Questions about being unfairly accused of assault
April 4, 2020 5:54 AM   Subscribe

I have been accused of an assault I didn't do. My anxiety levels, which were already through the roof due to coronavirus, are now life-threateningly high. I have never been accused of anything more serious than parking illegally, and I know very little about the courts. I am hoping that people can answer some of my more basic questions about how this process goes, and that a lowered level of uncertainty will help me calm down.

I live in Maryland.

I know this is long but I don't know what details do or don't matter so I've tried to include everything I remember.

I know you're either not a lawyer, or if you are a lawyer, you're not mine. I'm not looking for official legal advice. I am looking for input from people who are familiar with the legal system about what happens after someone has been accused of assault, and of what is likely to occur in my case in particular.

Lastly, please do not reply with the sole advice to get a lawyer. If I am actually called to go to court, I will find a way to get one. Right now what will help is getting a better handle on how this process works without draining the tiny bit of money in my bank account.

Our neighbor across the street is planning to sell her house. She is in the process of moving to a retirement village, and spends most of her time there with her husband, who has Alzheimers. She is rarely home. She has been prepping the house for sale and usually tells us if work is going to be done on her house on a given day.

Yesterday there was a white box truck parked on the parking pad of the neighbor's house. She hadn't told us any work was being done. I was a little nervous about that truck being there, and called the neighbor to see if it was authorized. I couldn't get her.

The house is pretty far back from the road, but it appeared that they were taking things into the house, not out of it. So we assumed they were probably staging it (this later turned out to be true, when we reached the neighbor). I found it odd that there was a group all congregated closely together at one point, not while moving things but outside apparently just talking. No one was apparently trying to maintain any social distance.

Later in the day, I took the trash out and saw that the truck was now parked in the middle of the street. I had planned to go to the grocery store, and wanted to ask them to move it, but no one was around. The back was open as were both windows. I dawdled a bit and no one came back. There was no company name on the truck.

I went back inside and waited as long as I could, but finally had to go to the grocery store before it closed. I reluctantly walked up the neighbor's drive to find the men and get them to move the truck.

The door was open and there was a man standing a few feet inside. I continued to stand maybe 6 feet outside of the door, on the walkway, and asked him to move the truck. He replied that they'd be done in a little while. I told him I need to go to the store now, you need to move the truck. He replied that nothing was open anyway, that everything had shut down at 5 PM. This was not true, I don't know where he got that; our store had reduced its hours, but was open until 8. I reiterated that they needed to move their truck. I don't think he responded, or I don't remember what he said. I started asking for the name of the company he worked for, and he would not reply. I was hoping to call our neighbor again, try to confirm that they were even supposed to be there, and to ask her to ask them to move.

At that point, he came out, along with two other men behind him. So we were all on a narrow walkway with railing on one side and house on the other. The first man started going past me quickly, but then grabbed my left wrist and wouldn't let go. I don't remember the exact sequence of everything that happened next, nor exact quotes or timing, but I know we each repeated ourselves many times. The gist of what he was saying is that I'd touched him and that there was a virus going around and why would I do that. I absolutely had NOT touched him. I am unsure whether he made that up wholesale, or believed I did because I was standing at the railing and was close to him as he initially went by. I was trying to see any company name on his jacket or hat, but there wasn't any.

I said I wanted to go home but he continued holding my wrist. I continued to ask for a company name or anyone's individual name. I looked at the other men and they would not answer either. One of the others was apparently filming, since he had his cell phone up and the bright photography light on. The first man was saying he would get me thrown in jail, "I promise you, tonight".

The fact that he wouldn't let me go and the fact that no one would tell me who they were was extremely upsetting and I think is part of why I am having trouble remembering exact quotes and timing, though I feel like I need to do so. At some point, he used his other hand to call the police and claim I had touched him. I repeatedly asked to talk to the police and he ignored me. I started shouting what had happened in case they could hear.

I finally got away but I'm not sure how. I don't remember wrenching my hand out of his nor do I remember him finally dropping it. As I left he verbally told me not to leave because the police would be there, but I was able to go back down the drive, across the street and to my home. One of them followed me while continuing to hold his cell phone with bright light up. I told him repeatedly to get off our property. He did not comply, but when I was half way up the front steps, he finally stopped following me. I wouldn't be able to identify which man this was both because I was mainly focused on getting back into the house and because of the bright light.

