Murder of Eliza Fletcher: Former law enforcement official says police ‘dropped the ball’ investigating 2021 rape

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A former federal law enforcement official says the Memphis Police Department failed to properly investigate a 2021 rape allegedly committed by the same person who police say killed Eliza Fletcher.

Cleotha Henderson, 38, has been charged with first-degree murder and especially aggravated kidnapping in connection with Fletcher’s death; he was also charged with aggravated rape in connection with a September 2021 incident involving another Memphis woman.

The woman, Alicia Franklin, sued the Memphis Police Department and alleged it failed to properly investigate the 2021 incident, which kept Henderson out of jail.

“Cleotha Abston [Henderson] should and could have been arrested and charged for the aggravated rape…several months earlier, most likely in 2021,” the lawsuit states. “And the kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher would not have happened.

MURDER OF ELIZA FLETCHER SUSPECT LINKED TO 2021 RAPE, POLICE HAVE NOT REQUESTED ‘EXPEDITED’ DNA EXAMINATION

Cleotha Henderson and Eliza Fletcher
(Matt Symons for Fox News Digital/Facebook)

Henderson and Franklin met on an online dating app in August 2021, the lawsuit says, adding that they met on what was supposed to be a first date. The lawsuit says Henderson was called “Cleo” on the dating app.

When the two met for a date outside a Memphis apartment, which was Henderson’s last address, he allegedly forced the woman into a vacant unit in the apartment complex while holding a gun, threatening to kill her.

“He also blindfolded her with a T-shirt and threatened to kill her,” the lawsuit states, adding that Henderson allegedly took the woman into a car and “forced her to sit in the back and would have raped her”.

The booking photo shows Cleotha Henderson, who has been in prison for more than half her life.

The booking photo shows Cleotha Henderson, who has been in prison for more than half her life.
(Tennessee Department of Corrections)

Investigators sent a rape kit to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations for analysis, which took nine months and did not return a match for Henderson until September 5, three days after Fletcher’s death.

Fletcher was allegedly kidnapped by Henderson on the morning of September 2, and police say she was “abducted and forced into” her dark-colored GMC Terrain. His body was found on September 5 “in the back of a vacant duplex”.

Liza Fletcher, a 34-year-old teacher and mother of two, was abducted and murdered on September 2, 2022.

Liza Fletcher, a 34-year-old teacher and mother of two, was abducted and murdered on September 2, 2022.
(Jennifer Sink/Facebook, Memphis Police)

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations told Fox News Digital that the Memphis Police Department did not request an expedited analysis of the sexual assault kit from the September 2021 incident, and “no suspicious information or DNA standard was included in the submission”.

If a request for an expedited analysis had been made, the results could have been obtained within five working days, the spokesperson added.

According to the lawsuit, the police “did not take any physical evidence directly from the crime scene itself” when the crime was reported. The victim gave police the name ‘Cleo’, a phone number, a description of the car used in the incident, information about the dating app the two met on and information about social networks social.

The lawsuit says Franklin was unable to identify the suspect in a queue by police, who she allegedly overheard saying, “Maybe we need to show him a more recent photo – this photo is 10 to 12 year.”

MURDER OF ELIZA FLETCHER: MEMPHIS POLICE PROSECUTED FOR TREATMENT OF SUSPECT IN PREVIOUS RAPE CHARGE

Murder suspect Cleotha Henderson appears in court at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center in Memphis, Tennessee on September 7, 2022.

Murder suspect Cleotha Henderson appears in court at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center in Memphis, Tennessee on September 7, 2022.
(Matt Symons for Fox News Digital)

Police then told Franklin they would show him a more recent photo, but allegedly did not, according to the lawsuit.

Henderson had previously been convicted of the kidnapping and robbery of Memphis attorney Kemper Durand, and his DNA was on file.

Former Assistant United States Attorney Neama Rahmani told Fox News Digital that the Memphis Police Department “let it down” investigating the 2021 case.

“Memphis police dropped the bullet. It’s something they should have pursued immediately. The rape victim who came forward the same day, she provided physical evidence, she granted an interview” , Rahmani said. “Police should have investigated immediately and their failure to do so may have cost a woman her life.”

Rahmani added that he thinks the case went cold after the DNA sample took longer to come back, but he said Memphis police officers should have at least gone to the scene to collect additional evidence, which the lawsuit says did not happen. .

Had the Memphis Police Department decided to request an expedited analysis, Rahmani argues the “tragedy could have been avoided.”

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Cleotha Henderson appears before a judge in Memphis, Tennessee on September 6, 2022.

Cleotha Henderson appears before a judge in Memphis, Tennessee on September 6, 2022.
(Adam Sabes/Fox News Digital)

Although Rahmani believes the police failed to properly investigate the alleged rape, he does not believe the trial will succeed.

“I think his case will be thrown out because it is well established that delay or even failure to investigate is not actionable in civil courts. Generally, inaction is not the basis of the civil liability of police officers,” Rahmani said.

sergeant. Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokesperson for the National Police Association who previously worked on cases involving sex crimes, told Fox News Digital it was difficult for the Memphis Police Department to predict the suspect would go on to murder someone. ‘a, and if they did, the request would have been expedited.

“We have the advantage of hindsight, it’s called hindsight bias. So, of course, I would imagine Memphis PD, if they could have predicted that this guy was going to come out and rape and murder somebody another, they would have asked for it to be expedited,” Smith said. “But that’s not the only sexual assault I’m sure they’re dealing with.”

“We can’t look at Memphis PD and say, ‘Well, you should have known or you should have predicted,'” she added.

Smith also said politicians need to push for better funding for forensic testing labs to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

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Balloons outside the house where Eliza Fletcher's body was found.

Balloons outside the house where Eliza Fletcher’s body was found.
(Matt Symon for Fox News Digital)

“Any politician should be in favor of this kind of funding. And it can go, you know, like in Memphis, you know, they send it to, they sent that [rape] pencil case [Tennessee Bureau of Investigations]any police department in a city of 200,000 or more should probably have its own lab.”

A Memphis Police Department public information officer told Fox News Digital that “the city does not comment on ongoing litigation.”

Fox News’ Michael Ruiz contributed to this report.

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