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Victim sues in handling of rape

A woman who was raped twice within a month's time sued the city of New Port Richey on Monday, alleging that police doubted her accounts of the assaults and failed to properly investigate the cases.

The suit, filed Monday in Pasco Circuit Court, accuses the city and two police detectives, Jackie Pehote and William Barrus, of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The woman's attorney, Craig Laporte, said police could have prevented the second rape if they had taken the report of the first assault seriously.

It wasn't until the woman saw her attacker in public months after the second assault that police made an arrest. The man was eventually convicted.

"Frankly," Laporte said, "I think the quality of law enforcement in this case was abhorrent."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages in excess of $15,000.

In Florida, governmental agencies are liable for only $100,000 in damages _ unless the Legislature steps in and passes a special appropriations bill for a larger award.

New Port Richey police Capt. Darryl Garman said Pehote and Barrus would have no comment, citing a department policy against talking about pending litigation. City Manager Gerald Seeber declined to comment because he had not seen the lawsuit.

The St. Petersburg Times is withholding the name of the 45-year-old woman because she is a victim of a sexual crime.

The first attack occurred in the victim's New Port Richey home on Dec. 5, 1998. The woman, her left eye swollen shut and her mouth bloody with 15 broken teeth, told police she had been brutally beaten, bound, gagged and raped at knifepoint by a stranger.

Four days later, Pehote, the department's chief detective, told the woman she didn't believe her, according to case records. A semen sample taken from the woman sat in a refrigerator at the department instead of being sent out for testing.

The lawsuit alleges that Pehote shared her doubts with the victim's friends, even asking them to encourage the woman to "tell the truth" to detectives. The investigation was declared inactive two weeks after the assault.

The woman had a burglar alarm installed in her house, and in the early morning hours of Jan. 3, 1999, it went off. Two New Port Richey officers went to her house, but they did not go inside. Minutes later, prosecutors say, the rapist struck again.

Again, Pehote doubted the woman, and police did little to investigate the case, according to a review of public documents by the Times. The victim said Pehote asked her: "How could you be so stupid to move back into your house?" Pehote has denied making that statement.

The break in the case did not come until four months after the second assault, when the woman saw her attacker in a convenience store. Police charged John A. Casteel with both assaults.

In August 2001, a Pasco jury deliberated for one hour before convicting Casteel, who lived three blocks from the woman and had served 14 years in prison for a 1983 rape. His DNA had been in a state database since 1996.

Casteel now is serving a life sentence.

"The fact that the case ended in a conviction had everything to do with the perseverance of my client and the State Attorney's Office," Laporte said.

As a result of the Police Department's actions, Laporte said, the victim has suffered "an incredible amount of emotional damage that could have been prevented."

The victim, in a telephone interview Monday, said, "I'm depressed beyond depressed. I can't keep a job. I keep having nightmares."

An internal investigation by the Police Department cleared Pehote of any wrongdoing but faulted Barrus, the lead detective investigating the first rape, for failing to submit the semen sample in a timely fashion.