:
DNA found on the victim matched Sallis, but police did not show the victim a photograph of Sallis or try to verify that he was her attacker. The description of the rapist "did not bear even a vague resemblance" to Sallis, the lawsuit says.
Police presented information to the Ramsey County attorney's office, who charged Sallis in August with third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Sallis had moved to Chicago, and six U.S. marshals arrested him there Aug. 17.
Sallis didn't resist arrest, but the marshals "kicked Mr. Sallis repeatedly in the head, Tased him, and beat him up so badly that he lost consciousness and was taken away in an ambulance," the suit says.
Sallis spent 25 days in the Cook County jail in "a cell designed for only two men with at least two other men at all times, and the jail was infested with mice, rats and cockroaches," the suit says. Sallis was extradited to Ramsey County on Sept. 10 and then learned the details of the charge.
Sallis told his public defender he was innocent, and a member of the public defender's office on Sept. 24 showed the victim photos of Sallis. She stated that Sallis was not the man who raped her and that she had consensual sex with Sallis once or twice around the time the rape occurred.
The victim "reiterated that the man who raped her was much older than Mr. Sallis," the suit says. Sallis' lawyer presented the findings in court Sept. 24, and the charge against him was dismissed.
Sallis claims deprivation of liberty and infliction of emotional distress, among other things. The lawsuit names — in addition to the city, county and unnamed U.S. marshals — Catherine Pavlak, the lead St. Paul police investigator; Elaine Ashbaugh, the assistant Ramsey County attorney who signed the criminal complaint; St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington; and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner.
No one else has been arrested in the rape, and the case remains active, said Sgt. Paul Schnell, police spokesman.
DNA matching is great technology, but surely it has to be combined with common sense. This was apparently an inexcusably sloppy investigation. Pay the man!