SACRAMENTO (CN) — A federal judge denied the city of Vallejo’s attempt Wednesday to halt a defamation lawsuit stemming from its handling of a peculiar 2015 kidnapping case that garnered national attention.
U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley refused to dismiss defamation claims from victims of a kidnapping that Vallejo police initially called a hoax. The criminal case gained nationwide attention after police accused Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn of acting out the plot of the film “Gone Girl.”
Attorneys for Huskins and Quinn — now plaintiffs — said the two are “thrilled” about Wednesday’s ruling and look forward to a jury “holding the Vallejo Police Department accountable.”
“Vallejo police attacked the victims without evidence and destroyed their reputations,” said attorney Kevin Clune, with Kerr & Wagstaffe in San Francisco.
Huskins and Quinn sued the city in March 2016, a year after Matthew Muller broke into their Vallejo home and abducted Huskins. The case was unsolved for more than two months, until officials arrested Muller for a separate home invasion burglary. Investigators recovered evidence from the Vallejo kidnapping, including video of Muller sexually assaulting a blindfolded Huskins.
The former Marine-turned-Harvard-educated attorney was sentenced in March to 40 years in prison in March by Nunley, after pleading guilty to a federal kidnapping count.
Vallejo, pop. 116,000, is northeast of San Francisco and west of Sacramento.
According to the complaint, Vallejo police detained Quinn immediately after the abduction and interrogated him for more than 18 hours. Quinn says investigators were skeptical of his story and released him to a throng of waiting reporters while wearing pants marked “Solano Prison,” though he was never arrested or charged with a crime.
“Instead of focusing on finding the true perpetrator and protecting the community from a violent predator, defendants attacked plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ families, created a destructive nationwide frenzy through public statements accusing plaintiffs of faking Denise’s kidnapping and rape,” the complaint states.
Vallejo police Lt. Kenny Park and Det. Mathew Mustard are named as defendants along with the city. Park held a news conference when Huskins was found; Mustard interrogated Quinn. Huskins and Quinn seek millions of dollars in damage for defamation, unlawful search and seizure and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Clune said in a phone interview that Vallejo has given no indication that it wants to settle the lawsuit and that the plaintiffs are looking forward to a jury trial.
In the 22-page ruling, Nunley ordered the parties to file a joint status report within 30 days.