Any day that begins with a visit from police will probably turn out badly. Mark Patterson’s day got off to that kind of inauspicious start, and grew worse in crescendo.
The officers let themselves into Mark’s home in Tampa without knocking. Displaying the type of restraint that has all but disappeared in this age of gratuitous SWAT raids, the officers were so stealthy that they didn’t wake up Mark’s eight-month-old Doberman puppy, Thor. They told the startled 21-year-old that a woman had made allegations against him, and said he needed to “come downtown” to “clear things up.”
If he had been an older and wiser man, Mark would have demanded that the cops come back with a warrant, and told them he wouldn’t say anything else in the absence of an attorney. Like too many other people, however, Mark allowed his response to be dictated by an alloy of anxiety and misplaced confidence in the integrity of police officers. He didn’t know that police who offer to take someone “downtown” are looking to cage the suspect, not clear him.
At the station, as detectives began asking questions about a middle-aged woman Mark had met the previous night, Mark made his second critical mistake by offering honest answers to people who are trained to lie. Before the end of the day he was behind bars and accused of rape as a result of giving a ride to a troubled woman he claims never to have touched.
No audio record was made of Mark’s interrogation. He never signed a statement. There was no eyewitness testimony to corroborate the accuser’s account. As Mark later recalled the interrogation, he admitted to giving the woman a ride, and that she had been at his home, but denied having sexual relations with her. She had been crying when Mark offered to give her a lift, and at the end of the ride she demanded money from him. When he declined, she got angry and left.
The investigating detective’s report claimed that Mark admitted to taking the woman to bed, but maintained that the act was consensual. No physical evidence was ever produced to confirm that a sexual encounter ever occurred.
The Cynical Charade: “Just one more thing….”
Protracting the cynical pretense of seeking to exonerate Mark, the detectives said that he would have to undergo a polygraph examination. Once again, the purpose of this ritual – the results of which are not admissible in a Florida court – is to contrive a pretext to charge the subject or to extract a confession. One of the detectives composed a list of six questions for the examiner, which included a subject that hadn’t been raised during the interrogation – namely, the woman’s claim that Mark had threatened to turn his Doberman loose on her if she didn’t submit to him.
This supposed attack dog was the same torpid puppy that hadn’t been roused from slumber by the sudden appearance of several uninvited strangers just a few hours earlier.
When Mark was asked about that accusation, he reacted with vehement incredulity. The examiner – as he was expected to – interpreted this response as evidence of “deception.” It was on this basis that Mark was booked on a charge of “forcible rape.” The only other “evidence” supporting that charge was the uncorroborated word of the accuser, whose testimony wouldn’t have withstood a nanosecond’s worth of cross-examination.
According to the police report, the 46-year-old woman claimed that before being assaulted she had told Mark about a “sick child at home who needed medicine.” He allegedly parried that pathetic comment by sneering, “Let him die – he don’t belong to me.”
Roughly three paragraphs later, the report discloses that the supposed victim contradicted herself:
“[She] further related that she had three (3) children, whom she had recently signed papers relinquishing them for adoption and two (2) others in other states that she had given up.”
The woman supplied the name of a social worker, a Mrs. Swanson, who confirmed that the alleged victim had scattered five children from more than one biological father across at least three states. Mrs. Swanson “further stated that [the accuser] had emotional problems and had been confined in a mental hospital in North Carolina at one time. She further stated that [she] had been separated from her husband approx. 2 weeks ago and living with a man in the Hyde Park area.”
Forcible rape, or assault of any kind, is a terrible crime, whether the victim is a doe-eyed ingénue or a troubled and dissolute middle-aged woman. What matters is not the identity of the alleged victim, but the evidence that an actual crime occurred. In this instance, the only “evidence” of the supposed crime was the unsubstantiated, self-contradictory account of a clinically unbalanced and demonstrably irresponsible woman.
The police should have contacted local charitable organization to see that the woman received some help, and consigned the criminal case to the dustbin. Instead, they “cleared the case” by sending Mark to jail, where he was attacked several times during pre-trial detention and constantly threatened with rape.
An Extorted Plea Bargain
A few weeks later, understandably terrified of what could happen if he spent any more time in jail, Mark accepted a deal: In exchange for pleading guilty to “assault with intent to commit rape” – a charge, significantly, that wouldn’t require proving sexual contact – he would receive a withheld judgment and five years of probation, with the promise of having the conviction permanently removed from his record.
