By Austin Nolen
The Philadelphia police detective who performed an incomplete investigation into the alleged sexual assault against labor activist and DNC delegate Gwen Snyder was previously cited for failing to accept a different sexual assault claim for investigation.
In 2015, Philadelphia’s Internal Affairs Division sustained a complaint that Special Victims Unit Detective Justin Montgomery had improperly referred a sexual assault allegation to a unit that did not investigate such cases, instead of handling the complaint in SVU.
When he was interviewed during the internal investigation, Montgomery told investigators that “he currently has a case load of 70-100 active cases.”
After Snyder mounted a pressure campaign against the District Attorney’s Office to file charges, prosecutors admitted that Detective Montgomery conducted an “incomplete investigation” into her complaint.
Snyder specified to The Declaration that Montgomery failed to obtain surveillance videos which captured the incident and to talk to witnesses.
In this case, Montgomery’s failure to do his job likely led to the DA’s original decision not to file charges against Walter Weeks.
Snyder told The Declaration that prosecutors initially explained to her they could not prove Weeks acted with intent to commit indecent assault because he had been drinking.
DA spokesman Cameron Kline disputed Snyder’s account. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the office “would never, ever say we’re not going to prosecute someone for an assault or an attack… because someone is intoxicated.”
According to Kline, Snyder and a prosecutor “had a discussion about standards, about proof, and a discussion about how that will happen in court,” and how the defendant’s “level of alcoholic intake is connected to that.”
Pennsylvania does not recognize the voluntary intoxication defense. In other words, a defendant cannot argue he or she was too drunk to intend to commit a crime.
Nevertheless, according to a manual produced by the National District Attorneys Association and the federal Office on Violence Against Women, “even in states that do not recognize intoxication as a defense, it may be a barrier to prosecution” of sexual assault cases.
To find out more about why a prosecutor might legitimately consider the intoxication of the accused, The Declaration spoke to Joshua Marquis, a board member of NDAA and the District Attorney for Clatsop County, Oregon.
According to Marquis, even where a state does not recognize an intoxication defense, “in every case, the prosecutor has to prove there was intent,” regardless of what the defendant can argue.
Without commenting on Snyder case specifically, Marquis said that an intoxicated defendant can complicate the decision about whether to file charges in indecent assault cases. He explained that “most sex offenses usually involve cornering, removing a victim from public areas” or other behaviors indicating that the perpetrator, drunk or not, understood that the other person did not consent.
In contrast, Marquis claimed that in some indecent assault cases, there may be little evidence from which a judge or jury can infer that the perpetrator intended to act without consent.
In these cases, the fact that the defendant was intoxicated at the time may further muddle the question of intent. Not only might a judge or jury lack strong evidence of intent, but they may wonder if the defendant misperceived the situation because of intoxication. The prosecutor must overcome these questions even if the defense cannot formally raise them.
When the District Attorney’s Office reversed course and announced indecent assault charges against Weeks, it specifically cited videos and witness statements that Montgomery had originally failed to obtain.
The new evidence was apparently enough to convince prosecutors that they could prove to a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Weeks had intentionally assaulted Snyder. But how many sex crime victims without Snyder’s organizing skills and tenacity are failed by overworked detectives?
Philadelphia Police declined a request to comment on what discipline, if any, Montgomery received for the sustained allegation.
View the findings of the investigation into Detective Montgomery and other officers below:
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