In the spring of 1994, Waterbury, Conn. Detective Neil O'Leary was put in charge of Donna Palomba's rape case.
Given their bad experience with police, Donna and her husband were skeptical at first. But after reviewing Donna's case, O'Leary was convinced that theWaterbury Police Department had made mistakes.
Below is more of Sara James' interview with O'Leary, who has since moved up the ranks.
SARA JAMES, Dateline correspondent: I want to go back to September 11th, 1993. How did you hear about the rape on September 11th, 1993?
CHIEF O’LEARY: When I came to work on Monday, September 14th. At that time, I was a sergeant and my job was I was second in command of the detective bureau. And my job was to go over the weekend reports. And it was then that I discovered the sexual assault complaint up.
SARA JAMES: When you saw that, when you saw that there had been a sexual assault complaint, what did you think? Did you read the details of the complaint?
CHIEF O’LEARY: I read the supplemental report that the detectives wrote, who responded. And what was surprising to me is—is there was a clear policy in place at the time if there was a major felony committed on the overnight shift that I was to be notified. And then I would in turn notify the boss. I wasn’t notified.
SARA JAMES: Why not?
CHIEF O’LEARY: I still haven’t found the correct answer to that question. All this time later.
SARA JAMES: Meantime the problems didn’t stop there?
CHIEF O’LEARY: No. Unfortunately the individuals who were responsible for the initial part of the investigation didn’t follow our protocol and our policy which was clearly to not only notify the chain of command of a serious incident such as this, but the forensic unit wasn’t called out. The evidence wasn’t collected properly. It was just—almost a perfect storm of mistakes. And it was just surprising because we’d been trained otherwise.
SARA JAMES: So meantime you’ve got a crime scene that’s a disaster?
CHIEF O’LEARY: Correct.
SARA JAMES: I mean, completely—there’s no way to really say “This is a perfect crime scene, we’ve sealed everything,” nothing like that has happened?
CHIEF O’LEARY: That’s correct. The protocols weren’t followed. We had no video evidence. We had no photographic evidence. Fortunately the young patrolman who did respond was wise enough to take certain things into evidence such as the clothing of the victim and the bedding. And that is what led to the successful conclusion of the case ultimately.
SARA JAMES: You believed her?
CHIEF O’LEARY: I believed her from the beginning.
SARA JAMES: Meantime not only did the detectives not believe her, they told her that if she didn’t change her story, she could lose her children.
CHIEF O’LEARY: They told her that she could face arrest for making a false complaint. They told her that would have an impact on the custody of her children. And—they bullied her a little bit and—fortunately she was bright and smart enough not buy onto that thought process.
SARA JAMES: How hard is it for you, as an officer who was there at that time, to say that? To say your fellow officers bullied a rape victim?
CHIEF O’LEARY: It was very difficult. And I don’t have any problem telling anyone that it divided the department in half at the time. Because half the people who were not that familiar with the investigation believed that there could be something wrong with the victim’s story, and the other half, meaning the—experienced investigators believed her entirely. And it caused a real rift in the department. And it was a rift for quite some time.
SARA JAMES: Do you believe that the police were guilty of misconduct in the way they handled that original interview with Donna and then the subsequent investigation?
CHIEF O’LEARY: I believe that the police were guilty of not following proper protocol. I believe that the police were guilty of not having compassion for the victim which is, again, policing 101. I believe that the police very much incorrectly drew a conclusion that wasn’t based on factual information.
Misconduct is a strong word. Let me put it to you this way. I wasn’t in charge of those officers. If I was, I would have—I would have definitely brought discipline against them.