“My attorney emphasized to me that once the probation was finished, if I didn’t get in trouble again, the charge would literally disappear,” Mark recalled to me recently. “It would be as if it had never happened, as far as my legal record was concerned. I wouldn’t have to mention it in job applications, or in any other context that might involve a background check. Where the law is concerned, I would be innocent and free of charges.”
Under Florida law, a withheld judgment means that “the court declines to convict (adjudicate guilty) the defendant…. If the defendant successfully completes his probation, he is not a convicted person.” According to the Florida Bar Association, a defendant who received “the benefit of a withhold of conviction could traditionally deny having a conviction, even when subject to deposition or while testifying in court.”
Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe, who issued the withheld judgment in May 1974, was widely regarded as a stranger to the concept of leniency. His habit of imposing maximum sentences earned him the not-at-all friendly nickname “Hangin’ Harry.” He was not the type of magistrate one would expect to treat an accused rapist with a light touch. Nor would he be expected to vacate the judgment less than half-way through the appointed term of probation “in his own best interest.” Yet this is precisely what Judge Coe did in July 1976, after a private investigator hired by Mark’s father provided evidence that the supposed victim had recanted her accusation.
In that same year, Mark faced a second rape accusation that was dismissed in a bench trial after an eyewitness confirmed that the alleged victim – who displayed no physical evidence of experiencing such a horrible crime -- was lying.
“She was a temp worker in the Hamilton County clerk’s office, and she became aware of the case in Florida,” Mark says of the accuser. “My family was wealthy, and I think she believed it might be possible to take advantage of me. She was completely drunk. I tried to get her to leave, because after the experience down in Florida I didn’t want any trouble of that kind.”
The woman claimed that Mark had choked and then sexually assaulted her, and that there were no witnesses to the supposed assault. In her condition she was oblivious to the presence of Mark’s roommate, who witnessed the entire incident. Although he had not been convicted of the alleged offense in Florida, the prosecution “tried to depict me as a repeat offender,” Mark points out. Acknowledging that the prosecution didn’t have a case, the judge disposed of the case within a couple of hours.
Some might believe that recurring difficulties of this kind indicate that Mark Patterson was an undisciplined young man who created trouble for himself. There is nothing in his personal history since 1976 that would validate that characterization.
He continued his studies, found gainful employment, taught automotive mechanics to inner-city youth as part of a trade school program in California, and eventually started a very successful manufacturing company in Boise.
Wanting to be financially secure before starting a family, Mark deferred marriage until middle age, eventually wedding a lovely woman and having two disarmingly beautiful young daughters. He became active in a local church in Boise and gravitated toward the local Tea Party movement when it sprung up in 2010. Two years later, he ran for the state legislature as a Tea Party-aligned independent conservative Republican. He won the race in a bit of an upset without receiving any financial support from the familiar menagerie of entrenched special interests.
Enter the Corrupt Sheriff
During the 2012 race, Mark was subjected to a thorough background investigation by the Associated Press. As Mark’s attorney had promised back in 1974, the withheld judgment was nowhere to be found in the public record. However, it was included in the “raw” file maintained on him by the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
When Mark applied for a concealed weapons license in 2007, his NCIC file – an austere and unspectacular document roughly two-and-a-half pages long – came into the possession of Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, who has held that office since 2005. Raney, who has known about Mark Patterson’s withheld judgment since 2007, approved his CWL application without complaint. Five years later, on April 27, 2012, Raney readily renewed Mark’s CWL, because he had no legal authority to do otherwise.
According to Idaho Deputy Attorney General Paul Panther, a withheld judgment “is not a conviction under Idaho law… If a person receives a withheld judgment for a felony, he may still obtain a license because no Idaho or federal law disqualifies him from owning a firearm.” This means that Mark Patterson was legally qualified to have a CWL, given that Idaho has a “shall-issue” concealed carry law.
Raney had no legal right to reject Mark’s CWL application or to revoke his concealed carry permit. Yet on May 22, 2013, Raney sent an official letter to Mark informing him that “we have initiated administrative proceedings to revoke this license” because “We received information that you were charged with the crime of forcible rape on May 15, 1974, in Hillsborough County, Florida,” and that he had entered “a guilty plea to the crime of Assault with Intent to Commit Rape…. The court records also show that you received a withheld judgment in that case.”