Also while I was walking, I was aware of one of them around the area of the truck yelling about how I could have gotten out of my driveway anyway, that I hadn't even needed them to move. This is absolutely untrue and I think I could prove this, seeing as how the truck was still there when the police came. We have a van with a wide turning radius, and there is no chance I could have made it past their truck.

After getting inside, my partner called the police. He didn't really understand what was happening yet, and he focused in that call on the fact that their truck was blocking our driveway and they wouldn't move it. This is definitely the first time either of us called the police. However, another thing the man had been repeatedly shouting was that I had been calling the police on them for "hours". I don't know whether someone else had called or whether the claim was false. I wouldn't be surprised if another neighbor called about the truck at the point it was blocking the street, but it definitely wasn't us and I assume phone records would prove that.

The police spent a long time talking to the men on the street. They directed at least one car around the truck during that time, and I could tell it was difficult. And that was with going straight.

A police officer finally came over to our house and interviewed me. I told him what had happened, and I don't remember his exact words, but essentially he implied that if I'd asked nicely none of this would have happened. I wasn't nice or not nice initially, I was matter of fact. When they wouldn't move it, I'm sure my tone of voice could be characterized as un-nice. I was surprised, although I probably shouldn't have been, that my niceness or lack thereof was even an issue. I am a female and they were all men and I wonder if that is why. I have a hard time picturing the officer telling a male that he hadn't been nice enough.

I am also invariably seen as white, although I have a mixed ancestry, and the men all appeared to be black. At least one of the men had used racial epithets when I was walking back to my house.

The police officer asked me if I wanted to file charges against the man for grabbing my wrist. Maybe I should have said yes, but I said no, because I just wanted the whole thing to be done. I never wanted to see these men again nor involve myself in the courts. But then the officer handed me a slip of paper with a case number on it, and said something about I can look it up online. He didn't tell me where to do so or anything else about it.

I believe I've found where to look up cases in my county online, but there is no record of that case number or my name. I gather that having a case number means that man is pressing assault charges against me for supposedly touching him, but I wasn't even told that much.

My questions are:

Why can I not find this "case" in the system yet if it was already assigned a number? Does that mean anything? When should it be there? Does having a case number definitely mean I have charges against me? What likely is the charge, assault? Or something else? Is there even law that makes supposedly touching someone worse because of coronavirus?

How likely is this to actually go to trial? Do they have to do anything else to make that happen?

If it goes to trial, would it be postponed, done over the phone, or would I actually have to physically go to court during this outbreak?

If it goes to trial, how likely is it that I would be found guilty based on someone's false claim? If they all showed up with a unified story, which I gather they would do, would their ganging up on me likely be seen through by a judge or jury?

Does logic even matter here? It makes no sense for him to claim to be afraid of the virus when he kept me a foot away from him for a minute or two and he had no face mask. It makes no sense that he would be congregating close to other men previously, either. I had a face mask that I was planning to use when I went to the store, but I stupidly didn't bring it with me when I went to the house. I had thought I would just ring the doorbell, stand back, ask them to move their truck, and leave.

Does my level of niceness actually matter, legally?

Does it matter that their video would ostensibly show that he held my wrist and that one of them trespassed on our property? Or is that not relevant to the case against me? I assume the video would likely disappear anyway if they realized it would hurt them.

Lastly, does it matter that they apparently weren't associated with any legit company? Our neighbor paid some individual person, who was female, to stage the house. She does not know who these men were.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IAAL, Not your lawyer, nor a lawyer in MD.

>I gather that having a case number means that man is pressing assault charges against me for supposedly touching him, but I wasn't even told that much.

It just means that a police officer took a report and wrote up a record of what statements people made on this visit. It does not mean charges are in place.

You weren't arrested. You weren't given a notice to appear at court. These tend to be indicators in your favor that there was nothing more than a report and description of what occurred that will be filed.

The decision to move forwards is not in the hands of the movers, it's in the hands of the prosecutor who will review the case. While in theory the prosecutor could still move forward with it upon review, my guess is that there is a significant effort right now to reserve court time to only focus on the highest priority cases. Even without the pandemic it probably wouldn't be a high priority for the prosecutor.

