Defense goes after cop who investigated alleged rape near York Fair
Attorneys for three teens accused of luring a 14-year-old girl from the York Fair and gang raping her in 2017 spent much of Thursday's trial session picking apart the police investigation into the case.
Attorneys for Kelvin Mercedes, Andrew R. Miller and Daishon Richardson took turns grilling West York Detective Michael Mendez Sr. about what he did — and didn't — do while investigating the alleged Sept. 16, 2017, rape in a yard along Hope Alley, not far from North Adams Street.
The three defendants, all of Manchester Township, remain free on bail, charged with rape and related offenses.
Mercedes and Miller are 17; Richardson is 18. All three were 16 years old at the time of the alleged rape and all were students at Central York High School, as was the alleged victim.
She maintains they lured her away from the York Fair by telling her they would show her a dead body, then took her to various locations near the fairgrounds where they first forced her to perform oral sex on them and eventually raped her.
Mendez, the lead investigator in the case, took the stand Thursday, May 9.
He was the prosecution's last witness, after which they rested their case.
Presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness told jurors he's optimistic the case will wrap up Friday.
Phone records: Mendez testified he reviewed cellphone records of the three defendants and found no activity on Mercedes' phone at all.
He said he found a text exchange on Miller's phone in which Richardson texted that the alleged victim was saying the teens raped her.
Miller responded, "What? Buggin ... delete anything you got bro."
Mendez testified he was unable to find that text conversation in Richardson's phone.
Phone records show Miller then unsuccessfully tried to call both Richardson and the alleged victim.
During cross-examination, the defense attorneys went after Mendez.
Methods scrutinized: Some issues they brought up, such as whether a date was correct or incorrect in a criminal complaint, seemed minor.
But other issues appeared to resonate with at least some jurors.
Attorney Chris Ferro, who represents Mercedes, got Mendez to admit that in the 20 months that he's had the case, he never watched the videotape of the alleged victim's forensic interview. The detective confirmed he first saw it this week in trial, when jurors saw it.
Ferro made sure jurors also heard that Mendez was unaware the alleged victim had done internet searches for terms such as "gun with extra clip" and "gun holster with extra clip" and "draco gun" and "extendo" prior to telling police her attackers had a gun or guns.
Earlier this week, the jury heard that the alleged victim initially didn't mention a gun being involved but later said she was threatened with a gun, describing it as a "draco" with an extended clip. She has also alternately told police there was more than one gun involved.
Ferro said none of the defendants had guns. All three maintain the sexual contact was consensual.
Issue with gun photo: Mendez also acknowledged, while being questioned by Ferro, that he never interviewed anyone at Central York High School to try to determine the identity of a teenage boy seen in a Snapchat photo with Miller and a gun.
The alleged victim spotted the photo, took a screenshot of it and gave it to police, testimony has revealed.
Ferro suggested to Mendez that if he had tracked down the other youth in the photo, it could have led him to the gun in that photo, at which point perhaps a determination could have been made about whether it was at all involved in the case — "if you were remotely interested in finding out the truth about this gun."
Mendez acknowledged he didn't get a warrant for Snapchat because it's his understanding those photos are quickly deleted.
He also acknowledged he did not search the defendants' phone records to see if one of the three of them called someone for a ride after the alleged rape. The girl, now 16, testified the teens were using their phones while she was with them and that shortly after they finished assaulting her, a maroon SUV pulled into the alley and picked them up.
The detective said it's possible that searching phone records could have allowed him to identify the driver, "if I wanted to go through every (number)."
Whose phone? Mendez also confirmed he didn't try to identify the people who allowed the alleged victim to use their phone to call her grandmother for help after she said she was pushed out of the SUV near the fairgrounds.
"I went off the reports (another department) had previously done," Mendez said.
West Manchester Township Police first investigated, until it became clear the alleged rape happened in West York. They then turned over the case to West York Police.
That was four or five days after the incident, Ferro noted.
The attorney also got Mendez to admit he never knocked on the doors of homes in the area of the alleged rape to find out if anyone had seen or heard anything.
"What have you been doing for two years?" Ferro asked him.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.