|Salisa Luster Rape Survivor|
Rape and its emotional and psychological trauma is a long lasting nightmare for victims and their families. The family and friends of Salisa Luster, who was raped and brutally beaten in Louisville, Kentucky, five-years-ago, are no exception.
Since then, the rapist's escape from justice, abetted by a Metro Louisville police officer's gross negligence at the crime scene and blatant misconduct--and a comedy of errors and transparent untruths implicating other officers--have further traumatized Luster and angered and bewildered her family and close friends.
Just as painful, they say, was the failure of the most culpable officer, Rick Woolridge, to arrest, question, detain or label as a person of interest "an unidentified black man," who was the only suspect at the scene. Increasing their pain was the alleged indifference of then Chief Robert C. White, who had the authority to open an official investigation into Woolridge's misconduct, but declined to do so.
Had Luster been a white woman, some observers say, Woolridge's policing would doubtless have been aggressive. Luster is African American, as is the suspected rapist.
Others were struck by the alleged indifference of an African American police chief toward a black woman's plight. Still others expressed outrage that Chief White, in refusing to use his power to investigate the misconduct of Woolridge--a white officer--also appeared to obstruct justice in defense of a seemingly cold, callous policeman.
Salisa's mother Cheryl Ellis's efforts to obtain justice for her daughter
Luster's nightmare began on the afternoon of April 29, 2008: A maintenance man employed by East Chase Apartments, owned by Sentinel Real Estate Corporation--came to repair the toilet, but, after fixing it, returned, hours later.
While Luster slept on a sofa, he used a pass key (only maintenance men and management executives had access to them), to open the door. Undetected, he entered her apartment. After creeping in, he began raping her.
When Luster awoke, the maintenance man, whose uniform she remembered, was choking and raping her. Soon he was hitting her on her head "so hard I could barely think," she said. Then the rapist, in a bizarre twist, according to Ellis, "used a solution to wash her hair, took several pieces of clothing from her closet, drenched them in water and threw them on the floor."
The rapist, Ellis told Policeabuse.com, did not leave the apartment after attacking Luster, but stayed through the night. Luster, only semi-conscious after the attack, was beaten so severely that her left eye was shut by it, both eyes were blackened and blood clots had formed in both of them. Despite her battered condition, Luster managed to call 911 and say, "there's a strange man in my apartment; I'm having trouble breathing," yet the operator who received her plea failed to alert paramedics.
In the morning, when Luster didn't answer her telephone or report to work, five young colleagues, all women, went to her apartment to ensure that she "was okay." Luster's car was parked in front of her apartment building, so they believed she had not left, but was still inside her unit.
Without a key to Luster's door, they were forced to wait outside.
Louisville Officer Rick Wooldridge Ret.
Officer Woolridge, a 20-year Metro Louisville veteran, was dispatched to the scene and arrived soon after the young women, but would not allow them to go inside with him.
After "less than six minutes inside" Luster's apartment, according to Ellis, Woolridge left and locked the door behind him, so the five young women had no access to the apartment.
No one knows what Woolridge said to the suspected rapist, if anything, but Ellis believes the "unidentified black man" told Woolridge that he and Luster had had "a lover's spat," which Woolridge officer apparently believed or deemed inconsequential.
Although Luster's face bore all the earmarks of a brutal beating, Woolridge didn't call emergency medical assistance. Nor did he file a police report or record any notes regarding his observations, if any. Woolridge would later claim that he "saw no injuries."
His one single action was to advise another Metro Louisville police officer that he was not needed at the crime scene. After giving that "advice," Woolridge walked away. Although the women say they begged him to open the apartment door, he turned away from them, walked toward his vehicle and drove off.
As he drove away, one of the young women ran to the apartment manager's office and said, "I know something is wrong, please open Salisa's door so we can go in and see her."
When the friends finally got into her apartment, they were horrified by the damage from the beating.
One of them cried, another began praying. "We're here for you, you're safe now," a third friend said, as she called 911 for an emergency response. Luster, again unconscious, was unable to speak.
A detective, Brian Tucker, eventually arrived. He accompanied the paramedics and the friends to the University of Louisville Medical Center's Trauma Unit. Nurses in the sex crimes section, who photographed Luster, said Woolridge "would have had to be blind not to see her injuries."
Tucker later told Emergency Medical Services personnel that Woolridge confirmed that "an unidentified black man told him: "There are no problems, everything is alright." In September, Tucker also claimed that he interviewed all five friends who accompanied Luster to the hospital the morning after she was attacked. The women, however, flatly deny that Tucker ever interviewed them.
Two unidentified white officers, however, did interview two of the women in the interview room at the University of Phoenix in Louisville where they were enrollment advisers. The officers conducted the two-hour interview with a tape recorder, which they placed on a table and took notes. When Ellis asked for a copy of the interview, she was told there was none. Although Tucker's negligence was apparent, he was not warned, suspended or disciplined.
Ellis said she learned of the interview only when the women asked if Tucker had told her about it, although as the victim's mother, he should have shared that information with her. Had Tucker reported Woolridge to his superior officer, as he was obligated to do, a record of his misconduct would have compelled an investigation.
