Skip to comments.Lawsuit spells out 'nightmare' for California man accused without evidence
Posted on 05/04/2015 5:53:25 AM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
"Nightmare." That's how Scott Hounsell, the former executive director of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, describes the ordeal he went through two years ago, and is still trying to recover from today.
"It was the most the scariest, most devastating nightmare you could ever imagine ever going through ever," Hounsell added. "Because everything that you have and hold dear my family, my career, everything was threatened that it would be taken away from me."
"It's scary. And I will never be able to get out of the shadow of this, ever. They fundamentally changed the way I will live my life."
Hounsell's troubles are forcing him to move from his home state of California this coming June. They cost him his job, his local connections, and his good name. They have prompted him to file a lawsuit which, along with police reports and witness accounts, forms the basis of this retelling.
In 2012, Hounsell worked for California State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth. He was in a bus caravan from Sacramento back to Smyth's Southern California district with co-workers and students from a nearby charter school, who were learning about politics. He met a student on that bus Jane Doe. He doesn't remember speaking to her for very long, if at all. In fact, he claims he didn't remember who she was when the accusations started to fly.
As Doe tells it, the professionals and students were instructed to talk to one another for a time, then switch seats to meet someone new. She claimed to law enforcement, in a taped interview provided to the Washington Examiner, that she sat next to Hounsell for about two hours on the way back from Sacramento, during the second half of the six-hour return trip. The two exchanged Facebook information and friended each other.
She said Hounsell began messaging her through Facebook on the bus as they were sitting together. She claimed the messages started getting sexually graphic even while on the bus. Doe also told the police, one year after the bus trip, that Hounsell tickled her leg several times. In an earlier interview, she had told the police he had tickled her ribs.
One of Doe's teachers disputes her account, saying in a police report that because Doe had commented earlier on the trip that she found Hounsell "cute," she was never allowed to be alone with him at any point during the trip.
For his part, Hounsell says that if he sat next to Doe at all, it couldn't have been for long. He remembers sitting next to someone else and watching a movie.
On Jan. 19, 2013, nearly a year after that bus trip, Hounsell became executive director of the Los Angeles County GOP. A week later, on Jan. 27, an accusation was made that he had been sending inappropriate Facebook messages to an underage girl.
Doe's fellow students had made the accusation anonymously after Doe supposedly left her computer open in public on Facebook. They took screen shots of messages containing graphic language, obtained by the Examiner, and handed them over to school authorities.
When the police came to the school on Feb. 1, Doe claimed Hounsell had tickled her ribs and started sending her explicit messages sometime after the bus trip. Doe told police that she had replied because she thought it was harmless and never planned to meet him again in person.
A month after the first police interview, Doe was brought in for a recorded interview with two detectives from the Internet Crimes Against Children task force. This time, Doe told the officers that Hounsell had tickled her leg several times while he was "having a conversation with somebody else."
Doe also reiterated that at no time did she or Hounsell ever agree to meet. She gave officers access to her Facebook account. Even though she had deactivated and reactivated the account, the messages should still have been there.
No evidence of messages
On Mar. 25, 2013, ICAC officers logged on to Doe's Facebook profile but were "unable to locate any sexual [sic] explicit chat between her and the suspect," according to a police report. The officer did find that Hounsell was on her friends list.
A week later, on April 5, Officer Eric Good talked to Hounsell. The police report says he told Hounsell that messages existed between him and Doe. The police report made it seem like Hounsell may have admitted the crime was possible.
I [ICAC Officer Eric Good] advised Hounsell that I had chat logs where he stated that he knew that the victim was under the age of 18 and Hounsell advised me that he did not remember that chat. Hounsell stated that during the time he was chatting with [Jane Doe], he was having marital problems. Hounsell stated that he would begin drinking alcohol while he was at home. After having a few drinks he would log into his Facebook profile and contact some of his female friends and attempt to engage them in sexually explicit chat.
Hounsell told the Examiner that the police report did not accurately reflect his statements, and that his talk of drinking and messaging female friends referred to years earlier when he was still single. Hounsell further said that the only conversations he had with Doe were strictly professional, done over his work email address and only pertained to a few questions she had about charter schools and government.
Hounsell also says he offered Officer Good his Facebook login to check for the explicit messages. Good did not take him up on the offer.
