By Marc Perrusquia
Source: The Commercial Appeal
October 6, 2017
When Marcus Deshun Gibson was booked last March on an aggravated rape charge, his situation looked as foreboding as the razor wire topping the Shelby County Jail that held him.
But Gibson had an inside connection – his aunt works for the Memphis Police Department. Soon, he received a stream of intel: MPD payroll specialist Tobie Allen phoned her nephew with details gleaned from the police agency’s confidential investigative files – details she’d received from her friend, decorated sex crimes detective Ouita Knowlton.
According to an internal investigation report obtained by The Commercial Appeal, Knowlton fed Allen “extremely sensitive information’’ on two occasions, first in 2016 while the investigation was still underway and again on March 10, a day after Gibson’s arrest.
“On March 10, 2017, according to (a computer) audit trail, you accessed and viewed the supplements and printed the offense report several times,’’ reads a statement of charges against Knowlton. “In your statement to the Inspectional Services Bureau, you said that you relayed this information you obtained about the case to (Allen), for the sole purpose of providing details related to the investigation. You also allowed her access to the offense report, with no regard for the victim’s anonymity.’’
Betrayal, and no charges in case
Despite the evidence against them, including a recording of Allen’s jail phone conversation with her nephew, both Knowlton, 47, and Allen, 54, will keep their jobs, records indicate. Knowlton has been demoted from lieutenant to sergeant and received a 20-day suspension. Allen was suspended for 20 days.
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More: Sex crimes detective relieved of duty
“I can’t think of a more clear example of betrayal,’’ said Meaghan Ybos, a rape survivor who is suing the city for failing to test more than 12,000 rape kits going back decades. Knowlton headed a special unit whose job was to oversee testing of those kits and re-investigate cold cases to find justice for victims whose cases had been long neglected.
“MPD was in a position to rebuild the trust of rape victims,’’ Ybos said. “I am disturbed at the idea that Ouita would not be charged and Tobie either.’’
Shelby County Dist. Atty. Amy Weirich’s office also is reviewing the matter to determine if criminal charges should be filed.
“The case is still under investigation,” spokesman Larry Buser said Friday in an email message.
Opens door to witness intimidation
David Raybin, a Nashville defense attorney and former prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said he believes Knowlton could be vulnerable to a criminal charge of official misconduct, a felony involving conferring a benefit to a person who isn’t entitled to that benefit. Although defendant Gibson likely would have eventually received confidential details through discovery in court, such an early disclosure could jeopardize a case, he said.
“The problem is you could have premature release of this and then witness intimidation,” Raybin said. There is no indication in any of the records released to the newspaper of intimidation. However, Raybin said victims often are pressured to back down from rape allegations. If the facts are strong enough, a charge of accessory after the fact would have to be considered as well, he said.
In a written statement to her superiors, Knowlton, a 24-year MPD veteran, apologized for her actions.
“Since April 4th (the day she was relieved of duty), I have experienced a myriad of emotions,’’ the detective wrote in a single-page, typed statement. “The most prevalent has been remorse and embarrassment. I am sorry for my actions. I am sorry for not thinking of others, especially the victim in this case. In my work with helping to eliminate untested rape kits in Memphis, I was a part of making decisions that always put the victims first. In fact we took great pains, had many meetings, and a lot of consultation from multiple agencies to create a policy for notifying victims. I believe in the victim centered approach to investigations and my actions were contrary to that belief. Again I am sorry.’’
‘Nothing gonna come out of it’
According to internal reports, the matter began in May 2016 when a woman contacted MPD’s Sex Crimes/DNA Unit to report she’d been raped several years earlier. That June, Allen approached Knowlton for information, a statement of charges against her says. Knowlton “informed you of confidential information related to the investigation,” the document says.
Gibson, 33, was indicted in December and finally arrested March 9 by the Sheriff’s fugitive squad. The following day, Allen received access to the confidential offense report.
Gibson posted a $150,000 bond on March 21 and was released. He is awaiting trial. He denies the allegations.
Allen told investigators she was trying to prevent retaliation against her sister’s family. “She also claimed that she never revealed any of the confidential information she gathered from reading the report,” an internal document says. However, jail telephone tapes tell a different story. “…In the recorded jail phone conversations between Ms. Allen and her nephew she can clearly be heard sharing confidential information with her nephew and at one point even reassured him that ‘nothing gonna come out of it’ and later ‘there’s no DNA, no Rape Kit, nothing,”’ the report says.
Asked if MPD could have taken more stern disciplinary action, Deputy Director Mike Ryall said the agency is preparing a statement.