NEWS- Deputy denial: Sheriff added to sexual assault suit

Tracey Banks figures her situation is similar to that of many women who have been sexually assaulted: a man with a gun came into her house when she was alone and allegedly forced sex on her. 

The difference between Banks and other victims? Banks' alleged assailant was a Buckingham County deputy sheriff. 

More than 18 months later, Banks says she's still looking for justice, and she's filed a $700,000 lawsuit against her alleged assailant, Anthony "Tony" Lewis, as well as Sheriff Danny Williams.

There was one other thing about the alleged March 23, 2005, incident that didn't fit the conventional definition of rape: Banks says she was forced to perform oral sex.

Slender and slight, the 30-year-old Banks, a mother of three daughters, was home alone on the morning Lewis came to serve a warrant for her alleged failure to appear in Charlottesville General District Court. According to court filings, Banks advised Lewis that the matter had been resolved, and she confirmed with a phone call to the court that there was no longer an outstanding warrant.

However, Lewis, according to the lawsuit, told Banks she "owed him" for not executing the warrant and said that "she was not going to get something for nothing." He threatened to charge her with resisting arrest.

"I didn't feel I had any choice," says Banks in her attorney's office. "I felt very threatened. He had his hand on his gun, and he kept tapping it. He said, 'I could still take you to jail.'"

Banks alleges that Lewis initially wanted sex, but he didn't have a condom. Why didn't she just refuse? "I'm a single mom in a house with a sheriff [deputy] alone, and he's got a gun."

When she reported the incident to Buckingham Sheriff Danny Williams, she says, he seemed "pretty shocked" about her allegations. Lewis was put on leave and resigned April 5, 2005, in lieu of termination, according to a Daily Progress report that provided no other details of the incident.

The investigation was turned over to the Virginia State Police, but in early April 2005, a Buckingham grand jury decided not to indict Lewis. That's when Banks decided to file the civil suit.

Last month, Judge Jay Swett denied the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss on "sovereign immunity" grounds, and ruled that Deputy Lewis was acting as a temporary agent for the state when the alleged assault occurred. Swett ruled that the claim against the Commonwealth can go forward, says Banks' attorney, Kerri Taylor. 

Sheriff Williams has been added as a party to the suit, which claims he "breached his duty to properly investigate whether Lewis was an appropriate and trustworthy person to place in a position of considerable power, control and authority over the general public."   

The suit also alleges that Lewis has a "past history of and a propensity for such misconduct."

Sheriff Williams did not return repeated phone calls from the Hook, and Lewis' attorney, Robert Snoddy, declined to comment about the case. 

At the time of the alleged assault, Banks worked at a collection agency in Charlottesville. But after her encounter with Lewis, she says, "It was hard for me to get up and go to work." Now she cleans for and helps take care of an elderly relative.

Banks no longer lives alone– she and her daughters have moved in with her parents– but even so she claims that the alleged incident has left her stressed and fearful. "I lost a lot of weight," she says. "I wouldn't go out by myself. I still feel threatened, like I'm being watched."

Maybe that's because of the 3am phone calls in which no one says anything, and she can hear only the sound of the caller breathing.

 In Buckingham County, population 15,623, the alleged assault is no secret. Banks says she hasn't told her daughters about it, but her nephew heard kids talking about it at school. Vandals have spraypainted "whore" and "c*cks*cker" on the road where she lives. 

"I want them to know the truth," she says.

Banks remains composed during an interview until asked about accusations that the alleged oral sex was consensual. "That's not true," she says, weeping. "It changed my life." She declined to be photographed for this story.

"Sexual assault is forced sexual contact that can take many, many forms," says Kay Clark at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency.  "A lot of people think, 'If I didn't complete it or if there was no penetration, there was no sexual assault.' Not in Virginia."

UVA's leading sexual assault educator, Claire Kaplan, says many people downplay the severity of the situation because it was oral contact. Or they deny that there could be force in such a situation– forgetting perhaps that the officer carries a badge and a gun.

"The fact that she's suing says she hasn't achieved any form of justice," says Kaplan. "If she was blamed or told there was nothing she could do, that only increases her trauma."

Banks says the worst thing about the incident is the shame of the false accusations. "I just want him to realize what he's done and people to know what he's done," she says. "This is somebody who was supposed to protect the community."

Buckingham Sheriff Danny Williams is named in a lawsuit that claims a former deputy forced a woman to perform oral sex. Last year, his deputies riled residents by strip-searching them on the side of the road.