The only source from which Raney could have “received” that information was the same NCIC file the sheriff had twice consulted before granting Mark’s CWL in 2007 and 2012. In his letter of notification, Raney claimed that Mark had committed “fraud or intentional misrepresentation” in his application by stating that he “had never had an entry of a withheld judgment for a criminal offense which would disqualify you from obtaining a concealed weapons license.”
As is demonstrated by Deputy AG Panther’s statement, Raney’s claim was a conscious misrepresentation of the law: Once his probation ended four decades earlier, Mark was not required to disclose the withheld judgment to Sheriff Raney or anybody else. Raney had ratified Mark’s choice by twice approving his CWL applications. His announcement that he was revoking Mark’s license was not dictated by the law, or an act intended to serve the public interest. It was a petty, opportunistic act of retaliation against a legislator who had caught the sheriff and his allies in a violation of Idaho’s lobbyist disclosure law in their efforts to defeat a gun rights bill.
During the 2013 legislative session, Patterson had sponsored HB219, which would have made it a misdemeanor offense for an Idaho peace officer to aid in federal confiscation efforts. The bill passed the House without difficulty, but died quickly in the Senate – in large measure because of a frenzied, and patently dishonest, pressure campaign waged by Raney and his lobbyists, Mike Kane and Vaughn Killeen.
Gary Raney is on record stating that he would dutifully enforce confiscatory federal firearms laws. In addition to being Sheriff of Ada County and Chairman of the Idaho POST Council, Raney is the president of the Idaho Sheriffs Association (ISA). Kane is the group’s official lobbyist, and Killeen – a former Ada County Sheriff and one of the state’s most influential advocates of civilian disarmament – is the group’s executive director.
Without troubling themselves to file the proper disclosure forms, Kane and Killeen worked behind the scenes to defeat HB219, telling state senators of the terror that would descend on Idaho if the legislature offended the Feds. Among the purportedly ruinous consequences of the bill would be an end to the orgy of officially licensed plunder called “civil asset forfeiture,” and federal withdrawal of funding to combat sex crimes against children and gang violence. Interestingly, both Idaho’s Fraternal Order of Police and the rank and file of the ISA supported HB219 despite the putative parade of horrors it would produce.
After the legislative session ended in May, Mark – in this context, he should be referred to as Rep. Patterson -- filed a complaint against Kane and Killeen. Following an inquiry by Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Kane grudgingly provided an amended lobbying report on May 15 – but in that document he didn’t mention his work on HB 219. After Rep. Patterson submitted a second complaint, Kane was compelled to fill out a second amended report and register as a lobbyist.
Mark wasn’t finished. On May 21, he filed a complaint with Secretary of State Ysura about Raney’s lobbying. He also dispatched a letter to Raney’s office demanding “the accounting records for the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association” dealing with expenses incurred by the organization’s lobbying effort, in order to determine if taxpayer funds had been illegally used to defeat the bill.
The following day, Raney suddenly announced his “discovery” that Mark hadn’t disclosed his withheld judgment from 1974.
In his letter, Raney said that the revocation would be effective on June 6, and that he could request an administrative hearing to challenge that decision. The hearing was scheduled for August 26, and Mark was told that he would learn about the ruling within two weeks. Without explanation, disclosure of the results was postponed until October 29.
Although Raney didn’t provide a reason for the delay, a reasonable inference can be made that the sheriff and his little clique of anti-gun zealots were coordinating an effort to remove Rep. Patterson from office. In August, former U.S. marshal for Idaho Patrick McDonald announced that he intended to run against Patterson in the Republican primary.
According to press accounts, “McDonald … told former Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen that he was running” before he filed the necessary paperwork with the secretary of state. Killeen, recall, had lobbied against Patterson’s gun rights bill, and was the subject of the state representative’s investigation into potential misuse of tax funds.
Prior to the hearing, State Representative Judy Boyle, an ally of Patterson, sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office requesting clarification about the state CWL law as it pertains to the matter of withheld judgments. That inquiry resulted in the letter from Deputy AG Panther confirming that a withheld judgment is not an impediment to receiving a CWL.
Rep. Boyle told me that this issue “was raised by several of my constituents, who like Mark Patterson had withheld judgments in their past and wanted to know how this would affect their concealed carry status. Sure, this is relevant to Mark’s situation, but it wasn’t limited to him, and as a legislator I am constantly in touch with the Attorney General’s office regarding all kinds of issues.”
