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Custer County Sheriff’s Office could have prevented rape, lawsuit says
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Custer County Sheriff’s Office could have prevented rape, lawsuit says

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A Custer County woman who was kidnapped and raped just hours after calling deputies for help is now suing the county and others for $2 million, saying deputies never responded and "could have prevented" the incident, court documents and phone calls show.

The woman told a Custer County dispatcher on Sept. 5, 2017, that she had received a threatening message from a former boyfriend she had a protection order against and who just bonded out of jail, according to a recording of the phone call obtained through a public records request to the Custer County Sheriff's Office. 

But deputies never arrived, court records show, and the man kidnapped and raped the woman the next day, a Custer County jury foundA judge sentenced the man, Harry David Evans, to life plus 92 years in prison earlier this year. 

The federal lawsuit against Custer County, Sheriff Marty Mechaley, deputy Matthew Tramp and others claim they knew Evans was a danger, had told the woman not to use a gun for protection, broke state laws and violated her civil rights. 

The woman said the defendants' actions caused her "serious and permanent physical injury, mental pain and injury." She said she now has anxiety, depression, and is fearful, and has spent money on physical and mental health treatment that she'll continue to need in the future. She also had to quit working.

The defendants admit in their response that the woman called for help on Sept. 5 but said the dispatch system had technological problems that evening transferring calls to deputies.  

They said the woman was "extremely angry" and hung up once a deputy called her, and the deputy returned to patrol duties since the woman said she didn't want the sheriff's office to respond.

The defendants also said the woman's injuries were solely caused by Evans, Tramp was not involved with the case, and deputies never advised her against owning a gun. They say they can't be sued due to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects law enforcement and other government officials from being sued unless they violate an obvious law or constitutional right.

The Journal does not name sexual assault survivors without their permission, and the woman who filed the lawsuit did not respond to Facebook and phone messages. 

The backstory

In early 2017, Pennington County prosecutors filed criminal charges against Evans after the woman reported that he kidnapped and abused her, her lawsuit says. But the case was dropped when she decided not to pursue it, and she tried to end the relationship in the spring and early summer of 2017.

On June 30, 2017, the Custer County Sheriff's Office responded after she called 911, both sides agree. The woman says Evans showed up at her home, confronted her and prevented her from leaving. She also said the sheriff's office was informed of Evans' Pennington County charges.

Evans was given a temporary protection order against the woman on July 26, 2017, both sides agree. The woman says he was arrested but not charged for violating the order on July 28, while the defendants say Evans was arrested on the 27th and charged on the 28th.

Both parties agree that the sheriff's office later put cameras on the woman's property that caught Evans violating the protection order, and that Evans was given a permanent protection order on Aug. 24, 2017. They agree that Evans was arrested on Sept. 4, 2017, for violating the protection order but bonded out of jail the same day.

By now, the woman had told deputies she didn't feel safe when Evans was out of jail and they agreed that he was dangerous and promised to help her, the woman said. 

"If you feel like he may be coming over here, we'll come sit here somewhere he won't see us. We'll sit down the driveway and watch the driveway or something because we're here to make sure you feel safe," one deputy reportedly told her.

Benson said the sheriff's office also knew about Evans' past aggravated assault and felony stalking convictions and that he had threatened to kill her and sent her threatening text messages.

The defendants said they denied or didn't have enough information regarding the woman's allegations about what she told deputies and what deputies promised.

The night before 

The woman received a threatening message from Evans on Sept. 5, 2017, the day after Evans was released from jail, she wrote in her lawsuit. She said the message implied that Evans was coming for her. 

She said she called the sheriff's office at 10:41 p.m. to explain the situation and ask for a deputy to come to her house, but hung up after being put on hold for 10 minutes. The defendants say the woman had only asked to speak with a deputy and hung up after four minutes. 

"I've had problems with him before and now he's stalking me on a website and it's like a threatening message and I need to talk to someone about that," the woman said in a recording of the call. She also mentions that she has a protection order against the man and that he just bonded out of jail. 

The recording ends soon after the dispatcher tells the woman she's putting her on hold to find a deputy.

Both parties agree that the woman then called Jim Daggett, the Hermosa town marshal, to ask for help but Custer County Dispatch told him not to respond since their office was taking care of it. Daggett told the Journal that he decided to check on her anyway. 
Daggett told dispatch that the woman asked for help and he's not exactly sure what she meant, according to the recording of the call. He said the woman has had problems with her ex-boyfriend so he was going to go search the area. 
The woman then called 911 but again hung up after being put on hold by Custer County Dispatch, the lawsuit says. She said Tramp called her back about 10 minutes later and she angrily said his office wasn't caring about or protecting her. She said Tramp never came to her house and ended his shift without making sure another deputy responded.
But the defendants say in their response that the woman never called 911, that dispatch called her back "and attempted to transfer her to a deputy but the transfer did not complete correctly."
The dispatcher did call the woman back, according to one of the phone recordings obtained by the Journal. 
"I was scared so I called Jim Daggett," the woman said in the call. The dispatcher told the woman that she needs to speak with a deputy since Daggett doesn't have jurisdiction where she lives.
"Can you get here then?" the woman asks. The dispatcher asks if the man is outside her home and the woman said she doesn't think so, but he is stalking her on a website. 
"OK then what does the deputy need to stop by there for? Can you just talk to the deputy?" the dispatcher asks. 
The woman says she will speak with a deputy and the dispatcher explains that she tried to connect her during the first call, but the woman hung up before the call transferred. 
"I'm sorry, I'll stay on the line, but it just took so long I didn't know what was happening," the woman said. 
The recording ends after the dispatcher tells the woman to wait again while she transfers her to a deputy. 
The transfer didn't work, the defendants say in their response. So the dispatcher called Deputy Derrick Reifenrath and told him to call the woman. The woman didn't pick up when he called so Reifenrath called dispatch to tell them to tell the woman to pick up next time and to send photos of how Evans was contacting her and breaking his protection order. 
The woman picked up the second time Reifenrath called but was "extremely angry" and hung up after saying she didn't want to speak with him, the response says. Reifenrath then told dispatch and his supervisor about the "phone issues" before returning to his patrol since the woman said she didn't want a deputy to respond to her home. 
The Journal was given a third recording where the dispatcher tells the woman that she has Tramp on the line and will transfer him to her. It's unclear when this call took place. 
Reifenrath's calls to the woman were not recorded since he called from his cell phone, said Rebecca Mann, attorney for the defendants. The Custer County State's Attorney Office did not respond to messages asking why the Journal did not receive recordings of Reifenrath's calls with the dispatcher. 
Evans later arrived at the woman's home around 2 a.m. on Sept. 6 and duct taped, kidnapped and raped her. 

— Contact Arielle Zionts at

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