A Case Study in Gainesville's Criminal Justice System in the 21st Century
Theodore McLeod was arrested for sexual battery on May 9, 2001. At the time of his arrest those who knew him and the alleged victims best were skeptical of the validity of the charges against him (this group includes several professional social workers and relatives of the alleged victims). Acquaintances and coworkers at U.F. who made inquiries about his case were provided a copy of the arrest report that stated that he had confessed to a committing a specific sex crime against a child. They presumed his guilt and waited for the judicial process to run its course. I became aware of the circumstances when I took his brother to visit him after he had been confined in the Alachua County Jail for several months. This article will be the first in a series which will examine Mr. McLeod's experience with various components of the criminal justice system. This article will focus on the G.P.D. Criminal Investigative Division. Future articles will report on the Public Defender's and State Attorney's Offices, Alachua County Courthouse Administration, G.P.D. Internal Affairs Division and local private attorneys' roles in his case. The one bright spot that I found in this whole dark affair is the Clerk of Courts Office which provided Court Records and invaluable advice. The G.P.D. Records Division also provided documents but their system is much less user friendly than Mr. Irby's Office and they are selective about the information and documents that they provide.
Theodore McLeod has known Ms. P.H. since they were both children growing up in Alachua County. Even after P.H. married and moved to Georgia they remained close friends and Mr. McLeod was present in the room when P.H. gave birth. He was also present in the room when her daughter V.H. gave birth to each of her three sons. Although they are apparently unrelated biologically those boys called Mr. McLeod "granddaddy." In addition to her own three sons, P.H.'s family also included two young men, R.A. and D.C. who had been abandoned to her care by their mother who had also grown up in Alachua County. Sometime before 1998, R.A. and D.C. moved to Gainesville to live with Mr. McLeod, who was employed as custodial worker at U.F. at the time. Soon afterward, V.H. also moved in with them bringing her three sons, aged 6,7,and 8, with her. Several months later V.H. moved back to her mother's home leaving her sons in the care of McLeod and their uncle R.A. Soon after returning to Georgia, V.H. was arrested on drug charges and subsequently spent two years in prison there. While she was in prison her sons continued to live in Gainesville with Mr. McLeod and their two uncles. In the spring of 2001, soon after V.H. was released from prison, Mr. McLeod and R.A. took the boys and all their belongings to Georgia to be reunited with their mother. V.H. decided that it would be best if the boys returned to Gainesville to finish the school year before moving back there. It was planned that the boys would return to Georgia a few months later.
Approximately one month before the time planned for the boys to return to their mother R.A. discussed the possibility of his girlfriend moving in with them. After Mr. McLeod refused to allow her to move in R.A. asked to borrow some money from McLeod, which he also refused. After that argument R.A. disappeared for more than a week. When he returned on May 9, accompanied by two female relatives, he caused one of them to summon the police by calling 911. R.A. told the investigating officer that his younger brother, not present at the time, had told him of about an incident of sexual abuse by McLeod directed at the brother of intermediate age during the previous night. When McLeod was questioned by the police officer he denied any wrongdoing and agreed to accompany the police to G.P.D. Headquarters for additional questioning. Later that evening, McLeod was arrested and held in Alachua County Jail with a bond of $100,000. The boys were taken into custody by the Department of Children and Families. Soon afterward, R.A.'s girlfriend moved into the apartment. R.A. then attempted unsuccessfully to cash McLeod's last paycheck, which had been mailed to the apartment. Two weeks later R.A. and his girlfriend were arrested for attempted robbery.
G.P.D. Criminal Investigation Division
Detective Patty Nixon, a seventeen year veteran of G.P.D. at the time, arrived at the apartment after McLeod had been taken to Police Headquarters. According to R.A., she conversed with investigating officer O'Neil and Investigator Mark Trahan but never spoke to any of the boys. She then instructed that the two youngest boys, who had been described as the victims of abuse, be taken to Shands for medical examinations. After Investigator Trahan examined the bed where McLeod and the three boys slept, using fluorescent light, he reported that there was no semen stains on the bedding. He also reported that there were lots of dirty clothes in the room so it had probably been some time since the sheets and bedding had been washed. Apparently, no sex acts had occurred since the bedding was last washed. Investigator Trahan also related a version of the abuse in his report, accusing McLeod of fondling the boy's genitals and inserting an object into the anus.