Since 1990, Judy Boyle has been deeply involved in what are commonly called Second Amendment issues, and she is very familiar with Vaughn Killeen’s antipathy toward an armed citizenry.
“He’s one of those people in law enforcement who really think that citizens should be disarmed,” she commented to me. “When he became Ada County sheriff years ago, one of the first things he did was to stop issuing CWLs, apart from the bare minimum required by law. That’s one reason why we changed the law to make Idaho a `shall-issue’ concealed carry state.”
Another important reform, Rep. Boyle points out, was to exempt personal information disclosed in a CWL background check from the public records law. This was done, in large measure, “because the Idaho Statesman got ahold of a huge amount of information on people with concealed carry permits. It didn’t publish the information, but it made a point of letting the public know about it.”
The material in an NCIC background check is protected by both state and federal law. Yet somebody in the Ada County Sheriff’s Office – either Raney himself, or one of his underlings – made the information in Patterson’s NCIC file available to Idaho Statesman writer Dan Popkey.
As noted above, none of the information about Mark’s withheld judgment from 1974 was available even through the most comprehensive public records search. The police report was inscribed on fading microfiche and buried in the dusty depths of a warehouse in Florida. Yes, it could be found – but only by someone who had been told where to look for it by an official with access to the legally protected information in Mark’s NCIC file.
On October 24 of last year, Popkey contacted the Clerk of Florida’s 13th Circuit Court to request the information about Mark Patterson’s 1974 case. That material was in his hands no later than October 28 – the day before Mark would learn the results of the administrative hearing.
Propagating a smear
This could be described as circumstantial evidence of coordination between Raney and Popkey – albeit of the exceptionally strong variety Thoreau compared to finding “a trout in the milk.” Clinching evidence of coordination is found in the fact that Popkey contacted Mark about the outcome of the sheriff’s administrative hearing before Mark had heard about the results from his own attorney.
“Popkey sent me an e-mail telling me that he wanted to discuss my `criminal past,’” Mark recalls. “I got that message from him even before my attorney gave me the news about the hearing.”
The November 10th piece Popkey published in the Statesman dutifully recited the accusations against Mark as found in the Tampa Police Department’s report. The accuser herself was described simply as “a 46-year-old mother of five.” Popkey carefully omitted any mention of the fact that the woman had surrendered custody of those children, who were scattered across the southeastern U.S.; that she was separated from her husband and living with another man; or that she had recently been released from a mental hospital.
The clear purpose of Popkey’s article was to portray Patterson as a predator. The Statesman contributor – who, interestingly, began his career as a “police reporter” (“stenographer” would be a more honest designation) wasn’t interested in complicating the picture by presenting an accurate portrait of the accuser. His approach to the story was the journalistic equivalent of a corrupt prosecutor committing a Brady violation by withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense.
While Popkey was eager to wring everything he could out of Mark Patterson, he was reticent to discuss how he had been made aware of a matter that was hidden in Mark’s legally protected NCIC file.
“Popkey called me on November 1 and told me that Mark had lied on his CWL application,” Rep. Judy Boyle told Pro Libertate in a recent interview. I asked him, `How did you get that? It’s illegally obtained information.’ He said, `Oh, this showed up in a background check.’ `No, it didn’t,’ I said, because it’s not subject to disclosure. Then he told me that `It was a tip.’ I pointed out that he really should publish a story about how he was given access to legally protected information, but he insisted that `I don’t reveal my sources.’”
“The way [Popkey] tried to explain it was that somebody – simply out of a sense of civic duty, I suppose – called Sheriff Raney and told him that he knew Mark Patterson had lied on his CWL, and directed Raney to this specific 40-year-old case in Florida,” Boyle continued. “But this anonymous informant would have to be aware that Patterson had a CWL, a fact that is not made public, and have access to the NCIC file, which is confidential and protected by federal law and state law. The only people who would know these things are Raney and a few of the people in his office.”
The mythical informant described by Raney and Popkey would also have to be blessed with uncanny timing: Somehow, Sheriff Raney “learned” of the withheld judgment on the very day he could use it to retaliate against a state representative who was promoting a gun rights bill he hated, and making his life miserable by investigating potentially criminal misconduct in the sheriff’s efforts to defeat that bill.
When contacted by Pro Libertate about the critical omissions in his coverage of the Mark Patterson case, Popkey insisted: “Our extensive reporting speaks for itself.” What Popkey and his editors chose to suppress says a great deal more than what they decided to disclose.
