(PDF Documents attached to this story) The welfare of former Brownwood Police Explorer Natasha Whitley, now 20 years old and a resident of Pueblo, Colo., "took the backseat" to the investigation into the sexual misconduct of the post's supervisor, a federal lawsuit suit claims.
The lawsuit is "a slap in the face" to those involved in the investigation and prosecution of the case against ex-police Sgt. Vince Ariaz, District Attorney Micheal Murray, said in a written statement. Murray is one of four defendants named in the lawsuit.
An Austin attorney filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court Northern District of Texas, San Angelo Division, on Aug. 19. The lawsuit claims that Whitley's civil rights were violated and names as defendants Murray; Sheriff Bobby Grubbs; Texas Ranger Nick Hanna; and Hanna's supervisor, Lt. Robert Bullock.
A "misguided" plan was devised to make the conviction of ex-police Sgt. Vince Ariaz easier, with no concern shown for Whitley, who was being sexually abused by Ariaz, the lawsuit filed by attorneys Jeffrey Edwards and Scott King Field alleges.
In an investigation sanctioned by the district attorney and sheriff, Hanna and Bullock used Whitley as "bait" and deliberately left Ariaz in a position "to continue abusing a young girl," the lawsuit alleges. Hanna "subjected a minor to ongoing sexual abuse" to catch a sexual predator and corrupt police officer in the act, the lawsuit claims.
Grubbs declined to comment Friday. Hanna and Bullock could not be reached for comment.
Whitley was nearly 16 when Ariaz was arrested in July 2007 after an investigation by agencies including Brownwood police, the sheriff's office and the Texas Rangers.
In a plea bargain, Ariaz pleaded guilty in 35th District Court to two counts of sexual assault of a child and no contest to one count of indecency. He was sentenced to three concurrent 20-year prison terms. Murray was the prosecutor in the case.
Murray, contacted for comment Friday, faxed a written statement to the Bulletin stating that he and his staff had worked hard to prepare the criminal case for trial. "I offered the maximum sentence allowed by law and never backed off of the offer," Murray said in the written statement. "The defendant ultimately accepted the maximum sentence without the need of putting the victim through what could often be a difficult trial process.
"A maximum sentence in any case without a jury trial is obviously an excellent result. Those kind of results are not achieved without a lot of hard work by all involved. Given our efforts and result, being served four years later with a civil lawsuit is definitely a slap in the face."
Murray declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit due to the pending litigation.
In November 2008, attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Whitley and her family that named multiple defendants including the City of Brownwood seeking monetary damages from Ariaz‘s actions. The lawsuit was settled in February 2010 for $300,000.
Whitley's father, Phillip, said Friday that he and his wife, Brandi, were "shocked and surprised" when they learned Thursday about their daughter's lawsuit. "We knew nothing about it. We had more or less just put it behind us," Phillip Whitley said. He said the family's goal had been to have "the pervert off the streets" and locked up.
Ariaz ran the Explorers from the time of the post's inception in 2000 to the time of his arrest. The post was dissolved a few months after Ariaz's arrest.
Law enforcement officials arrested Ariaz the morning of July 17, 2007, after catching him with Whitley in a room at the Brownwood Coliseum Annex.