Man falsely accused of rape files suit against authorities

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2010 - 8:49 PM

Justin Sallis says police, prosecutors and marshals had no probable cause to arrest and charge him in the attack.

Justin Sallis says he was mistakenly identified as a suspect in a St. Paul rape, then charged and held for 39 days before it became obvious that he and the victim knew each other and he wasn't the man police sought.

A federal lawsuit served this week on police, prosecutors and the U.S. marshals said they didn't have probable cause to arrest Sallis, charge him or make him sit in a jail "infested with mice, rats and cockroaches."

Rape charges against Sallis were dismissed Sept. 24. A spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney's office said Friday that no one else has been charged with the rape. He said the office would have no comment on Sallis' suit until they've had time to review it.

The allegations in the lawsuit and the original complaint against Sallis read like a script for a bad made-for-TV movie:

Sallis met a 23-year-old woman on March 10. On March 14, she spent the night at his home in St. Paul. They had consensual sex and she left about 9 a.m. the next day.

Shortly after 11 a.m. March 15, the woman called 911 to report that she had just been raped in an alley in the 400 block of Blair Avenue. The woman said she was walking to a convenience store when a man grabbed and raped her. She described her attacker as 40 to 50 years old, 5 feet 9, with salt-and-pepper facial hair and a cut above his left eyebrow.

Sallis is 26 and 6 feet 3. He has no facial hair and a scar above his right eyebrow.

On March 16, Sallis and the woman hooked up again and had sex, the suit said.

Evidence collected during the woman's sexual assault exam came back as Sallis' DNA and, in late June, he became the investigator's prime suspect.

The investigator told the woman that there was a suspect, but didn't tell her the suspect's name, age or physical characteristics. Meanwhile, Sallis had moved to Chicago. He was charged Aug. 6 in Ramsey County District Court with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and on Aug. 17, six U.S. marshals went to his apartment and arrested him.

Sallis was extradited to Minnesota on Sept. 10. His public defender, Marcus Almon, arranged for photos to be taken of Sallis and shown to the victim. She told authorities Sept. 24 that she'd had sex with Sallis but that he was not her attacker. Later that day, the rape charges were dismissed.

The suit names as defendants Catherine Pavlak, a St. Paul police investigator; Police Chief John Harrington; Assistant County Attorney Elaine Ashbaugh; County Attorney Susan Gaertner; the city of St. Paul; Ramsey County, and the U.S. marshals who arrested Sallis in Chicago.

Sallis is suing for numerous civil rights violations and asking for the standard "in excess of $75,000" in damages.

Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992

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