By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Three men accused of sexual assault-related crimes are suing Teton County officials, claiming prosecutors falsified and exaggerated evidence against them and used the media to vilify them in their community.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Michael Crothers, Peter Muldoon and a third plaintiff using the name “John Doe” said in each of their cases, they were wrongly accused of sexual assault-related crimes.
“Teton County and its law enforcement have overstepped the law in their overzealous efforts to effectuate alleged justice,” the lawsuit said. “Although Teton County’s actions have undoubtedly harmed many, the three plaintiffs — Doe, Crothers and Muldoon — file this lawsuit to seek justice for themselves and to hopefully cease this practice towards others in the future.”
In Doe’s case, he was charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree sexual assault involving instances of consensual sex that occurred months before he turned 18, the lawsuit said. The charges were dismissed, “but not before (Teton County Sheriff’s Office) deputies and (Teton County Prosecuting Attorney) prosecutors tortiously and intentionally ruined Doe’s reputation and future and violated his constitutional rights,” the lawsuit said.
In Muldoon’s case, a false rape allegation from two years prior was made public, the lawsuit said, leading to “intense public backlash” that ultimately cost him the election to a Jackson town council seat.
Crothers faced charges including one of sexual battery on allegations he kissed a teenage girl attending a party at his house and touched her buttocks. Because there was insufficient evidence to support the sexual battery charge, a jury found him guilty instead of “unlawful contact,” a misdemeanor. He is appealing on the grounds that evidence that could have swayed the jury in his case was improperly withheld.
In all three cases, the lawsuit alleged, prosecutors set out to destroy the reputations of the men involved.
“Defendants’ wrongdoing here is especially heinous because they are public officials entrusted with the responsibility of protecting and serving the public, not destroying and harming citizens,” it said. “The persistent pattern of misconduct is why plaintiffs are seeking to hold defendants accountable.”
The lawsuit sought damages in an amount to be determined by a jury from Teton County commissioners, Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Erin Weisman, Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr and several individuals connected with the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices.
It alleged 16 causes of action, including malicious prosecution, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of the constitutional rights of the men.
According to the lawsuit, Doe was charged 10 days after his 18th birthday with two counts of first-degree sexual assault based on allegations made by two women who said they were assaulted when Doe was 16 and 17.
One of the women waited six months to file a report, the lawsuit said, while the other waited 18 months. According to the lawsuit, both had sex with Doe several times in addition to the incidents that led to the rape allegations.
But the lawsuit said no investigation into the allegations was conducted before Doe’s arrest. After an investigation was conducted, prosecutors dismissed the charges.
Before the dismissal, a prosecutor announced in court that Doe had confessed to the crime, when he had not, the lawsuit said.
It also said Doe’s defense team, in the course of its investigation, found evidence that a sheriff’s deputy had been exchanging sexually explicit text messages with one of the prosecutor’s witnesses in the case.
Defense attorneys also discovered evidence that a Jackson Hole High School student may have been assaulted by a teacher, but the allegations were never investigated, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit accused sheriff’s officers falsified records and manipulated evidence to “bolster the false narrative against Doe.”
The case against Crothers stems from an incident in May 2019 in which Crothers, who was inebriated, returned to his Wilson home to find his teenage children had organized a “house party.”
The lawsuit said Crothers, who was “too inebriated to control the situation,” knew many of the teenagers and greeted them with back pats, hugs and small talk.
A few days later, one teenage girl told other Jackson Hole High School Crothers had kissed her and touched her buttocks and a second girl, a friend of the Crothers family, said Crothers kissed her on the cheek.
Prosecutors ultimately brought five charges against Crothers: two charges of unlawful contact, one charge of sexual battery, one charge of breach of the peace and one of allowing a house party.
The lawsuit said when the prosecutor in the case was asked why Crothers was being aggressively prosecuted, he responded that “he had been waiting twenty-two years to get a rich guy who lived on the West Bank.”
The lawsuit accused the prosecutor’s office of “using the media to put pressure on Crothers, ruin his reputation and taint the small jury pool.”
County officials were also accused of coercing witnesses and telling some of the teenagers who were at the party they would not be prosecuted for drinking underage or using drugs at the party if they testified against Crothers.
With no evidence to support the sexual battery charge, the jury returned a not guilty verdict and found Crothers guilty of unlawful contact and allowing a house party. The lawsuit said a juror told Crothers the jury was divided on whether he was guilty of the lesser charges.
After the trial, Crothers and his family moved out of Teton County “because of the damage that had been done to their reputation…” the lawsuit said.
In Muldoon’s case, meanwhile, the lawsuit said a police officer obtained and released the record of a false rape allegation against Muldoon in retaliation for his public comments about law enforcement.
According to the lawsuit, Muldoon, who was mayor of Jackson at the time, got into a dispute with the town’s police department over its budget, how the town should respond to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Muldoon had also criticized alleged inappropriate comments about sexual assault investigations made by a former police officer.
Two years earlier, Muldoon had been accused of rape, but a state Division of Criminal Investigation review of the matter found the allegations were unfounded.
In September 2020, when Muldoon was running for a seat on the city council, a Jackson police officer requested law enforcement records related to Muldoon. The records turned over included sealed records detailing the unfounded rape accusation.
“The records were ultimately released publicly and the release received considerable media exposure,” the lawsuit said. “Following the illegal disclosure, Muldoon faced intense public backlash, had his reputation tarnished, and ultimately lost the election.”