Originally published Nov. 25, 2005
DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones declared himself exonerated last month of a rape accusation. Prosecutors, he said, confronted his accuser and “convinced [her] to cease the false allegations.”
The alleged victim, however, stands by her accusation, according to a lawyer who has advised her. And DeKalb District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming said at the time that she dropped the investigation because the woman wanted to avoid the trauma of a trial.
A review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of witness statements and other newly released documents from the closed investigation suggests the matter was far more complex than Jones contended.
The documents draw no conclusion about whether Jones, 45, committed a crime or whether the allegation against him is false. But they contain the accuser's detailed claim that Jones held down the 29-year-old Lithonia woman at his south DeKalb home last December and raped her following a sexual encounter with her and another woman. The accuser told investigators that Jones apologized before she left, and pleaded with her not to "hurt" him.
The woman acknowledged that she told Jones their sexual encounter was consensual. But she told police she said that so she could leave.
Because of the woman's desire to avoid a trial, the public will have no opportunity to assess her or Jones' credibility in a public proceeding. The investigative file, public under Georgia law after the close of the nine-month investigation, allows the public to draw its own conclusions about a criminal allegation against one of the region's most powerful elected officials.
On at least four occasions, the alleged victim gave police the same account of the Dec. 28 episode with Jones and his off-and-on girlfriend. Jones' friend corroborated much of the woman's account of the early part of the evening, but she told investigators the accuser was a willing participant in fondling and other sexual activity before the alleged rape. The friend said she left Jones' home before the rape purportedly occurred.
Details of the evening emerge from more than 400 pages of statements by the accuser, Jones' friend and others. Released by the district attorney on Nov. 4 in response to an open records request, the documents give the first full account of the allegations against DeKalb County's top elected official.
Jones refused to answer investigators' questions, records show, but issued public statements maintaining that all sexual activity was consensual. Through his lawyer, Dwight Thomas, he declined requests for an interview.
Thomas aggressively denies the woman's accusations.
"The CEO didn't rape the woman," Thomas said in an interview last week. "There was no rape. There was no brutality. Nobody beat her up. Nobody tore her panties off."
The woman did not say Jones beat her or ripped her clothing, but she did allege Jones raped her.
Regardless, Thomas added: "Simply because she said it does not make it true."
Keyes Fleming, the district attorney, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the merits of the woman's claim. Authorities are still investigating whether DeKalb police officers tipped off Jones before detectives even finished taking the woman's statement.
Jones’ accuser -- whose name is being withheld by the Journal-Constitution because she says she was the victim of a sex crime -- has not recanted her claim of rape, said Antje Kingma, an Atlanta lawyer and former sex crimes prosecutor who has advised the woman as a victim’s advocate.
Kingma said she believes prosecutors had enough evidence to take the matter to trial.
"This case absolutely could have been taken to a jury," she said. "He [Jones] has not been exonerated. The victim couldn't take it anymore."
A chance meeting
They met by chance, during a break in a DeKalb County Commission meeting last December, according to the recently released investigative files. Jones struck up a conversation with the woman, who was there to meet a departing commissioner and for professional networking as she looked for work. She said later she handed Jones and several other people her business card, on which she had written the number of her cellphone.
At her church, the woman had counseled girls who had been raped and abused. That work was personal; as a child, an adult molested her, according to her statements to investigators, and as a teenager, she was the victim of a date rape.
On Christmas Day, the woman was visiting relatives out of state when Jones called her cellphone. She said she agreed to get in touch when she got home.
On Dec. 28, the woman called Jones. They met for lunch that day at the Houston's restaurant in Buckhead.
"Of course, he was being recognized by most of the people," she later told police, "so I just kind of stood off to the side, you know, while he greeted and did his politician-type thing."
During lunch, the woman said, Jones asked about her life -- what she considered typical first-date questions.
Soon, the conversation took "a really crazy turn," she said, when Jones described himself as "heated." She said he told her: "You seem like you have the potential to be really . . . nasty."
She responded: "Well, could be, you know, with the right guy. You know, at the right time." She also told him she felt a connection between them, the woman told investigators.
Jones invited the woman to his house that evening, she said, but she didn’t give a firm answer
On the telephone later, she said, Jones asked her again to come over to "just hang out" with him and a former girlfriend whom he still dated at times. She said she felt more comfortable knowing a third person would be present, even though she told investigators that Jones suggested she and his friend stay for a "sleepover." She said she responded that she had no intention of having sex with him or with him and his friend.
She said she "drew what I thought would be a boundary. And he said OK."
Drinks, then dancing
When the woman arrived at Jones’ house, he was at the kitchen counter mixing drinks -- peach daiquiris, she recalled; margaritas, according to Jones’ friend, who had arrived earlier. The newspaper is not identifying Jones’ friend because of the intimate nature of her statements to investigators.
