Portland police may charge woman who made false claim of sexual assault

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PORTLAND — A 34-year-old woman who admitted falsely claiming she was sexually assaulted along the Back Cove Trail may be charged with a crime.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck on Aug. 14 said the Police Department was still investigating, after the the woman recanted earlier that morning.

“No crime occurred,” Sauschuck said in a news conference outside police headquarters, about 24 hours after he had described measures the department was taking to investigate the alleged crime and enhance security along the trail.

Sauschuck declined to discuss what the woman’s motivation for the hoax may have been.

“Frankly, it may never be known,” he said.

Filing a false report is a Class D crime punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The unidentified woman claimed she was sexually assaulted near the trail around 12:15 p.m. on Aug. 12. She said her attacker dragged her from the trail near the half-mile marker and Interstate 295, but the assault was interrupted by two people passing by.

She told police she fled and drove to a hospital, which is where police were notified of the alleged attack.

Police stepped up patrols in the park, including by bicycle, while detectives investigated the alleged attack.

Sauschuck said the community response helped eventually unravel the woman’s story.

“What we do is vet the information we get from the public,” he said, although he was not certain how many people who were in the park at that time were heard from. Then it was a matter of going back to the alleged victim to confirm details and discuss what else the investigation had revealed.

The recanted allegation is the second false sexual assault report in the Back Cove Trail area in the last five years. Sauschuck also said a sexual assault complaint police have not been able corroborate was filed last year.

“We treat them seriously, we walk a fine line every day,” the chief said. “We investigated this full bore.”

Sauschuck said he was concerned the false account could make it more difficult for sexual assault victims to step forward.

“This is traumatic to the victims and communities as well,” he said. “We want victims to come forward. The victims we work with who relive this are courageous.”

Saushuck also thanked the community for its strong response. While saying residents should not worry about “safety concerns in Back Cove and the city beyond,” he reiterated the need for basic precautions.

Police said people using the trail are advised to do so in groups, carry a cell phone for emergencies, and to be as vocal and draw as much attention to themselves as possible if there is a confrontation.

Sauschuck also invited women to join in the Rape Aggression Defense classes the department will hold in September and October in conjunction with the Amy. St. Laurent Foundation. More information on the five-session courses can be found on the city’s website

The chief said he knew there could be some lingering unhappiness about the hoax.

“I can understand why there may be anger and frustration,” Sauschuck said. “We feel the same in some cases.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

“We want victims to come forward,” Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Aug. 14, after a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted Aug. 12 on the Back Cove Trail recanted her story.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.