Rape victim sues City of Memphis claiming negligence in 2021 case allowed Eliza Fletcher’s death

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:57 PM EDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The victim who says she was raped by Eliza Fletcher’s alleged killer 11 months ago filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the City of Memphis for failing to investigate the 2021 case and subsequently failing to prevent Fletcher’s death.

The victim, Alicia Franklin, agreed to let Action News 5 use her name.

“I don’t really want to get in the spotlight of this,” Franklin said,” but I felt that it could help a lot of women come forward.”

The lawsuit reads that the “Memphis Police Department failed to investigate the rape adequately and with due diligence”, and that officers failed “to use existing evidence on a timely basis” to effectively arrest the suspect “in time to stop him from committing at least one other violent felony.”

The documents show that this suspect was Cleotha Henderson, the same man behind bars for the kidnapping and killing of Eliza Fletcher.

According to the suit, Franklin agreed to go on a date with Henderson after one month of texting and talking on a dating app.

On Sept. 21, 2021 they met at The Lakes at Ridgeway Apartments in Southeast Memphis where Henderson told her he worked as a maintenance man.

Instead of taking her to dinner, the lawsuit says “he drew a gun on her... threatened to kill her... forced her into the back seat (of his car)... raped her and took money from her…” and then left her in a vacant apartment after the attack, telling her not to move until she heard his car pull away.

Franklin immediately sought medical attention for the rape and trauma she suffered and contacted authorities to report the crime. As a result of a forensic medical examination, a sexual assault kit was gathered, including DNA evidence from the suspect.

Immediately after the exam, Franklin took officers assigned to the case to the crime scene, where they “took no physical evidence directly from the crime scene itself,” the suit reads.

Cleotha Henderson DNA linked to 2021 rape

Franklin provided other evidence to officers, including the name “Cleo” as she had known him, his phone number, a vehicle description and his social media information.

The suit reads that “within a few days after Alicia Franklin was raped, MPD already knew or strongly suspected that Cleotha Abston (Henderson) was the man that had raped (her) on Sept. 21, 2021, because MPD had included a photo of Cleotha Abston (Henderson) in a suspect lineup,... and MPD was or should have been already familiar with him due to his criminal history and the known risk that he could commit other violent crimes.”

The woman’s rape kit sat on a shelf, going untested until this year. 

The DNA rape data was finally put into the TBI’s system on Sept. 5, days after Fletcher’s abduction, and returned as a match for Henderson.

“MPD already had enough information to suspect Cloetha Abston (Henderson) was the man who had raped Alicia Franklin, but MPD officers did not seek to apprehend him,” the suit continues.

Months after the alleged rape, Franklin called the Memphis Police Department seeking an update on her case, and she was told that there was no updated information to give her.

The DNA profile from the kit returned as a match to Henderson 11 months later as authorities were investigating Henderson for Fletcher’s murder.

The suit argues that police could have prevented Fletcher’s kidnapping and murder if Henderson was indicted for the alleged rape many months earlier.

Henderson is now charged with that rape.

The apartment complex where police say the rape occurred is the same where Henderson was arrested after Fletcher’s murder, and where police said the car used in her abduction was found.

Franklin’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for emotional and physical distress.

Action News 5 reached out to the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department for comment.

Both entities said that as is standard, they will not comment on pending litigation.

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