Los Angeles County prosecutors said they are not ready to charge one of at least eight men allegedly shown on video sexually assaulting disabled women, saying they need evidence indicating that the acts were not consensual.
Ernie Lloyd, 37, of Los Angeles was arrested Saturday after he turned himself in to Los Angeles police in Hollywood in connection with the assault of an unidentified 25-year-old. The graphic video shows men having sex with women, many of whom appear to be disabled, with some in wheelchairs and wearing diapers.
But prosecutors said the tapes alone are not sufficient evidence, telling L.A. County Sheriff's Department detectives that they need to provide more facts about the women's medical histories, level of disabilities and other information.
"In order to effect a filing, we would either have to prove that the victim did not consent to the sexual acts or she was unable to consent to the sexual acts," the district attorney's office wrote in a memo. "There is insufficient evidence to prove either of these theories beyond a reasonable doubt."
The Sheriff's Department did not directly comment on the district attorney's decision. But in a statement issued after prosecutors had turned back the case, sheriff's officials said they had gathered large amounts of evidence including an intensive interview with an alleged victim, who told them she was sexually assaulted at a residential care facility in Los Angeles.
The department said the woman specifically named Lloyd and a second suspect, Bert Hicks, as being among those who assaulted her, according to the statement. Hicks is already serving a state prison sentence.
Legal experts said prosecutors are being thorough in building their case so they can show that the women in the video in no way consented to the sexual acts.
"That's why the records from care facilities are important, because they would demonstrate the victim's level of mental or physical incapacity," said Dmitry Gorin, a former prosecutor who now is a defense attorney.
He said prosecutors commonly use healthcare records — and caregivers' testimony — in sexual misconduct cases to prove an alleged victim's inability to provide lawful consent.
Sheriff's detectives described Lloyd as Suspect No. 1 in a series of images released last week by investigators in connection with the assaults.
The setback comes a day after sheriff's investigators said they had interviewed an informant who was not identified by detectives because he feared for his safety and who provided them with the video of the assaults that took place between 2007 and 2009 at care facilities in Southern California.
Sheriff's officials announced over the weekend that they had arrested Lloyd and located a second suspect in state prison. Both are believed to be part of a group that allegedly filmed and sexually assaulted at least 10 severely disabled women. Investigators are still looking for at least six other suspects.
The investigation began in March when a package was left at sheriff's headquarters with more than 100 hours of video footage showing the alleged assaults.
Although authorities were confident the scenes were shot in residential care facilities, it was unclear if they were in Los Angeles County. Much of the footage is so grainy that only the faces of four of the estimated 10 men can be seen.