A woman who said she was raped last year by the man charged with killing Eliza Fletcher says police in Memphis, Tennessee, did not properly investigate her case and that if they had done so, Fletcher would be alive.
In a lawsuit against the city of Memphis, Alicia Franklin said that she met Cleotha Abston on a dating app last year and that they talked for about a month before they met in person on Sept. 21, 2021, at The Lakes at Ridgeway apartments.
Franklin said in the suit that she and Abston, whom she knew as "Cleo," had planned to go to dinner but that when she arrived, he pulled a gun 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 Shelby County Circuit Court.
The suit says Abston walked Franklin through the apartment and out a back door to his vehicle, where, she says, he raped her in the back seat.
Abston was charged with aggravated rape this month in the 2021 incident and pleaded not guilty.
Franklin said in the suit that she tried to stop Abston by telling him she was pregnant but that he seemed "unmoved."
She said Abston then stole money from her and made her wait in the apartment until he drove away, according to the court document.
Franklin said she immediately sought medical attention and reported the attack to Memphis police. The lawsuit says she submitted to a forensic medical examination, in which a sexual assault kit was gathered, including DNA evidence.
She took officers to the scene, the lawsuit says, but police "took no physical evidence directly from the crime scene itself." Franklin gave investigators the name "Cleo," his telephone number, a description of his vehicle and his social media accounts, 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 that Franklin could not identify her attacker.
For months, Franklin was given no update about her case. According to the lawsuit, police sent the sexual assault kit to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, or TBI, but did not ask for processing to be expedited.
Police 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’s until Sept. 5, three days after he 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 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 cases and relies on local law enforcement agencies to submit pertinent information. It expedites cases only at the request of local law enforcement agencies, it 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 that during the investigation into Fletcher's kidnapping, Memphis police informed it of a possible link to Franklin's assault.
Franklin told NBC affiliate WMC 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 seeks unspecified damages.
A spokesperson for Fletcher's family could not immediately be reached for comment.