Meanwhile, the blows Luster suffered were so powerful that ophthalmologists filled one eye with a special solution to extract a contact lens that was imbedded by the force and wouldn't come out.
For eight hours, Luster received treatment in the emergency room. Two months later, to relieve pressure on her brain exacerbated by the blows from the attack, she needed a five-hour surgery, at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, in Little Rock, to halt her seizures and repair other injuries. The damage from the attack compounded a pre-existing tumor, Ellis said.
She flew to Louisville, from her home in Omaha, Nebraska, the day after her daughter was attacked. Within hours after arriving, she asked a detective for the police report about the brutal beating.
Although Woolridge had not filed a report nor taken notes on which to base one, the detective responded with an untruth. "We're in the process of working on it," Ellis said he told her.
Weeks later, when Ellis asked for Woolridge's notes, another officer admitted that "none exist"
and that "there is no file."
Several months later, in January, 2009, Ellis was slapped by yet another depressing blow when she sought to file a misconduct complaint against Officer Woolridge. "Your daughter will have to file a complaint in person," Ellis said an officer told her. "You can't file it over the phone, by mail, e-mail, Fax or with a Fed-Ex. She was assured, Ellis said, that the deadline for the complaint was February.
Although Luster and her grandmother, Frances Fairmont, returned to Louisville well before the February deadline, they weren't told that it had expired in January. Luster, her grandmother and mother were also unaware that Woolridge had already been allowed to retire on January 31. Thus it was pointless to file a misconduct complaint against an officer no longer employed by the department.
All three women learned about Woolridge's through a letter sent by Chief White in September. Ellis filed an appeal in October but White's decision allowing Woolridge to retire without being held accountable was upheld.
Woolridge, meanwhile, had already retired with his pension intact. Then beyond the reach of accountability, departmental officials told Ellis he no longer could be charged with misconduct.
|Chief Robert White|
Ellis, continuing her quest for justice, received no assurances of accountability from Chief White, who currently presides over the police force in Denver, Colorado. White, citing Woolridge's retirement, told her that nothing could be done to hold him accountable.
White refused to comment for this article. Through his Chief of Staff, Lt. Murray, he referred all questions to his successor in Louisville, Chief Steven Conrad.
Diop Kamau, founder and director of Policeabuse.com., which is assisting Ellis' efforts to seek justice, condemned White's refusal to investigate Woolridge's alleged misconduct. "Chief White had nine months to punish, fine, suspend or fire Woolridge, but chose not to," said Kamau, who did not limit his criticism to the then chief executive. "Not only did Chief White fail to exercise his duty, Woolridge's superior officer failed as well," he said.
"The superior officer was obligated to either sign off on the police report Woolridge should have submitted, or, absent a report, indicated his objection to the subordinate's failure or refusal to have written one," Kamau continued, "so he is as responsible for the obvious misconduct as is Woolridge."
In addition, Kamau said, "I don't believe that forcing rape victims to file misconduct complaints in person is the Louisville Police Department's policy now, or that such was the policy in 2009." To demand that rape victims file misconduct complaints in person, Kamau added, "is unconscionable."
Ultimately, Kamau said, "Chief White should have been sanctioned for condoning the refusal to act, he was responsible for what began as Woolridge's determination to do nothing and became a cover-up."
Moreover, Kamau explained, "Chief White didn't need a complaint to conduct his own investigation; the department had more than enough evidence to open one."
The chief's failure was not only "deliberate," Kamau charged, "it also bought Woolridge plenty of time to retire, with his pension secure for the future."
Kamau scoffed at the apology Ellis received from Chief White's successor, Steven Conrad. In a May 22, 2012 letter, Chief Conrad claimed that he was "truly at a loss to explain retired officer Woolridge's actions and inactions in this matter."
Chief Conrad claimed that "they (Woolridge's alleged misconduct) do not represent our department's standards or values. I apologize for his behavior! Your daughter deserved better!"
His apology did not reference his predecessor's failure to investigate "Woolridge's actions and inactions," despite the clear authority to do so. Instead, Chief Conrad appeared to support former Chief White: "In regards to the internal investigation (which Ellis sought), Officer Rick Woolridge retired before that investigation even started. Woolridge's retirement left Chief White with no opportunity to hold him accountable for his poor behavior."
Meanwhile, he contended, "between the poor initial responses, the failure to recover any possible suspect DNA during (the) post sexual assault examination, the inability of your daughter to provide information about her attacker, the lack of a witness and the significant passage of time, I do not believe a second investigation would be any more fruitful or successful than the first one."
In conclusion, he said: "I realize this response fails to provide closure for either you or your daughter. Once again, I apologize!"
Policeabuse.com placed three telephone calls to Chief White for comment for this article. Neither the chief nor his media relations staff have replied thus far.
Ellis, like Kamau, was unimpressed with Chief Conrad's apology. "Chief Conrad ought to be fired, he's had ample opportunity to correct Chief White's refusal to act but has not." The city of Louisville, Ellis said, "ought to be held liable for officer Woolridge's misconduct and utter refusal to do anything to aid Salisa, who was battered and bruised almost beyond recognition."
Louisville Police Department freedom of information act response