Man files suit; says authorities violated his rights
55-year-old was charged with sexual assault of child; case later dropped
A man once charged in Lincoln County District Court for sexually assaulting a child — charges that were later dropped — has filed a federal lawsuit in Nebraska District Court.
The suit names the City of North Platte and Investigator Monte McNeil as defendants. It alleges that North Platte Police and city officials violated the civil rights of Wendell Matthews, 55, through investigation, his arrest and prosecution.
On Feb. 12, 2014, Matthews, now 55, was arrested for the sexual assault, said to have occurred in previous years, on a child who was 10 at the time of the arrest. She reported the alleged abuse at the Bridge of Hope Advocacy Center.
Records indicate Matthews pleaded not guilty in District Court in late April 2014. On Feb. 2, 2015 — just less than a year after Matthews’ initial arrest and days before his trial was set to begin — charges were dismissed against him without prejudice.
At a press conference days after Matthews was exonerated, he said that not only he, but his parents, suffered during the time of his incarceration and court proceedings. His car was vandalized, threats were made against his life and he was depicted as “the worst kind of monster in society,” he said.
Lincoln County Deputy Attorney Jennifer Clements declined to comment at the time.
In the complaint, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages, Maren Chaloupka, Matthews’ attorney, calls Matthews’ arrest “unconstitutional,” and said he suffered emotionally and psychologically in the time after charges were dropped.
“The Defendants willfully ignored physical, documentary and testimonial evidence” which corroborated Matthews’ innocence, Chaloupka said in the complaint. She did not return phone calls for comment Friday.
After charges were dropped, Matthews still faced those who believed “where there was smoke, there must have been fire,” Chaloupka said in the complaint.
Matthews’ accuser, named only in the complaint as S.S., made accusations that were not only false but impossible, Chaloupka said in the complaint.
“Bizarre and fantastic accusations that common sense, to say nothing of even minimal investigation, would prove to be untrue,” she said. She added that McNeil knew the accuser had a “documented” past of lying.
Still, Chaloupka said in the complaint, McNeil made the arrest, and waited until the next day to produce a probable cause affidavit. In the accuser’s sexual assault evaluations, McNeil said she showed signs of “healed trauma.”
“This was misleading, and McNeil knew it was misleading at the time he presented the affidavit,” Chaloupka said in the complaint. She added that McNeil and police knew court officials would take his word to be true, given that McNeil is law enforcement. While representing him, Matthews’ criminal defense attorney, Robert Lindemeier, launched a private investigation in Matthews’ case.
But Lindemeier could not “force the prosecutor to review the evidence or seriously consider its reliability,” Chaloupka said in the complaint.
She added that police were first motivated by a prosecution, and later, “to save face,” unwilling to aknowledge they had arrested someone innocent, she said. Lindemeier declined to comment on the suit.
In the complaint, Chaloupka said McNeil and police deliberately made an illegal arrest. She referenced federal law 42 U.S.C. § 1983, often called “Section 1983.” That statute states a person shall be held liable for violating someone’s constitutional rights.
The North Platte Police Department declined to comment and referred any comment to City Attorney Doug Stack. Stack said he is not the acting attorney in this case, as the city forwarded the matter onto its insurance company, League Association of Risk Management in Lincoln. From there, Jerry Pigsley took the case on for the city.
Pigsley said that he has filed a motion to take additional time to respond to the allegations. He plans to respond to the allegations in November, and will comment on matters then, he said.