AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
It began as a standard, if violent, date-rape case. The issues were muddied when the alleged victim admitted to an affair with the Denver detective who investigated the case. It became even more complicated when, after the rape charge was dismissed due to the affair, the woman vowed to sue the detective because he'd "victimized" her. Then the detective was fired. And then the former suspect sued, claiming the detective had victimized him.
Unusual, to say the least. But the case turned downright bizarre last month when the former detective, Gregg Lotspeich, testified that he no longer believes the woman was raped. In an attempt to get his job back, Lotspeich is portraying himself as a victim.
"Lotspeich was a hell of a cop and a hell of an investigator," says his attorney, David Bruno. "And he made a hell of a mistake."
The case now has involved more than a dozen attorneys, most of whom are trying to figure out who the real victim might be.
At first, there was no question as to whom appeared to be the injured party. Jo Ann Johnson, a nurse, walked into Denver's District 4 police station on November 21, 1992, and told officers that her boyfriend, Stan Turner, had sexually assaulted her a month earlier, after they'd gone out for pizza.
She told police that things turned ugly when the two of them drove to Turner's home on South Humboldt Street, and Turner demanded she take off her clothes and perform oral sex. When she refused, Turner repeated his demands, this time with a rifle pointed at her head.
He wound up assaulting her twice during the night, she said.
Lotspeich entered the picture soon after Johnson reported the alleged crime. An eleven-year veteran, he was known as a good investigator and a good cop. He'd been decorated for bravery. Lotspeich arrested Turner, who was unable to make his $250,000 bond and sat in jail more than four months.
After the arrest, according to both Lotspeich and Johnson, the two of them began an affair. Johnson and her attorneys claim that Lotspeich came to her home on December 8, 1992, "wooed and seduced her" and "enticingly urged her to have an intimate relationship with him. In her need, she agreed."
The lovers trysted at a local motel on December 15, says deputy city attorney Geoff Wasson. The affair between Lotspeich and Johnson took on its own bizarre overtones. On December 27, say Wasson and Lotspeich's attorney, Johnson arrived at the Denver police department wearing a leather coat with nothing but sexy lingerie underneath.
One day not long into the affair, Lotspeich showed up at the Kaiser Permanente office on Quincy Avenue where Johnson worked as a nurse. The two spent the lunch hour making out at the Cherry Creek reservoir. When Johnson returned to the office, however, she told a co-worker that she thought her lover was hiding something. He was, which Johnson learned by pulling up the detective's medical records: He was married.
Johnson did not end the affair on that day (it went on, she claims, until January 17, 1993), but it did mark the end of her career with Kaiser: She had broken the rules when she let her fingers do the walking through the medical records. A co-worker informed on her, and she was fired.
At that point, however, neither the district attorney nor Lotspeich's supervisors nor Turner's attorney knew of the affair. Turner's case was bound over for trial February 22, 1993, following a preliminary hearing. But Turner's public defender, Sharlene Reynolds, believed he had a good shot at acquittal. Physical evidence like the rifle didn't seem like much of a stumbling block, particularly since she says Johnson and Turner had once lived together. Turner, she says, had broken off his relationship with Johnson just days before Johnson accused him of rape. Reynolds says she planned to argue that Johnson was lying and being vindictive.
As part of her attempt to learn all she could about Johnson, Reynolds attempted to subpoena Johnson's personnel records from Kaiser, which, unbeknownst to the public defender, contained information on the affair with Lotspeich.
After Johnson consulted with an attorney, either she or the attorney (it is not clear which) contacted the district attorney's office to reveal the affair.
It was the turning point in the rape case. Naturally, the DA had to tell Turner's attorney. "I was surprised," Reynolds says, "and also a little bit elated, because I knew that this would probably result in a dismissal."
Reynolds was right. The DA's office asked for the dismissal, explaining that "the involvement of a detective with a victim in a rape case will cast serious doubts on the credibility of the witnesses and will call into question the bias of the officer."
The case was dismissed May 21, 1993. But Lotspeich's problems were only beginning. He had been promoted to sergeant in February 1993, but he was out of a job by September, after his superiors determined that having an affair with an alleged rape victim was "conduct unbecoming an officer."
On November 24, exactly one year after Stan Turner was arrested, he sued Lotspeich and Denver in federal court, charging that his civil rights had been violated and that he'd been wrongfully arrested.
This past April, Johnson sued the city, claiming that Lotspeich had "abused the trust she had in him to gratify his own sexual impulses."
Lotspeich (who is presently working as a reserve police officer in the northern Colorado town of Dacono) went forward with legal action of his own, appealing his dismissal from the police department.
Last Friday, the city's Civil Service Commission, after hearing the case last month, upheld the firing, but the case still sprouts complications: Lotspeich testified during the hearing that he now doubts Johnson was raped and that she might have concocted the story to get back at Turner. And although prosecutor Wasson describes Lotspeich's testimony as a "blame the victim" mentality, Lotspeich wasn't the only one to cast doubt on Johnson's story. The detective's attorney says one of Johnson's co-workers and some of Lotspeich's commanders also doubt that the rape occurred.
The truth could remain a mystery. Says one Denver officer of the alleged rape, "We will never know. Lotspeich screwed up the case so bad because of his behavior.
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