The murder of a Tennessee teacher who was forced into a car near the University of Memphis could have been avoided had police properly investigated an accusation of rape against the suspect, a lawsuit filed on Tuesday claimed.
Alicia Franklin said she was raped last September by Cleotha Abston, who is now charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in connection with the death of Eliza Fletcher.
In court earlier this month, Abston pleaded not guilty to aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping and possessing a firearm as a convicted felon.
In an earlier hearing, he did not enter a plea to the murder and kidnapping charges.
According to Franklin’s lawsuit, despite immediately seeking medical attention and reporting the rape to Memphis police, she was given no update for months.
A sexual assault kit including DNA evidence was gathered, WMC reported, but not tested until this year. The DNA information was entered into the Tennessee bureau of investigation data system on 5 September, according to WMC, days after Fletcher was abducted while out jogging.
Fletcher’s body was found the same day behind a vacant duplex, police said. She was abducted at about 4am on 2 September, when a man forced her into a sport utility vehicle after a brief struggle, police said.
Abston, also named as Cleotha Henderson in some reports, was arrested on 3 September after police detected his DNA on a pair of sandals found near where Fletcher was last seen.
According to Franklin’s lawsuit, filed against the City of Memphis, “Memphis police department failed to investigate [her] rape adequately and with due diligence”.
The lawsuit alleges that officers failed “to use existing evidence on a timely basis” to arrest the suspect “in time to stop him from committing at least one other violent felony”.
In the suit, Franklin said she met Abston, who she knew as Cleo, on a dating app, and they agreed to meet at an apartment complex where Abston said he worked on 21 September 2021. When Franklin arrived, the suit said, Abston drew a gun and threatened to kill her, before blindfolding her and raping her in the back of his car.
Abston left Franklin in a vacant apartment, according to the lawsuit, ordering her not to leave until she heard him drive away.
Franklin drove to hospital, where she was treated and the sexual assault kit was gathered. After the exam she went with police to the crime scene but officers “took no physical evidence directly from the crime scene itself”, according to the lawsuit.
Franklin said she gave police Abston’s name, phone number and social media details.
“They had more than enough evidence that night when they interviewed me to get him off the streets but they didn’t,” Franklin told ABC’s Good Morning America.
Days after the rape, Franklin was shown a photo of Abston in a lineup of suspects. But the picture was more than a decade old, BuzzFeed reported, and she failed to identify her attacker.
Memphis police submitted the sexual assault kit for analysis but did not seek to have it expedited, the lawsuit said.
Gary Smith, Franklin’s attorney, told BuzzFeed: “The failure to rush or expedite on the DNA testing was not the only failure. They had numerous other ways of catching him right on the front end.”
Smith added: “If they had taken the fingerprints, they would have known who was it immediately. They had his first name. She gave them his phone number. She gave them the dating site.”