Things you could do now:
- Get a copy of the police report in the next day or two and review it. Call the police officer of there's any corrections to the statement you'd like him to enter.
- beyond that, put this behind you. All of your questions about trial and all that - talk to an attorney if you are actually charged.
posted by Karaage at 6:23 AM on April 4, 2020 [27 favorites]

Call the police back and see if you can change your mind about filing charges, then you can use that as a bargaining chip if they try to file charges against you. He did technically lay hands on you, and he refused to let go and let you leave when you told him you wanted to go...
posted by mccxxiii at 7:24 AM on April 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

Any time you see a officer and they do anything you get a report number pretty much. So a report means incident, it does not mean charges.
Charges usually entail a process in which you are arrested, fingerprinted, either booked or released then provided a piece of paper with clear direct follow up. Like appear at x courthouse at x time in regards to the matter of CODE / CHARGE. Sometimes you can get asked to appear without the above arresting process but you still get very clear notification you need to be in court and why on a piece of paper.

These documents are very clear for legal reasons.

People involved in incidences who are victims get report numbers all the time. It's very very normal.

But because you should make sure, call a free legal helpline for your county and see if someone can look up for you to make sure or reassure you about your interaction and how things happen where you live.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:27 AM on April 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Normally, calling legal aid for your county or state would be an obvious low-risk thing to do. I just looked at the legal aid site for my county; they are working from home but it appears they're so busy they might not get back you very fast. I was once in kind of a WTF situation, called my nearest good law school and had a talk with their pro bono law service. Those are probably slammed too right now but you might get lucky.
posted by BibiRose at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you had that experience--it sounds scary and frustrating.

One easy way to get more information would be to call the non-emergency number of your police department and ask for information on the report number. Honestly, it sounds like literally nothing is going to come of this--if they press charges, all they have is video of them grabbing you and you trying to walk away from them. But if you call the police department non-emergency line, they can tell you what the case number means, what the status of it is, etc.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:34 AM on April 4, 2020

I understand why you’re stressed about this. It’s a frightening situation, and the fact that everybody’s already on high alert makes it that much more stressful. But the good news is, it doesn’t sound like you have anything to worry about.

Police reports are, in many cases, a formality. When cops do something, they have to document it. It’s kind of like how, if you’re not at your desk when the boss walks by, the boss will ask you what you’re doing. Since cops spend most of their time away from their desks, they need a system to say where they were. That’s a police report. Sometimes they’re serious - “got a call about multiple gunshots and went to investigate”; other times they’re the bureaucratic equivalent of eye-rolling - “responded to noise complaint and found dog barking in yard”. Yours is much closer to the latter.

Clearly the responding officer didn’t see you as a danger, because they let you go. If they suspected you were a violent criminal, they would have taken you into custody.

Your level of niceness doesn’t matter. You could actually have been screaming at him.

My non-legal advice is just to put it behind you. It’s a stressful situation already. Worrying about worst-case scenarios just makes it more so. You seem like you’re prepared in case something more does come, so just trust yourself and forget about this asshole. And also, maybe treat yourself somehow - you handled a bad situation well, and you deserve some credit.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:36 AM on April 4, 2020 [9 favorites]

It is very likely they called the police because they thought you would call the police, and it would be a whole thing that got their employer involved and they'd be in even more trouble, so going on the offense seemed like the better tack than hoping you'd drop it. Grabbing you was a poor choice, and they tried manipulating the narrative to cover for that. People make all kinds of claims to the police all the time, and the police are accustomed to filtering through the bullshit. When there's no injury or damage to property, there's not much they can or will do.

And now that you have the police report number, you COULD get their employer involved if you choose (and you should absolutely pass the police report number on to the homeowner when you discuss this with her, which you should, because she shouldn't have these people in her home again if they were even supposed to be there in the first place).

You weren't arrested and you have not been charged with anything, and it is very unlikely that you'll ever hear anything about this again, you've basically "won" this interaction as much as it sucked and was traumatic for you. It sounds like you know what to do if you end up needing legal help, but there's just a very slim chance the police are going to change their minds now. It's done, unless these guys decide to initiate additional engagement, but it's probably not going to work out well for them if they do - there's already a police report that's got their names in it.

