TAMPA — A former teacher's aide is suing the Tampa Police Department for violating her civil rights, claiming officials misrepresented the truth and cast her in a false light when discussing her sexual abuse case with the media.
State prosecutors dropped the charges against Tamika Denise Lane-Gardner, 32, accused of abusing a 6-year-old girl at the Walton Academy for the Performing Arts on Florida Avenue.
But soon after her arrest, then-police spokesman Larry McKinnon told reporters "there was penetration of the child and that's what determines the case of sexual battery as opposed to lewd and lascivious or inappropriate touching," the lawsuit said.
In dropping the charges in August 2006, prosecutors said the case had too much reasonable doubt for the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office to proceed.
Lane-Gardner had denied the allegations and passed a polygraph test. Prosecutors found no corroborating evidence, and witness credibility became suspect. Prosecutors said the child's mother had made similar accusations before.
"The actions of the city of Tampa's (Police Department) ... in instituting, maintaining and publicizing false charges of sexual battery against Mrs. Lane-Gardner have caused Mrs. Lane-Gardner severe emotional damage, damaged her reputation and caused her to be socially isolated and ostracized," Lane-Gardner's attorney, Christopher Knopik, said in the lawsuit filed in federal court. "This incident will haunt her forever."
Knopik said Lane-Gardner, who had no prior criminal record, must now report her arrest on future job applications as she looks for work at schools.
Prosecutors said officers had enough information to arrest Lane-Gardner but required more to prosecute the case.
Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy declined to discuss the lawsuit.
"It's our policy not to comment on pending litigation," she said.
The lawsuit names as defendants the city of Tampa, Police Chief Stephen Hogue and McKinnon, who now works for the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.
Kevin Graham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.