Lawrence detective says he decided KU student lied about rape the day she made report

A Lawrence police detective who led the investigation of a University of Kansas student accused of making a false rape report decided she was lying the same day she made her report in late September 2018, the detective testified at a hearing Wednesday.

Detective Charles Cottengim did not launch a formal investigation into the alleged false report until October 10 after the student asked for a detective to be present when she made a formal statement to Title IX investigators at the university.

The investigation was opened, the detective said during a hearing on motions filed in the case, because he believed the student intended to eventually pursue charges against the man she accused of rape.

The woman’s defense attorneys say she never told officers she wanted to pursue charges, though she did say she might consider it at some point.

The woman’s attorneys say she is innocent and has been mistreated by the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County District Attorney’s office after she reported being raped by the friend of her ex-boyfriend last September.

District Attorney Charles Branson says she fabricated the story out of regret and in an effort to get back at her ex-boyfriend. Text messages the woman sent the night of the incident indicated to police that the sex had been consensual, according to court documents.

The woman said in the court documents that the text messages were making light of the incident because she was not able to admit at that point that she had been raped.

The Star generally does not name possible victims of sexual assault or people accused of sexual assault if they have not been criminally charged.

Branson previously told The Star that he had no intention of testing a rape kit from the case because they would not be able to obtain the man’s DNA to test against the kit and believed testing should be paid for by the defense.

But on Wednesday, Senior Assistant District Attorney Eve Kemple said that the detective contacted the Kansas Bureau of Investigation about two weeks ago to ask the agency to test the woman’s sexual assault exam.

Four motions, all brought by the defense, were heard Wednesday afternoon by Judge Amy Hanley in Douglas County District Court.

Two involved issues of evidence discovery and clarification. Those were resolved during Wednesday’s hearing.

The other two, a motion to dismiss two of the three counts filed against the woman and a motion to suppress statements, focused on conduct by Lawrence officers during the investigation.

Defense attorney Branden Bell asked the judge to dismiss two of the three counts of false report brought against the woman because, he said, her statements were given at the urging of law enforcement when the woman was unaware she was under investigation.

In October during a phone call with a patrol officer, the woman offered to send a written statement and a timeline of her memories of the alleged assault. The officer also asked her to come to the police department and give a recorded statement a couple of days later.

The other alleged false report was made while the woman was being arrested in January. Cottengim said he used a “ruse” to get her to come into the police station. He told her he had a letter relating to the case that he wanted her to look at, when in fact he did not, he testified.

While she was speaking with officers after she was told she was under arrest, before her Miranda Rights were read to her, the detective asked her if she wanted to talk about the case. When she asked for clarification, he said he was hoping she would tell the truth and that his investigation indicated no rape had occurred.

She responded that “this happened,” referring to the alleged rape.

Bell said the detective was hoping for a confession when he made the arrest.

“She believed that (the officers) were there to protect her,” Bell said. “They used that and preyed on her.”

Kemple said that, because they believed the woman had already lied about the rape, she could not be entrapped into making more false reports.

Furthermore, she said, the fact that the officer arrested the woman on only one count of false report from the initial statement in September rather than three indicated a lack of entrapment.

The additional two counts were added after a June preliminary hearing by the district attorney’s office.

“Why wouldn’t he have arrested her on three (counts)?” Kemple said. “They don’t know that she was going to lie ... that was her choice.”

The motion to suppress statements argued that anything the woman said when she was being arrested should be stricken from the record because the officer had not yet read her her Miranda Rights and therefore violated her 6th Amendment rights.

Hanley will rule on the two motions on October 3rd.

The case is scheduled to go to trial at the end of October.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.