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Bayshore rape suspect disputes police account

TAMPA — Police call Luis Harris a rapist. They say he pretended to be a cop last month and abducted a woman along Bayshore Boulevard before robbing and sexually assaulting her.

Harris, in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, disputes that account.

He acknowledges that he had sex with the woman and used her ATM card. But he neither pretended to be a police officer nor raped her, he said.

The sex, he said, was consensual.

"I will take a polygraph," said Harris, 31.

Even as he protests his innocence, police note inconsistencies in his story. This isn't the first time Harris has been accused of rape. And multiple witnesses have alleged that he posed as an undercover narcotics officer.

Tampa police say that about 10 p.m. July 29, Harris used a blue laser flashlight to pull over a 28-year-old motorist on Bayshore. She stopped, thinking he was a cop. He handcuffed her, took money from her bank account and then raped her in the back seat of his car, police reported.

He was arrested two days later, after he pistol-whipped a man in the parking lot of Pete's Place, a South Tampa bar, police said. There, too, he pretended to be a cop, police said. He was charged with rape, armed kidnapping, grand theft and impersonating an officer, among other crimes. A judge denied him bail.

Harris has never worked in law enforcement in Florida, state records show. He attended a police academy in Lake County for five months in 1998 but did not graduate.

Speaking from a Hillsborough County jail — against the advice of his attorney, he said — Harris defended himself.

Tampa police are twisting evidence, he said. That picture of him in a police uniform that investigators found? He said it's from a photo album in his car, a memento of police academy days.

And the police "ID badge"? That was a calendar card, a keepsake from a shooting competition, he said.

Tampa police declined to discuss the evidence they've collected but said there wasn't a photo album in Harris' car.

Harris said he's worried that public opinion is already against him and that he won't fare well in court. This would be his second trial on sexual battery charges. He was acquitted of the first, filed in 1999 in Volusia County. Details are unavailable because the file has been destroyed.

Harris denies that he pulled the woman over on Bayshore. He said they met at the Tiny Tap Tavern, a South Tampa bar. After talking for a while, they had sex in the back of his car, he said.

The woman told police that she had never heard of the Tiny Tap, said Detective Lela Davis.

The Times spoke briefly with the woman, whose name has been withheld because of the nature of the crime.

She declined to comment for this story, other than to say she did not know Harris before the incident. "I don't know him from anything in the world," she said.

Detective Davis said she has heard a lot of Harris' explanations and they don't hold up against the evidence.

When he was arrested, he told police he had never met the woman. Later, he said they had consensual sex.

"Now that the evidence is back, he's changed his story," said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis. "There are so many inconsistencies."

When rape defendants say that sex was consensual, police and prosecutors look for other signs of violence, such as bruising, cuts and dirt.

Police declined to discuss physical evidence in the case.

Harris said the woman was bruised before they met. He said she told him she had a medical condition that caused her to bruise easily.

Police said the woman's medical condition has not caused bruising in the past. They declined to name the condition.

Harris has his own theory for why charges would be filed against him in Tampa: He says Volusia County officials have a vendetta against him. He previously faced multiple charges there, including grand theft, for which he spent three years in prison.

He speculates that Volusia officials are bitter that he was acquitted of the 1999 rape charge.

Harris said his troubles started back in police academy days.

Lake County records show he withdrew from the Lake Tech Institute of Public Safety in 1998 for "other reasons."

But Harris said he wasn't allowed to graduate because he was a "whistle-blower." He claims to have exposed that law enforcement officials had sex with prostitutes before arresting them.

A Lake County Sheriff's Office spokesman said the agency was not affiliated with the technical institute before 2000 and has never allowed students to accompany investigators on stings.

He said no incident like the one Harris described has happened in Lake County.

"That would have been in the media, and there would have been an internal affairs investigation," said Sgt. Jim Vachon. "Nobody here has heard of anything like that."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Bayshore rape suspect disputes police account 08/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 27, 2010 10:26pm]
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