On July 1, 2013, a Democratic former assemblyman named Mike Feuer became L.A. City Attorney. When the Los Angeles County District Attorney declined to press charges against Hounsell on July 30, Feuer seized the case. Officer Good contacted Hounsell again to find out his attorney's information. Members of the press began calling Hounsell, his family and his employer to discuss charges Hounsell wasn't even aware of yet.
The media circus that ensued complete with news cameras camping outside his family home for days made Hounsell believe this was in part motivated by political harassment. "The City originally wanted to take me into custody at my house, where the press was heading," he said. "When I showed up downtown to turn myself in, it sent everyone for a scramble, and they couldn't get cameras there in time."
By the time Hounsell was bailed out of jail seven hours later (he spent six of them waiting to be given access to a working telephone) and recovered his cell phone, it had been inundated with Google Alerts for his own name.
Hounsell was charged with two counts of trying to seduce a minor. He would only learn after a lengthy, humiliating investigation that police had no evidence and in fact never would obtain any evidence that the Facebook messages in question had ever really existed.
On Aug. 21, Feuer's office amended its complaint against Hounsell to include two additional charges that Hounsell had communicated with an adult he believed to be a minor (think "To Catch A Predator") and that he had "an unnatural and abnormal sexual interest in children."
The new charges were a surprise for Hounsell. They had not been mentioned previously, and no evidence would ever be presented to substantiate them. Also, the amended complaint contained a request for discovery. This looked a lot like a prosecutorial fishing expedition charges first, then a search for evidence.
In late September, Facebook provided the city attorney with Hounsell's IP address logins for all of 2013. It contained no evidence Hounsell ever sent any Facebook messages to Jane Doe. Prosecutors spent the next four months stalling for time, asking for continuations, until January, when the judge finally demanded they present evidence of a crime.
On Jan. 31, Facebook sent the city attorney's office a 452-page document of Hounsell's Facebook activity for the entire year of 2012, when the alleged sexual messages were said to have occurred. Again, there was no evidence of any contact between Hounsell and the alleged victim, except for a single innocuous comment from Jane Doe on one of Hounsell's photos. Facebook found no private messages at all between Hounsell and Doe.
On Feb. 11, the deputy city attorney, Tracy Webb, said she needed more time to review the Facebook data. Two weeks later, having no evidence to continue charging Hounsell with a crime, the city attorney's office offered him a deal.
A strange deal and charges dropped
"Instead of dropping the charges, they came to me and said: 'What kind of plea deal do you want?' " Hounsell told the Examiner. He referred to the deal as "essentially extortion."
Hounsell, the father of two young children, says at that point he was just looking to end the matter. In exchange for having charges dropped, he made an informal agreement to give $2,000 to a charity chosen by the city attorney (a trial would have cost him fifty times that amount) and attend therapy. If he complied, charges would be dropped on March 19.
Hounsell says he complied, but when that day rolled around, Feuer called Webb and told her to revoke the deal. Hounsell says he was given no explanation.
A spokesman for Feuer told the Examiner that Hounsell had not completed the agreement by Mar. 19, so that hearing was held in order to give him more time to do so. "The case was continued from March to May so the Defendant could complete more of the court-ordered diversion counseling," Rob Wilcox, director of community engagement and outreach for the city attorney, told the Examiner. "Once that was successfully completed, the case was dismissed."
This does not match with the documentary history he provided, however. It states that there was no court-ordered counseling but an "informal agreement." Wilcox would later tell the Examiner that the deal was actually finalized on Mar. 19, contradicting his earlier claim that it had simply been continued.
When the city attorney finally dropped the charges May 14 nine months after Hounsell's arrest the reason cited was "no victim" and "no forensics." The alleged victim had refused to testify, and there was still no evidence of any Facebook contact between Hounsell and Jane Doe.
By then, Hounsell had obviously been forced to resign from the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. He had to take up odd jobs to support his family. His name was mud.
On Nov. 19, 2014, he sued the L.A. city attorney for defamation, false arrest, malicious prosecution and violation of his 14th Amendment rights. He sought $3.6 million for reputation management (including $24,879 per month for two years to clean up his Google search results), lost wages, career damage and $500,000 for emotional distress.
On April 9, 2015, Judge Margaret Morrow dismissed his claim based on prosecutors' arguments that they enjoy absolute immunity, but provided Hounsell with a leave to amend so that he can challenge whether immunity applies in this case.
