Cranberry's insurer approves $1.5 million settlement over arrest
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A $1.5 million legal settlement that resolves one of Cranberry's darkest moments -- the wrongful arrest and incarceration of a pregnant woman who was raped but was not believed by police -- will not impact the township's budget or tax rates. But, manager Jerry Andree said, the case had a profound impact on those who were involved in it.
"It was a terrible situation from the beginning. Our officers did the best job they could with the best knowledge and advice and information that they had at the time, but it was very unfortunate and we've all learned from this and are moving forward," he said.
He was referring to a $1.5 million settlement between the township's liability insurance carrier, United National Insurance Co., and Sara Reedy (also identified in court documents as Sara Watt.) The settlement, reached in early March and kept under court-ordered wraps for 90 days, brings to a close a difficult case that resulted in acknowledged injustice to Ms. Reedy even as authorities defended their actions.
The settlement followed an August 2010 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had overturned an earlier federal judgment that had tossed Ms. Reedy's lawsuit against Cranberry Detective Frank Evanson. The appeals court decision had cleared the way for the case to proceed to federal trial but the settlement closed the books on the case that began the night of July 14, 2004, at a Cranberry gas station where she had been working. That night, shortly before midnight, Ms. Reedy called police and told them she had been the victim of a sexual assault by an assailant who then stole some $600 from the station's safe. Police did not believe Ms. Reedy's claims. She was charged with theft and making a false report. Faced with a bond she couldn't pay, she was jailed for six days. She was pregnant at the time.
Not quite a year later, in August 2005, weeks before Ms. Reedy was to face trial in Butler County Court, a Dauphin County man was caught in the act of a sexual assault in Jefferson County. Wilber Cyrus Brown, 43, confessed to multiple assaults across Pennsylvania, including the attack on Ms. Reedy during which a gun was held to her head while she was forced to perform oral sex. Mr. Brown was convicted of rape and other charges in connection with the incident.
Following Mr. Brown's confession, Butler County District Attorney Tim McCune withdrew the charges against Ms. Reedy and apologized but defended Detective Evanson, noting there was no physical evidence of her claims. Her attorney at the time acknowledged a polygraph test was inconclusive. Authorities at all levels defended their performance but said they regretted the outcome.
Ms. Reedy of Butler County filed suit in federal court in August 2006 against township and county officials. In February 2007, she reached a $45,000 settlement from Butler County's insurance carrier, clearing Mr. McCune, an assistant district attorney and the county. The case against Cranberry and Detective Evanson continued. A summary judgment dismissing the case was issued by a federal court judge in March 2009 -- a decision was overturned by a federal appeals court in August 2010, paving the way to the out-of-court settlement.
Ms. Reedy, contacted Sunday via her mother, declined to return a reporter's call. She said through her attorney after Mr. Brown's arrest she was relieved to have been vindicated. Although the Post-Gazette does not normally identify rape victims, Ms. Reedy had asked the paper not to conceal her identity.
The settlement did not require the approval of municipal officials as the case was handled by the township's insurance carrier.
Detective Evanson remains on the job. Mr. Andree said no personnel action has been taken "because there was no wrongdoing. Every action he took was approved by all law enforcement agencies involved and at every level ... It was just unfortunate."
Her current attorney, David Weicht, a partner with the Downtown Pittsburgh firm of Leech Tishman, said he is "pleased we were able to resolve this amicably. It will allow Sara to move on."
First Published December 17, 2012 12:00 am