Overzealous? Rapist dragnet yields $15K lawsuit

While a serial rapist has terrorized Charlottesville and been connected to at least six increasingly brutal attacks, the search for the assailant has created some fears of its own. Many black males say police unfairly targeted them for DNA samples, whether or not they matched the suspect's description.

One of those men, Larry Monroe, filed a $15,000 lawsuit against Charlottesville police Detective James Mooney July 20 in General District Court.

Monroe claims assault and battery, illegal search and seizure under Virginia law, and racial harassment.

"This client didn't fit the description," says Monroe's lawyer, Deborah Wyatt. "He's a hefty guy– 300 pounds, 5'8". He'd never be described as 6' with an athletic build," one of the descriptions of the rapist.

Police Chief Tim Longo released a statement July 21 saying the suit made no factual allegations, and it was premature for him to speak. However, he announced, "I have no basis to conclude that Detective Jim Mooney violated the rights of this citizen..."

"Investigate first, then staunchly defend," responds Wyatt.

When the Hook first broke the story of the massive swabbing effort a year ago [July 24, 2003: "Rape fall-out: Search targets innocent black males"], 230 black males had given DNA samples via a cheek swap, called a buccal. By March of this year, the tally was up to 570.

Outrage over perceived police profiling of black males led to a change in the protocol for requesting DNA samples of possible suspects, and police say that over 200 samples have been destroyed.

Before the policy change, police showed up at Monroe's home and workplace, and he provided a buccal swab of his saliva.

"It's worth some compensation," says Wyatt. "It's not a federal case. We decided to take it to small claims court."

Granville Boggs, for one, is glad to see the lawsuit, and in fact, he contacted Wyatt about filing his own suit last fall. A security guard at UVA Medical Center, he says police showed up at his home twice asking for genetic samples.

He describes the first officer– not Mooney– as hostile. "He showed me a crime scene photo of a bloody bed and said, 'This could be your family.'"

Boggs declined to provide a DNA sample without a subpoena or search warrant. And when a second officer came by to ask for it again, "That's when I felt harassment."

Months later, Boggs says he'd still be interested in a class action suit.

"I have sympathy for the police– they've got a rapist out there," he says. "But when you start coming to people's homes... It was so upsetting."

In his statement, Chief Longo worries that "lawsuits of this nature will undermine public confidence in law enforcement" and demoralize police officers.

"It's really disappointing to me, this knee-jerk, lengthy sermon on why the police should never be sued," says Wyatt.

"I'm glad the chief changed the policy, but this shouldn't have happened," she says.

Attorney Deborah Wyatt filed a $15,000 lawsuit against a Charlottesville police officer, claiming her client, Larry Monroe, doesn't come close to fitting the description of the serial rapist.