The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is supposed to be the foundation of our legal justice system in the United States. It’s a sound theory, given to ensure our constitutional rights. What happens when that presumption of innocence is only a theory, and not a practice? Meet Daniel Holtzclaw.
Daniel Holtzclaw was an Oklahoma City police officer in 2014. A former football player, Daniel is built like like a concrete wall with feet. Standing at around 6’2” tall and heavily muscled, he would be an intimidating sight, if not for the still boyish face and relaxed air. In 2014, Daniel believed in his job, the criminal justice system, and the basic premise that truth prevailed. Today, Daniel sits incarcerated, in an undisclosed location, for crimes he didn’t commit. Daniel was afforded no presumption of innocence at any point during the investigation. Before he had even been interviewed about his alleged crimes, detectives had already decided his guilt, and set a process in motion designed to uphold that belief, and only that belief. That process started a wave that pushed justice away, and replaced it with an investigation so fundamentally flawed that it carried all the way to the prosecution. That wave washed away Daniel’s innocence, and his freedom.
In the early morning hours of June 18, 2014 Daniel made a traffic stop that would forever change his life, and the lives of those close to him. That single traffic stop would ruin his career, while helping another detective achieve the pinnacle of supposed success. That traffic stop was the ripple that started the wave, the one that washed justice away in the pursuit of accolades. At a little after 2 a.m. Daniel was just off duty, and heading home, when Jannie Ligons swerved in front of his police car. Daniel, fearing that she was driving under the influence, initiated a traffic stop, while off duty, in the interest of protecting her and others. That’s what police are supposed to do, serve and protect. The traffic stop, lasting a little less than 15 minutes, was unremarkable except for the allegation of sexual assault that resulted, roughly 2 hours later. Daniel admittedly made mistakes with this stop. He didn’t report the stop, he didn’t log back into his on-board computer to run Ligons for wants or warrants. He violated these procedures, put in place for officer safety. He freely admits to this. He wanted to ensure she was not driving under the influence, and he wanted to go home, in that order. Of these facts, there is no dispute. There is no evidence that supports the claims Jannie Ligons made to officers over an hour later.
Jannie Ligons arrived home around 2:45, and from that point, details become clouded. Ultimately, though, her story eventually gels into an initial report to officers that resulted in the case being assigned to sex crimes Detective Kim Davis at 4 a.m. What followed was a lax and appalling investigation designed to to nothing more than convict Daniel, first in the court of public opinion, followed by the trial court. In the 12 hours between Detective Davis being assigned to this complaint and interviewing Daniel, detectives had found surveillance video, and another victim claiming almost the exact same scenario. They had already processed Jannie Ligons car, made contact with Daniel’s superior officers, and set the wheels in motion to interview Daniel. It is painful to watch Daniel’s initial interview with Detectives Kim Davis and Rocky Gregory. There is an appalling lack of professionalism from the detectives, as well as a glaring belief that Daniel was guilty, and nothing was going to change their minds on that.
Throughout the almost 2 hour interview, Daniel never wavered from his version of events. No matter how desperately the detectives tried to trip him up, his narrative never changed. The same cannot be said for Jannie Ligons’ version of events. Starting with what time she arrived home (somewhere between 2:42 and 3:00 in the morning, depending on which version you follow) throughout the claims of attempts to report the assault, and even the assault itself, her complaint flows, growing here, changing there, much like a mud puddle that is constantly being walked through. The only thing that is clear, is that there was in fact a traffic stop. During Daniel’s initial interview, Detective Davis expresses disbelief that an ordinary traffic stop could take 15 minutes, and more disbelief that Ligons would make up a story. She seemed to feel that Ligons had nothing to gain. One can certainly hope that she was only pretending to be that dense, in the mistaken belief that it would trip Daniel up. If she was not pretending, the glaring lack of investigative intelligence should scare every person she has ever had official contact with. Simply put, Jannie Ligons spent the evening with a male friend that was not her boyfriend. Many woman have lied to protect relationships with men other than their acknowledged partners. Added to the fact that Jannie Ligons has since filed as civil suit naming Daniel Holtzclaw and Oklahoma City as defendants. There is plenty of motivation to lie.
Likewise, Detective Rocky Gregory’s conduct is troubling at best. From joking about masturbation to asking Daniel if he’d like to see the surveillance videos that show the alleged assault, Detective Gregory was more concerned with trying to make a name for himself than the actual facts and evidence presented. The video shows no evidence of assault, and in fact barely shows the traffic stop itself. It is certainly a far cry from the implication Gregory made to Daniel that it clearly showed Jannie Ligons’ breasts or Daniel’s penis. It never occurred to either detective to care that Daniel was innocent. There were no names to be made that way, no warm fuzzy feelings fostered amongst the community if they concerned themselves with Daniel’s innocence.
This is the start of a story that tore lives apart, cost a man his freedom, and epitomizes the need for reform in the criminal justice system. Most recently, it has been shown that DNA evidence in Daniel’s case was purposefully misrepresented by the prosecution. This DNA evidence was key to obtaining a conviction that resulted in a 263 year prison sentence for Daniel Holtzclaw. It highlights the need for harsher penalties for prosecutorial and police misconduct. Daniel’s story is one that needs to be heard, and understood. His story is not one that should be repeated due to a failing justice system that embraces conviction rates over justice. We hope you will follow along as Daniel and his family fight to overturn his conviction and clear his name. We hope you will add your voice to the outcry, and most sincerely, we hope you will not become another Daniel Holtzclaw.
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