Please take care of yourself as you would after any trauma: be extra kind to yourself, get extra rest, hydrate and eat well. Your brain is going to loop through the incident over and over again and you'll feel compelled to tell the story over and over again, this is part of processing trauma. You have to let it out (journaling is a very good way to do that without fatiguing your confidantes), but do exert some will over when and for how long, or you'll get stuck thinking about nothing but. There's some studies that suggest playing pattern-matching games helps a traumatized brain recover, so if you are ever inclined to play a little Tetris, Bejeweled, Candy Crush etc etc now would be a great time to veg out and do that. (Environmental games may have a similar effect, see more here. Bejeweled is my normal trauma game, but I have played like 200 hours of Stardew Valley in the past 3 months during multiple deaths in the family and everything going on now.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:08 AM on April 4, 2020 [15 favorites]

The police officer was not clear, but you have not been charged with anything, and it is extremely unlikely that you will be charged. By getting a case number it just means the officer took official statements on both sides. They will file the report and it will be over with neither side being charged. This is kind of like a bar fight where no one got seriously injured, the police can't tell who did what, and it's not worth their time to find out because nothing really happened. Based on what they said, they probably called the cops because they thought YOU called the cops, and their actions were intimidation to stop you from accusing then of breaking the law. They succeeded so they probably will never interact with you again.

You should call legal aid but I expect they are swamped. Do not call and be pushy with the actual police department and demand anything as in a small town that could theoretically get back to the officer and make them angry. I would try to look up the case in a week and then move on, it takes a bit for this to get through their system.
posted by JZig at 8:16 AM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I agree that it's most likely that nothing will come of this. I came in to say that the chances of this going to trial are about zero because most cases are resolved with a plea, but if you are going to need a lawyer, you are going to need one immediately after an arrest, so it's best to have some notion of who you would call.

But, no injuries probably means no police action.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:29 AM on April 4, 2020

I don’t have any specific advice about what has happened to you, but some general advice: You’ve had an emotionally charged encounter that may lead to legal action weeks or months from now. Write down your account of the situation immediately, while it’s fresh in your mind, because you’re not going to remember the details as well in the future. Your description above is a good start, but it needs: date, time, physical descriptions of people, any names that you know (including the officer you spoke with). The goal is to dispassionately capture the facts.

And then try to heal and put it out of your mind. It’s unlikely anything will come of this. If you receive a summons, get a lawyer, but otherwise try to move on. If you do decide to press charges for the wrist grabbing, think beforehand about what outcome you want.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:17 AM on April 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

Just in case, write everything down now to help your recollection if you ever need it. It'll probably put your mind at ease to ask for the police report just to see what's on there; if you see that there's an accusation against you, you might decide to change your mind about pressing charges for grabbing you. And you could correct any mistakes in the report; that's always a useful thing to do.

The officer is a dick for making any comment about your "niceness." No, there is nothing in any state law I know of that requires anyone to be nice (although there are laws against making threats against people's safety, and against disturbing the peace, things like that.) Why did he say it then? People in positions of power like this just like to scold, in my experience.

By the way what the guy did wasn't any kind of "technicality", that is literally the definition of battery. You could press charges if you wanted to but I agree that it's not likely the kind of thing your local prosecutor is going to want to devote resources to right now.

I'm sorry this happened to you, it sounds scary and awful.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:06 PM on April 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

The upside to the legal system is that things are pretty well marked. Regular people use a "ticket" for everything a cop hands you, but there are different pieces of paper it can use. If it says something like "Summons," there will be a bunch of scary sounding words and it'll tell you you have to show up in court and how to find out your court date and whatnot. It sounds like what he gave you wasn't that. It's basically a receipt saying, "An officer was here and talked to everyone, this is the report number you can look for in a few days when he gets around to writing it and it's filed and shows up in the system."

They basically have to document and file a report for everything if they show up. Like an old lady saw a guy wandering around and called the cops, they'll interview her and write something like "Person saw strange man described as blah blah blah wearing a red hat and blue shirt walking Eastbound on main street," then file it away. I'm guessing it's something like that, but get a copy of the report when you can and you can see.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:12 PM on April 4, 2020

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