Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Revives Suit Over Abusive Interrogations

(CN) - The 9th Circuit has reinstated a lawsuit accusing San Diego detectives of subjecting three teenage boys to hours of "grueling, psychologically abusive" interrogation before prosecuting them for a murder they didn't commit.

What the teens endured "shocks the conscience," Judge Sidney Thomas wrote for Pasadena-based appellate panel.

Stephanie Crowe, 12, was found stabbed to death in the doorway of her bedroom early one morning in 1998. Her brother, Michael Crowe, then 14, and his two friends Aaron Houser and Joshua Treadway were taken in by detectives. They were barred from seeing their families or having a lawyer present while detectives grilled them for hours on end.

The boys were eventually indicted on murder charges after being coerced into confessing.

A year later, tests found Stephanie's DNA on the clothing of Richard Tuite, a neighborhood transient who had been reported on the night of the murder for harassing people in the Crowe's neighborhood, screaming profanities and hysterically looking for a girl named "Tracy."

Tuite had been arrested after the murder, but was later released without investigation. He has since been convicted of voluntary manslaughter for Stephanie's murder, after authorities found that he had climbed through Stephanie's bedroom window the night of the murder.

The three boys, now young adults, and their families appealed the district court's ruling granting immunity to detectives Mark Wrisley, Barry Sweeney and Ralph Claytor, San Diego County, the city of Escondido, Lt. Rick Bass, Philip Anderson and Summer Stephen.

In its 65-page ruling, the 9th Circuit reversed on all claims except probable cause and sent the case back to federal court.

The panel ruled that the boys' constitutional rights were violated when they were denied due process and coerced into admitting to the murder through hours of grueling and abusive interrogation.

"Michael and Aaron - 14 and 15 years old, respectively - were isolated and subjected to hours and hours of interrogation during which they were cajoled, threatened, lied to, and relentlessly pressured by teams of police officers," Judge Thomas wrote.

"'Psychological torture' is not an inapt description."

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.