"[T]he LACA enjoys absolute immunity for deciding to file charges against Hounsell, whether or not it adequately investigated the facts of the case, adequately determined the statutes under which it should file charges, or adequately reviewed and/or disclosed allegedly exculpatory evidence," Morrow wrote in her dismissal.
If that's the case, Hounsell told the Examiner, then "The most powerful job in this country then is prosecutor, because the Constitution doesn't apply to you."
Hounsell's next filing, a draft of which was provided to the Examiner, will argue that prosecutorial immunity doesn't apply here because prosecutors used fraud to access that immunity, and that immunity does not apply to administrative acts by Feuer's office, such as the pre-trial diversion deal he was offered.
Hounsell and his attorney say that if the judge rules in the city's favor, it "will set a dangerous federal precedent that prosecutors can use their office for reasons to exact revenge and punishment upon political enemies." The city attorney, after all, knew for months that there were no Facebook messages, yet dragged out the case anyway.
Meanwhile, Hounsell is moving on with his life. He's taken a job in Texas and will move there later this year. He's even written a few articles for IJ Review. Still, he says he'll never be able to recover fully from the well-publicized but never-substantiated charges, which he maintains are false.
"It's false," he says. "It's scary. And I will never be able to get out of the shadow of this, ever. They fundamentally changed the way I will live my life."
“They took screen shots of messages containing graphic language, obtained by the Examiner,”
Sound like this was the evidence.
No follow up to this statement in the article. Were the messages from the defendant? If part of a close and reactivated account a year later, facebook probably wouldn’t have archives of the deleted messages.
Never underestimate the viciousness of the progressive liberal democrat communists!
All the republican candidates as well as any democrat who would oppose Hitlery will soon learn this, if they have not already, even those aware have yet to experience the intensity or the lengths of malice they are willing to go.
When tales get long and meandering I start to doubt them and their authors.
Anyway, never sit under questioning without your lawyer.
The “they” in this instance are fellow high school students who may have had their own agenda. Ordinary emails purportedly from others are quite easy to fabricate (although in this case the medium may have been more difficult or impossible) and the Examiner no doubt ran with whatever it received vs this Republican.
Am slightly inclined to go with the wrongly accused at this point, although it would be nice to hear the other side of the argument.
Why is the accuser’s identity still being protected, when we know they are not a victim, but rather a criminal?
I would not accept "screen shots" as evidence of anything. I can take a screen shot of anything, and with only a few minutes work with a graphics program transform a conversation etc. into anything I want it to say. "Hey, Bill Gates decided to send me a check for $100 million, now, all I've got is a pic I took of it with my phone, I seem to have misplaced the check but..."
I'm sure there is a lot more to this story (hopefully better written somewhere too). It sounds fishy. None of this comes out until this guy rises in the GOP? Right... Funny what people suddenly "remember" about people at just the right time...
FB would have copies of the deleted messages; if it was ever on FB, they have it. According to a recent discovery, they even track messages you started to type, but decided not to post.
The “screenshots” could have been easily fabricated. I wonder if the prosecutor even attempted to authenticate them. I seriously doubt it. This sounds like a political witch hunt to me.
Yes, someone said they took screen prints, yet the article doesn’t say there actually are any.
I know nothing of this case except what I read here, but I bet you hit the nail on the head.
The girl said she thought he was “cute” and probably told her friends. One day in school, her friends fabricated messages on her screen as a joke, and somehow the photo of the screen with the sexual messages got into the hands of the police. From there it snowballed because the police were thrilled to find a supposed sexual preditor, especially one who was a Republican leader. She, being an adolescent with an immature understanding of the possible consequences of her actions, didn’t want to get her friends in trouble so lied about where the messages came from.
Political prosecution/persecution is nothing unusual for democrats — look up Ronnie Earle some time.
The problem with liberals is the total lack of morality and the belief that the end justifies the means. That includes perverting the justice system.
I decided a long time ago that you had to surrender your conscience to be voting Democrat. How sad that Big Media is 98% Dems. What a different country we would have if that 98% had a conscience.
YouTube video by Regent law professor “Don’t Talk to the Police”.
Fake charges, but carried out with alacrity -- yet lifelong Democrats Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton remain unarraigned and unindicted.
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