A suspended Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was exonerated of rape charges Thursday in a case in which the county had already settled with the alleged victim for $100,000 in damages.
Prosecutors asked that charges against Harris Scott Mintz be dropped after friends of the accuser--referred to in court as Jane Doe--said that the woman was a drug and alcohol abuser who had admitted lying about the rape.
Mintz, 42, wept and covered his head with his hands after Superior Court Judge Norman Shapiro dismissed the remaining two charges.
"I'm feeling a little bit numb," Mintz said afterward.
Pausing, he added: "I'm real good. Elated."
The case has been an embarrassment for both police and prosecutors. The district attorney's office filed six sexual assault charges against Mintz involving two alleged incidents with two women. Four of the charges, filed by Mintz's estranged wife, were dropped in February after she recanted. With the action Thursday, all charges have now been dropped.
"We were presented with new evidence on this case. Based on this, we could not proceed," said Elka Worner, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.
A spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, which placed Mintz on unpaid leave last July, said he remains the subject of an ongoing "personnel investigation." The spokesman did not elaborate.
Mintz's lawyer, James E. Blatt, said the case might have been avoided entirely had the Sheriff's Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau and district attorney's investigators been more thorough. The key witness Thursday was located by investigators for the defense.
"There was a certain amount of luck in finding witnesses, because the prosecution certainly wouldn't have," Blatt said. "An innocent man could have gone to jail for a long time."
The case against Mintz started early last year after a woman told authorities that the deputy raped her at her Calabasas home on Dec. 22, 1995. She said Mintz--on duty and in uniform at the time--entered the house after claiming that he needed to discuss official police business with her regarding one of her children.
After an 11-month internal Sheriff's Department investigation, Mintz was arrested in November where he worked, at the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff's station. The 10-year department veteran lost his job and spent five months in jail awaiting trial.
Also in November, attorneys for the county agreed to pay the Calabasas woman $100,000 to settle a civil claim she filed in June. The Sheriff's Department agreed to the settlement.
"The settlement was an outrage," said Blatt, "and there will be an intense investigation concerning it."
Blatt and co-counsel Darren T. Kavinoky questioned whether the county had conducted a thorough investigation before agreeing to the settlement.
But Bill Pellman, a senior assistant county counsel, said the agreement appeared to be the best alternative.
"It seemed like it was a good settlement at the time based on the information provided to us," Pellman said. "Depending on the testimony, the evidence and the witnesses, it could have been a very large settlement" if it went before a jury trial.
Pellman, who had been unaware the criminal charges had been dismissed, said the county might work with the Sheriff's Department and district attorney's office to determine whether to file charges against the woman.
During Thursday's short court hearing, a witness called by prosecutors testified that the Calabasas woman concocted the rape story.
Kathy Krisatis, who shared a Simi Valley house with the alleged victim in 1995 and 1996, also said the woman was an alcoholic who used heroin, amphetamines, cocaine and marijuana. Krisatis said the victim lied frequently.
Krisatis told the court that after the woman had been drinking one night, she said: " 'I did lie about the rape.' . . . She said she wanted her husband to feel sorry for her and take her back."
Mintz's attorneys said the former deputy never had sex with the woman and pointed out that the woman acknowledged drinking a quart of vodka on the day in question.
The lawyers said the woman knew Mintz because she had seen him patrolling the neighborhood.
Outside the downtown Criminal Courts Building, Mintz said about his accuser: "I feel sorry for her."
Blatt, however, had harsher words, saying she was "out of Central Casting." In addition to drug and alcohol problems, Blatt said the woman had financial and mental-health problems. In addition, she worked recently as a phone-sex operator, he said.
Also Thursday, the district attorney's office presented a police report from Hawaii that was immediately ordered sealed by the judge. Mintz's attorneys said the report contained information about a sexual assault charge the Calabasas woman made against a room-service waiter. The charge was investigated but not substantiated, the attorneys said.
Mintz said Thursday that he had reconciled with his wife and would decide later whether he would seek his old job at the Sheriff's Department.
"Thank God it's finally over," he said.