After being raped twice before she was a teenager, Danielle Best-Hicks was convicted of filing a false report. She never got to finish high school and she had a child at 15. Now, the failure and negligence of the justice system that was supposed to protect her has come to light with a new investigation.
Danielle and her twin brother, David, were born in 1996. Their mother, Marquise Hicks, was a crack addict. Their father was most likely Hicks’s boyfriend, Emmanuel Brooks.
The twins were taken out of Hicks’ custody after Danielle, who was then 4 months old, was hospitalized “suffering from second-degree burns on her buttocks, vagina, left leg and foot,” according to court records.
Brooks’ sister, Veronica Best, and her husband Mayo, adopted the twins but Danielle had behavioral problems from the start. By the time she was 10, she had gone through four schools and exhibited disruptive behavior — her mental abilities were deemed borderline to low average.
“After 11, she lost the rest of her childhood,” Veronica told The Washington Post. On April 19, 2008, Danielle snuck out from her adoptive parent’s Washington D.C. home. A young man in his late teens to early 20s approached her and “I walked with him, I wasn’t forced,” Danielle said.
Two men were waiting in a basement apartment and they repeatedly raped the 11-year-old on the bare mattress that lay on the floor. They released Danielle the next day after learning people were looking for her.
She stumbled home and Veronica and a female police officer found blood in Danielle’s underwear.
Danielle gave a confusing account of her sexual assault, which is not uncommon for rape victims. People who suffer from trauma, especially minors, have a difficult time recounting those events in full.
Danielle was examined by a doctor who confirmed her injuries were consistent with rape. “Patient, raped in vagina and anus by (name) and another male last night after leaving home in anger. One held her while the other raped her. Also oral sex ... Rape kit specimens collected.”
Danielle gave the first name of her attacker, but he will remain unidentified because he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
Danielle was distraught and seldom left home, but on May 12, her parents let her visit her uncle across the street. On the way there, she says she was pulled into a vehicle full of young men, including one who raped her the first time. They took her back to the basement apartment, where she was reportedly raped again by the same two men who assaulted her the first time.
Police detained a 21-year-old man who said he hadn’t seen Danielle in a month — he claimed he took Danielle’s missing person flier from her first rape back to the basement apartment. He also alleged “she was in the back bedroom offering to have sex with any number of a group of young men, telling them she was 16.”
The age of consent in Washington D.C. is 16.
Detective William Weeks, who worked with the Youth Investigations Division at the time, met with Danielle at the hospital, where he “confronted the Complainant with a ruse.” He told her the suspect had an alibi, and Danielle admitted he “did not abduct and then forcibly rape her ... she fabricated the report,” according to Weeks' report. Danielle claimed she made up the story because the man was allegedly a drug dealer who was already going to prison.
Weeks asked the Office of the Attorney General for a custody order and charged her with making a false or fictitious police report. The case against her rapists was closed.
Weeks' misleading tactics are both unconventional and considered a poor police work. The 2005 Model Policy for Investigating Sexual Assault from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, reads: “The victim’s response to the trauma of a sexual assault shall not be used in any way to measure credibility.”
Danielle was admitted to the psychiatric ward for posing a suicide risk, six days after she was raped.
On June 28, 2008, Danielle, who had just turned 12, turned herself into the police after learning there was a warrant out for her arrest for filing a false police report. She refused to plead guilty. In 2008, she reported another sexual assault but she withdrew the charges due to her difficulties with the first two cases.
Danielle’s mental health began to deteriorate. In 2009, she ran away for two weeks and “engaged in a sexual act with six or seven unnamed males,” according to the police report. Risky sexual behavior is not uncommon after rape.
While she was missing, Danielle’s therapists asked her probation officer that she be placed in residential care.
“Although Mr. and Mrs. Best have been responsible and reliable ... they are incapable of ensuring their daughter’s safety at this time and they need the court’s urgent assistance,” the therapists wrote. “Due to Danielle’s severe impulsivity, fragile emotional functioning/mood lability, delusional thinking, non-compliance with medication, severe insomnia, traumatic flashbacks, multiple elopements, sexual promiscuity, and profound poor judgment, she is now in urgent need of residential care placement.”
On Feb. 13, Danielle entered an Alford plea on the false police report charges, meaning the court acknowledged there was enough evidence for a conviction but maintained her innocence.
“We never really understood the plea very well,” Mayo said.
The Bests were stunned when Danielle was declared a ward of the state. Ted Gest, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, said he couldn’t discuss Danielle’s case specifically but it was not uncommon to press charges to “bring juveniles into the juvenile justice system” so they “can benefit from services that the system has to offer.”
The Bests felt awful. “She would say, ‘Daddy, I got raped and I got locked up,’” Mayo said. “I still hear her voice today saying that to me.”
Danielle was in and out of residential mental health facilities for two and a half years. Police believed the sex was consensual, although it would have been a felony punishable by up to life in prison even if it was, due to her age.
In May 2010, after the family moved, the Bests wrote to Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, complaining about the police’s silence on the matter.
Lanier made inquries with the help of her deputy, Peter Newsham. They found the semen stains from the first rape yielded incomplete DNA profiles and the evidence from the second rape hadn’t even been tested because Danielle was accused of filing a false report.
Danielle ran away again and the Bests sent her to a residential mental health facility in Utah for nearly a year. She became pregnant after she returned home and had her son, Levi, on May 16, 2012, just before she turned 16.
Danielle’s case is under investigation again. “Obviously we cannot turn the clock back and fix things that have happened in the past. The best I can offer the hypothetical victim from six or seven years ago ... is to make sure if there were any investigative leads that were never followed or things that should have been done that they are done. It’s never too late to try to correct things,” Lanier said.
The Bests don’t know how they feel about it. “I was desperate for the police to do their job six years ago and get those guys off the street and away from Danielle,” Veronica said. “It’s hard not to be angry when she was the one locked up and labeled ... a delinquent.”
Now 18, Danielle is studying for her GED but she refuses therapy and medication. “I think she ties it in with when she had no choice, when they stand over you while you take your pills and you have to attend therapy, and now she is free she’s making a choice not to; it’s part of her empowerment,” Veronica said. “But I wish she would.”
Danielle is worried about the new investigation. “I’ve held it in for so long,” she said. “I walk around seeming like I’m strong, but deep down inside I still feel helpless.”
Source: The Washington Post
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