A woman who said she was raped last year by the man charged with killing Eliza Fletcher says that Memphis police did not properly investigate her case and if they had, Fletcher would be alive.
In a lawsuit against the city of Memphis, Alicia Franklin said she met Cleotha Abston on a dating app last year and that they talked for about a month before meeting in person on Sept. 21, 2021, at The Lakes at Ridgeway apartments.
Franklin said in the suit that she and Abston, who she knew as “Cleo,” had planned to go to dinner but when she arrived he pulled a gun out on her and forced her into a vacant apartment.
Abston, who told Franklin that he was a maintenance worker at the complex, blindfolded her with his t-shirt and threatened to kill her, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Shelby County Circuit Court.
The suit states that Abston walked Franklin through the apartment and out a back door to his vehicle, where she says he raped her in the backseat.
Abston was charged with aggravated rape earlier this month in the 2021 incident and pleaded not guilty.
More on Eliza Fletcher’s disappearance and death
Franklin said in the suit she tried to stop Abston by telling him she was pregnant but he seemed “unmoved,” the lawsuit states.
The woman said that Abston then stole money from her and made her wait inside the apartment until he drove away, according to the court document.
Franklin said she immediately sought medical attention and reported it to Memphis police. The lawsuit says she submitted to a forensic medical examination, where a sexual assault kit was gathered and included DNA evidence.
She took officers to the scene, but the lawsuit states that police “took no physical evidence directly from the crime scene itself.” To help investigators, Franklin gave them the name “Cleo,” his telephone number, a description of his vehicle, and his social media including the dating app they met on, according to the lawsuit.
Days after the assault, Franklin was asked to look at a photo lineup of possible suspects. The lawsuit says that police included an older photograph of Abston in the lineup but Franklin could not identify her attacker.
For months, Franklin was given no update on her case. According to the lawsuit, Memphis police sent the sexual assault kit to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) but did not request that it be processed in an expedited manner.
The Memphis Police Department and the city declined to comment Wednesday, citing pending litigation.
The sexual assault kit remained untouched until June, according to the lawsuit. It was not determined that the DNA matched Abston until Sept. 5, three days after Abston is accused of forcing Fletcher into his SUV while she was on an early-morning jog.
Abston, 38, was arrested the next day after police found the SUV in a parking lot by his residence, an affidavit says. He was arraigned on several charges, including first-degree murder and kidnapping.
Fletcher’s body was found Sept. 5 in a vacant duplex apartment. A cause and manner of death have not been released.
Franklin’s lawsuit says that Abston “should and could have been arrested and indicted for the aggravated rape of Alicia Franklin many months earlier, most likely in the year 2021 … and the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher would not have occurred.”
The TBI said it rarely knows the details of a case and relies on local law enforcement agencies to submit any pertinent information. It expedites a case only at the request of local law enforcement, the TBI said in an emailed statement.
Franklin’s case “was put into the queue of unknown assailant kits, as no request was made for TBI analysis to be expedited, and no suspect information or DNA standard was included in the submission,” the agency said in its statement. Franklin’s kit was pulled in June to be examined along with 19 other kits.
The agency said during the investigation into Fletcher’s kidnapping that it was informed by Memphis police of a possible link to Franklin’s assault.
Franklin told NBC affiliate WMC-TV of Memphis that she did not want to get into the “spotlight” but felt sharing her story could “help a lot of women come forward.”
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.
A spokesperson for Fletcher’s family could not immediately be reached.
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