A woman called police for help and wound up charged with crimes

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When Rebecca Varney called the Colorado Springs Police Department in July 2021, she wanted to report that her abusive spouse had stolen some of her property.

But CSPD officers instead charged her with abusing her ex-husband, after they persuaded him to allege she was at fault in an assault that happened two

days earlier.

Those allegations are contained in a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Denver, on July 12 by Varney against the CSPD, Police Chief Adrian Vasquez and officers David Kester and Carlotta Rivera.

“After enduring a weekend of renewed violence and abuse from her ex-husband, Ms. Varney contacted the Colorado Springs Police Department for help and much needed protection,” the lawsuit alleges. “In response, Ms. Varney was belittled, discounted, blamed for her own abuse, and maliciously prosecuted. Rather than responding to Ms. Varney’s report of abuse with compassion and concern, Defendants targeted Ms. Varney, tampering with a key witness and deliberately misrepresenting evidence to a judicial officer to obtain an arrest warrant, entangling Ms. Varney in the criminal justice system for an extended period of time and causing her economic and non-economic damages.”

The economic damages, which aren’t quantified in the lawsuit, stem in part from a criminal charge filed against Varney (which has since been resolved) that prevented her from getting a well-paying job in another state, the lawsuit says.

Asked to comment, a CSPD spokesperson said, “as is our policy we reserve our right to not comment on any pending litigation currently. If and when a determination is made at the end of the process, we will make comments when it is appropriate.” The spokesperson did not answer a question about whether Kester and Rivera remain employed by the department, but a subsequent IA investigation didn’t result in either being terminated, the lawsuit says.

On July 18, 2021, Varney called to report property theft by her then-husband. Two nights before that, she had been sexually assaulted by him, the lawsuit alleges, and in an altercation, her husband fractured her wrist.

Her husband, who was an active-duty soldier at Fort Carson, was served a Military Protective Order barring him from contact with Varney. Despite the MPO, he went to their home and took items belonging to Varney, the lawsuit alleges.

Meantime, Varney was at Evans Army Community Hospital on Fort Carson, getting treated for her broken wrist. When she called military police about the theft, they told her they couldn’t help because the theft took place off-base, the lawsuit says.

‘Ms. Varney was belittled, discounted, blamed for her own abuse….’

— Federal lawsuit

She was tentative about calling CSPD, the lawsuit states, because 10 months earlier she had accidentally scratched her husband while defending herself and her dogs from him. When police arrived, she was accused of being the “primary aggressor,” the lawsuit says, which resulted in a protection order against her.

She then took a plea deal that included probation rather than contest the charges.

Varney had made the July 18 call about the theft because she was trying to leave her husband and needed her property. When the officer grilled her about the broken wrist, she said she had video of the July 16 attack and that two people who witnessed it were in the home when officers arrived, the lawsuit says.

Despite that, “the officers approached their investigation having already concluded that Ms. Varney had violated the 2020 protection order, confirming her fears,” the lawsuit alleges.

In short, officers Kester and Rivera interrupted her, talked over her and ignored facts, not taking time to interview witnesses who were at the home when police arrived. Both officers sided with Varney’s husband, the

lawsuit alleges.

They spoke to her for 10 minutes before leaving, and seemed more interested in why Evans Army Community Hospital didn’t contact police when treating her for her assault injury than finding out more about how the injury occurred, the lawsuit says.

Also, Kester advised Varney that because the couple was married, she couldn’t allege he had stolen her belongings because all the property belongs to them jointly, the lawsuit says.

When the officers later contacted Varney’s husband, after repeated attempts, Rivera spoke with him for 40 minutes during which she told him his wife planned to press charges for the assault, which was not true. Rivera persuaded him to file a complaint against Varney, according to the lawsuit. The husband later recanted those statements, the lawsuit says, saying the cops

“pressured” him.

When Kester sought an arrest warrant, he omitted the July 16 assault on Varney, the lawsuit alleges.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police’s model policy for interacting with domestic violence victims and perpetrators advises officers to treat all acts of domestic violence as crimes and document them accordingly. Officers also are advised to obtain a comprehensive account of the events from all parties.

Among things not to do, according to the policy is to “make any statement that would discourage a victim from reporting an act of domestic violence,” or “threaten, suggest, or otherwise indicate a possible arrest” that could discourage future calls for help from victims.

Anne Markley, CEO of TESSA, a local agency that serves domestic violence victims, tells the Indy that victim blaming is quite common, but not among law enforcement officials.

Speaking generally and not about any particular case, Markley says, “I would say that victim blaming across the board is something we see, but not from any particular group of people.”

Neither Officer Kester nor Officer Rivera was provided any discipline or training relating to their conduct.

— Federal lawsuit

She says the offender often imposes responsibility on the victim for the violence, suggesting, “You did something to make me act that way.”

In turn, victims can be slow to report the abuse, wondering, Markley says, “Is  somebody going to believe me? Because my offender has led me to believe it’s

my fault.”

Markley speaks highly of local law enforcement officers, saying they receive substantial training about trauma, and victim and offender dynamics. “All [local] law enforcement goes through that training, and it’s made that system very improved for sure.

“Community based organizations and our parters in law enforcement do listen to victims,” she says.

Varney wound up spending 36 hours in jail and lost a job opportunity in another state due to pending criminal charges. Finally, on Oct. 29, 2021, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case against her, the lawsuit reports.

Varney later filed a complaint with the CSPD about how the officers treated her and failed to fully investigate the situation. Even after she pointed out witnesses to the assault, neither officer talked to them, the lawsuit says.

“After the resulting Internal Affairs investigation found that Officers Kester and Rivera had conducted an incomplete investigation into Ms. Varney’s claims, the officers were both reprimanded for failing to interview the available witnesses, and Officer Kester was disciplined for filing an incomplete offense report,” the lawsuit says.

“However, neither Officer Kester nor Officer Rivera was provided any discipline or training relating to their conduct during their interviews with Ms. Varney and her ex-husband, their misrepresentation of evidence to support a prosecution for harassment, nor their omission of material facts from the warrant application that resulted in Ms. Varney’s prosecution. Further, neither the DA’s office nor the public defenders’ office was ever informed of the Internal Affairs investigation,” the lawsuit alleges.

The IA investigation found both officers violated CSPD policy by failing to investigate Varney’s report of domestic violence. Yet, the IA report concluded that the complaint about Kester not maintaining an impartial attitude was “unsustained” due to lack of evidence, the lawsuit says. Kester was required to attend a crisis intervention class for “active

listening skills.”

“We were stunned to learn that our client had been criminally charged with harassing her abuser after reporting his assault,” Laura Wolfe, Varney’s attorney, says in an email, laying blame on the CSPD’s failure to train and discipline officers. 


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