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Institute for Public Service Reporting – Memphis

Criminal Justice

Judge Rejects Rape Victim’s Bid to Reinstate Lawsuit

Alicia Franklin alleged MPD’s failure to properly investigate her case led to the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher

Cleotha Henderson, aka, Cleotha Abston appears in court on suspicion of murdering Eliza Fletcher.
Cleotha Henderson, aka, Cleotha Abston appears in court last fall on suspicion of murdering Eliza Fletcher.

A Shelby County judge has rejected Alicia Franklin’s request to reinstate her negligence lawsuit against the city of Memphis.

Franklin, 22, sued the city of Memphis last fall contending police failed to properly investigate her September 2021 rape and that the failure allowed convicted kidnapper Cleotha Henderson to roam free, leading to the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher nearly a year later.

Circuit Court Judge Mary L. Wagner dismissed Franklin’s suit in March on technical grounds. She reaffirmed that ruling in a written order released today.

“It would not be appropriate to grant relief,’’ Wagner wrote in her six-page ruling, rejecting Franklin’s motion to reinstate.

In her order, Wagner cites a series of legal hurdles that she says Franklin’s attorneys failed to clear in order to reinstate the lawsuit.

Franklin’s lead attorney, Gary K. Smith, has said that reinstatement of the suit would open the city to discovery, a legal process in which information is obtained through subpoenas and testimony of witnesses. That process could get to the bottom of why police failed to arrest Henderson in September 2021, nearly a year before Fletcher’s Sept. 2, 2022, disappearance, Smith said.

“Was he an informant? Through the discovery process, we can determine that,’’ Smith said last month.

“Was he a friend of someone in the police department that spread the word to protect him? We don’t know. The discovery process will reveal that.’’

In a pleading filed June 20, the city’s attorneys said they “adamantly deny’’ police were shielding Henderson, calling the assertion a “speculative” theory.

The developments follow reporting by the Institute for Public Service Reporting that found police didn’t pick up Henderson for questioning on an outstanding warrant for allegedly orchestrating burglaries at a FedEx Freight shipping facility while working there as a security guard in the summer of 2021, weeks before Franklin’s rape. Police failed to question Henderson again in June 2022 – three months before Fletcher’s murder – when he finally was arrested on the FedEx Freight warrant and spent three days in the Shelby County Jail. Those charges were later dismissed and the court records expunged.

Written By

Marc Perrusquia is the director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis, where graduate students learn investigative and explanatory journalism skills working alongside professionals. He has won numerous state and national awards for government watchdog, social justice and political reporting.

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