After returning to G.P.D. Headquarters Detective Nixon advised McLeod of his legal right to refuse questioning unless his attorney was present. He agreed to waive his rights and willingly signed the Rights Waiver Form. His signature was witnessed by Detective Drayton McDaniel. At around 8 PM McLeod was taken to an "interview room" where he was questioned by Detective McDaniel. Detective Nixon was the lead investigator of the case, however, according to McLeod, she never asked any questions or even spoke during the interrogation but silently shook her head from side to side whenever he denied any wrongdoing. Approximately two hours later she wrote the arrest report which caused McLeod to be taken to the Alachua County Jail. The report states that after being read his Miranda rights, McLeod admitted to penetrating the victim's anus with his pinky finger. The Supplemental Report submitted by Detective Nixon states, "McLeod told Det. McDaniel and I (sic) of sexual incidents with all three of the children. Det. McDaniel then asked McLeod to repeat what he had disclosed to us on tape. He complied."
After receiving medical exams at Shands Hospital the boys were taken into custody by the Department of Children and Families. There is no record of these examinations anywhere in the police records. The Case Summary form submitted by Detective Nixon indicated that there were no medical records among the evidence. Why not? The version of sex abuse described by Detective Nixon both on the arrest report and the audiotape does not match the boy's videotaped statements made to Children and Families Investigators as described by Detective Nixon in her Supplemental Report.
Mr. McLeod says that the police never taped (nor asked to tape) any of his statements and that he could not describe any sexual abuse to the boys since he had never abused them in any way. According to family members, McLeod never even spanked the boys while they were in his custody. When McLeod heard the tape for the first time while he was in county jail he told his public defender that it wasn't his voice on the tape and that he had never done any of the bad things described on the tape. The audiotape recording only has two speakers. Detective Drayton McDaniel identifies himself and states, "Detective Patty Nixon is also present", the other voice identifies itself as Theodore McLeod. During the recording which lasts about 16 _ minutes Detective McDaniel does most of the speaking, usually making long narrative statements describing sexual abuse to all three boys. The respondent usually answers "right", "yes", or "no". Frequently, Detective McDaniel answers his own questions along with the respondent. The longest group of words spoken by the respondent is, "I have to go to work, I have to go to work." The voice speaking these words is clearly female and sounds (to me) very much like Detective Nixon. The recording is punctuated with numerous electronic sounds typically made when a recorder is turned off and on or parts of the tape are rerecorded. There are several places on the tape where editing chopped off parts of sentences and words. At one point on the tape I have the impression that the recording had to be interrupted because both detectives were laughing.
After I was informed of the existence of the audiotape in April 2002 (but long before I actually heard the tape) I attempted to meet with Detective Nixon to discuss the case after McLeod was "convicted" or "plead". She refused to meet with me saying that she had destroyed her notes and referred me to the Records Division for any information that was publicly available. It is those G.P.D. records which document the detectives' misconduct in the case.
According to the Investigative Expense Summary Detective Nixon claimed eight hours for herself and five hours for Detective McDaniel. Detective McDaniel was only involved in the case during the two hour interrogation. Except for his signature witnessing McLeod's waiver of his rights there is no record of him doing anything. What did he do during those other three hours? After allowing two hours for Detective Nixon's review of the brief victim's videotapes she has three hours of unaccounted for time. Did the two of them fabricate the audiotape which is claimed as McLeod's confession during this time?
On August 11, 2001, Detective Nixon signed the audiotape in as evidence. G.P.D. General Orders regarding evidence states, "all evidence shall be submitted as soon as possible and in no circumstances later than the end of the shift on which it was collected." When she submitted the tape Detective Nixon had violated this regulation for more than three months. It is also interesting that no evidence technician signed the form along with Detective Nixon. Why was this evidence submitted in such an unauthorized and irregular way?
How did Mr. McLeod get into this predicament? Apparently, his first mistake after the accusations of sex abuse were made against him was agreeing to accompany the police to G.P.D. Headquarters for further questioning. Mr. McLeod says that he agreed to answer their questions because he had never done any of the things that he was being accused of and he wasn't afraid to talk to the police. That mistake was compounded when he waived his legal right to have an attorney present while he was being questioned. Had an attorney been present there would have been a witness to his denials of wrongdoing. By waiving his rights, Mr. McLeod placed himself in the position of having to deny that he had said whatever the police chose to say that he had said. Unfortunately, he never knew what the police had said until after he had been in the county jail for more than six months when his public defender played the evidence tape for him.
The bizarre behavior of Detective Nixon during Mr. McLeod's interrogation suggests that she planned to make the tape before he was ever questioned at G.P.D. Headquarters. Apparently, the interrogation was only a formality that was necessary to give the fabricated confession tape the appearance of legitimacy. Certainly, the detectives had the capability to record Mr. McLeod's entire interrogation, yet they made no pretense that the recording submitted as evidence covered the entire time. The voice impersonating Mr. McLeod on the tape sounds similar to his actual voice in many places. Does this mean that this was not the first time that these detectives had fabricated a confession in this manner?
In the next installment we will continue the case study by looking at the G.P.D. Internal Affairs Division actions after Mr. McLeod officially filed a complaint charging that the detectives had fabricated the audiotape evidence.
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