They roasted miniature marshmallows in the fireplace, danced and then sat on a sofa, with Jones between the two women. According to both women, Jones and his friend kissed, and Jones draped his arm around the other woman.
Several times, the alleged victim said, Jones put his hand up her shirt, but she pushed him away. She said he placed her hand on his crotch.
Both women said Jones then led them into his bedroom. The alleged victim said she tried to pull away, but Jones persisted. Jones' friend said the woman voiced no objection, but asked whether the other two had been tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
The alleged victim told police that Jones and his friend took off their clothes but she hesitated. She said Jones told her she was making his friend uncomfortable and being "a problem."
The woman said she was afraid, but undressed anyway. During the sexual contact that followed, she said, Jones held her arm and legs to keep her in bed.
When he loosened his grasp, she said, she got up and locked herself in a bathroom. The experience with Jones and his friend, she said, left her feeling "horrible and dirty."
But Jones' friend told investigators that the other woman's participation was consensual: "At one point, she leaned over and put her hands on my arm and said, 'I just want you to know that I'm OK. Thank you.' "
About 3 a.m., the friend decided to go home, and the women dressed.
Thomas, Jones' lawyer, said Jones' friend told an investigator that both women left at about the same time. But Jones' friend told police that the alleged victim remained in the house as she drove away, and her attorney, Abbi Taylor Guest, said the woman has not said she saw the alleged victim leave.
‘I trusted you’
After the other woman left, Jones' accuser told police that he coaxed her into returning to his bedroom. He was "trying to console me and make sure everything was OK," the woman told investigators. "And it was better."
But she was scared. "If I leave here and he doesn't think I'm OK, you know, then he can find me," she said she thought. "I live in DeKalb. My house is here. You know, I just wanted things to be OK. I didn't want any problems. I didn't want any trouble."
Jones was undressed, she said, and told her "he trusted me to come there . . . and just to give him another chance." She said he told her it would be "a lot nicer" if she took her clothes off, too. "He was, like, trying to negotiate me out of my clothes."
She said Jones told her he had "messed up" earlier in the night. "You just wanted to talk and what have you and, you know, we did a lot more," she recalled Jones saying to her. "But I'm not going to do that again."
"And I believed him," the woman told investigators. "So I took my clothes off and we laid there real close and just talked."
But soon, she said, Jones groped her and rolled on top of her.
"I told him, 'No. No. What are you doing? No. Stop. No.' "
Jones, she said, pinned her to the bed and raped her.
She said she struggled until Jones grabbed his cellphone, telling her he had to send a text message to a security officer. She said he told her to "stay put" while he went to another room. She said she got out of bed and dressed.
"I got scared," she told investigators. "I started pacing the floor in the kitchen because I was like, well, he just told me not to leave. And he's texting his security. I don't know what they're saying, I don't know where they are. . . . I don't know if I can get out.
"I felt I had been violated," she said. The sex "wasn't consensual. I had been forced to do a lot of things . . . that I didn't want to do."
When he saw that she was leaving, Jones appeared to be angry, the woman said, and pleaded with her not to "hurt" him. She said when Jones asked what she thought had happened, she told him the sex had been consensual, hoping her assurance would persuade him to allow her to leave.
"I trusted you to come here," she said Jones told her. "I trusted you and, you know, I don't normally do this and, you know, you know, look at what you've done, look at what you're doing.
“Please forgive me,” she said he continued. “Please forgive me.
Accuser was reluctant
The woman said later she was worried about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. But she had no health insurance and couldn't afford an examination. The first available appointment at the county health department was a month away.
On Jan. 2, four days after the encounter, the woman sought medical attention at her roommate's insistence. She asked a doctor to keep her rape allegation secret, medical records show. But a nurse called the police, and the woman ultimately gave a lengthy statement to a detective from the DeKalb County Police Department's sex crimes unit.
Thomas, Jones' lawyer, described the CEO as "a single, robust, healthy male who enjoys the company of women."
Jones, Thomas added, "regrets this woman used a completely adult encounter for the purpose of making a false allegation."
The woman, however, was a reluctant accuser, police reports show, fearing she would get caught up in what detectives called a media frenzy.
"Already, he's letting people know who I am," she told investigators shortly after her allegations became public knowledge. "I've got people in my church [who] know who I am. . . . I'm a good person. I don't want to be known or slandered all over the Atlanta metro area, or have CNN, you know, broadcasting that I'm a slut or that I'm out for money or . . . any of the details of what happened.
“Because I’m completely embarrassed by it,” she said. “I’m ashamed of it. I didn’t want any of it to happen.”