EVEN IF THE Paradise Valley police had done their job, a jury may never have convicted pro football player Marcus Cotton of raping an ASU co-ed.

As in almost all acquaintance" or date" rape cases, this one may have come down to a courtroom match between two people: The woman would have testified she hadn't consented to sex, the man would have vowed she had.

But no criminal jury will ever consider the case, in large measure because Paradise Valley's finest mangled its investigation. The department-already wracked by internal dissension and accusations of unprofessional conduct-ignored common-sense fundamentals of rape investigation, making a successful prosecution almost impossible.

Adequate police work could have helped to corroborate the young woman's allegations or to discredit them. Instead, there has been no resolution to what happened during a party at Marcus Cotton's sprawling home in the wee hours of July 6, 1991.

At the center of this story are three people: Cotton, a 240-pound linebacker with a prior history of violence toward women; a 21-year-old woman we'll call Shannon Smith," who alleges Cotton raped her at his home; and Paradise Valley police sergeant Brian McFarland, whose checkered career is the focus of civil litigation and strife inside the department.

Cotton did not respond to numerous requests by New Times for an interview. His friend, housemate and business associate Terry Hicks says Cotton denies any wrongdoing.

McFarland took over the rape investigation from a female officer soon after Shannon walked into the Paradise Valley Police Department in the early afternoon of last July 6.

From that point, the rape investigation went south.
An examination of the case reveals the Paradise Valley Police Department:
Never interviewed Marcus Cotton, even after learning of his conviction for assaulting a Cleveland-area woman. Cotton originally faced charges of rape and sexual battery in an Ohio case.

Interviewed just one of about 25 people Shannon said had attended Marcus Cotton's all-night party. The one was a girlfriend who accompanied Shannon to the Paradise Valley police station.

Didn't secure a warrant to search Cotton's house, a normal procedure.
Didn't submit the case for official evaluation by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, though McFarland indicated on a report that he had.

Didn't advise Shannon of proper procedures for rape victims, which include medical examination and saving clothes worn at the time of the rape.

Never wrote formal departmental reports of the incident-routine in cases of this nature. Instead, the police filed Information Given" reports, a tidier and less formal way of disposing of a case.

Didn't inform Shannon about rape-crisis agencies that counsel victims. Those agencies routinely assist victims in cases similar to Shannon's.

Refused at first to release its reports of the alleged rape to the media. New Times obtained the reports from Town Attorney Charles Ollinger after he, too, initially declined to release them.

At the time, Ollinger cited a need to protect our town from potential embarrassment to a resident-a public figure-caused by releasing such sensitive and uncorroborated information."

He added, We're kind of gun-shy right now."

THE LEAST SINISTER explanation for what happened to the Marcus Cotton case could be sheer laziness. Sergeant Brian McFarland made his first error during his interview of Shannon on the afternoon of July 6. Shannon says McFarland told her she had to decide immediately whether she wanted police to fully investigate the case. McFarland's written report confirms her account.

The sergeant scared me into thinking my name would be plastered all over the papers," Shannon says. I didn't want to be involved in a big scandal. I was all shook up and tired and confused. I started to think I had made a mistake by coming forward."

Her confusion was normal, according to sex-crimes detectives contacted by New Times. National studies show a vast majority of rape victims are leery about coming forward, especially in cases where the victim knows the rapist. And, remarkably, four in five rapes are committed by men who know their victims.

Shannon says she later learned from Phoenix police detectives that she didn't have to decide immediately: Sexual assault cases often take weeks to jell.

One reason is that rape is a far easier crime to claim than to prove, especially in acquaintance-rape cases-Mike Tyson's recent conviction notwithstanding. And Shannon Smith has admitted she had consensual sex in the past with Marcus Cotton, which would have made a conviction less likely.

It may take a lot of time to sort things out," says Parma Heights, Ohio, detective Henry Franz, who investigated Marcus Cotton on rape charges there, but you have to try to make sense of what happened. You don't try to talk a possible rape victim out of anything, even if there's a one-on-one situation. That's your job."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin