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The Human Cost of Overdeterring Police

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Elizabeth Smart's nine-month ordeal would have been only three months if a police detective had not feared committing a civil rights violation.  Ann O'Neill has this report for CNN.

Mitchell began to speak of going to California for the winter, and in August they walked to the library for maps. Someone called the police, saying Elizabeth Smart might be at the library. The caller said he thought he recognized her eyes.

Former Salt Lake City homicide detective Jon Richey was sent to investigate. Although he considered the lead "a long shot," he asked, repeatedly, to lift the young woman's veil. But Mitchell said it violated their religious beliefs for anyone but the young woman's husband to see her face.

Richey testified that it would have violated her civil rights to lift the veil if the story about her religious beliefs was true. And Mitchell's calm demeanor didn't set off any alarms for him. He said that when he learned about six months later that the girl he'd tried to question was Smart, it left him "traumatized."

"I don't see anything else I could have done," Richey told reporters after his testimony. "It's difficult for me, but I live with that, and there's nothing I would have done differently."

Smart testified that as the detective left, "I felt like hope was walking out the door."


1 Comment

The police officer's fear of a civil rights violation doesn't ring true to this non-attorney. This was a felony criminal investigation that trumps any religious concerns.

To accept that explanation and leave the premises w/o asking for identification from Smart or Mitchell or further inquiry seems like slipshod police work.

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