For his part, Sheriff Raney responded to my inquiry by “adamantly” stating that “the actions by the Sheriff’s Office followed the law, including protecting personal information relevant to concealed weapons permits. We had a duty and followed it. Any suggestion otherwise, and any suggestion that our actions were politically motivated, is blatantly false.”
Raney likewise insists that he was honor-bound to file an ethics complaint against Rep. Judy Boyle on October 31, claiming that her request for clarification from the AG’s office about the CWL law constituted a “crime” of some kind.
Raney told me that “enough evidence of misconduct existed that we felt obligated to forward that information to the Speaker of the House and allow their ethics system determine [sic] if any action was warranted.”
“Nothing was ever done about the complaint – it was just filed against me as an act of retaliation that could be used to attack me in the press,” Rep. Boyle observed when I asked her about it. “This gave Popkey a chance to report that I was the subject of an ethics investigation, but nothing was ever done about Raney’s complaint because it was without merit.”
Rep. Boyle doesn’t equivocate in describing Raney’s actions toward Mark Patterson as purely retaliatory. Significantly, that assessment is shared with one of Mark’s critics in the Idaho Legislature, State Senator Fred Martin, who helped pressure Mark into resigning.
Last December 17, the Idaho GOP’s District 15th Committee, acting in closed “executive session,” approved a resolution calling for Rep. Patterson’s resignation. Six days earlier, the Statesman quoted Sen. Martin’s description of Patterson as “foul-mouthed,” “arrogant and very threatening,” a “misogynist” who “shouldn’t be in public office.”
“And that’s not coming from me,” Martin asserted. “That’s coming from women who have had encounters with him.” Eagerly transcribing and retailing these calumnies to the public, Dan Popkey did admit that Martin “declined to name the women” who had supposedly found Mark Patterson to be so objectionable. The story included the ominous note that “security has been arranged” for the Committee meeting because of “concerns” expressed by its members.
On December 11 I contacted Sen. Martin to ask if he was concerned about the illegal disclosure of Patterson’s background information by Sheriff Raney. Martin responded that an investigation had been launched into Raney’s “possible misconduct.”
“In my heart of hearts,” Martin told me, “I think that he [Raney] got tired of what Patterson was doing to him, and did this [released the legally protected information] to get back at him.”
What Rep. Patterson “was doing” to Raney, recall, was making entirely legitimate inquiries about the sheriff’s illegal lobbying activities. Like Rep. Boyle, Sen. Martin – who was decidedly not a friend or ally of Mark Patterson – was convinced that Raney has used his access to the confidential NCIC material to punish the representative by revoking his CWL and ruining his reputation.
Rather than focusing on the offender, the party’s 15th District Committee directed its ire at the victim, approving the resolution claiming that Mark Patterson had “brought himself and the party into disrepute” and demanding his resignation. The Chairwoman of that committee is Sara Jane McDonald – the wife of former U.S. Marshal Patrick McDonald, Patterson’s would-be opponent in the Republican primary.
Patterson resigned his seat in early January. House Speaker Scott Bedke – who had received illegally disclosed information from Patterson’s NCIC file in an October 31 email from Sheriff Raney – prevailed on Governor Butch Otter to appoint McDonald to fill the vacancy.
In this way, a boon companion of gun-grabbing ex-Sheriff Vaughn Killeen was installed to replace a state legislator who had sponsored a key piece of gun rights legislation – and had exposed the unethical actions of the rogue sheriff who had worked to defeat it. (Speaker Bedke did not respond to my request for a comment about his role in the appointment of McDonald as Patterson’s replacement.)
Ironically, an attenuated version of HB219 was enacted by the Idaho legislature during its current session. The Statesman, after admitting in a November 15 house editorial that Raney’s actions were probably illegal, lost all interest in the matter after Rep. Patterson was forced to resign. (A member of the Statesman’s editorial collective, interestingly, briefly considered running for Patterson’s seat after his resignation.) Mark, who can now devote his undivided attention to productive pursuits, has filed a tort claim against Raney – and is trying to help his family deal with the irreparable harm that has been done to his name and reputation as a result of Raney’s vindictive and criminal behavior.
One ruinous arrest
“People who had treated my wife as a close friend now ostracize her,” Mark told me.
“Friends who once spent time with our daughters have been told to avoid them. When we go out to eat as a family, people who used to smile and wave at us, and talk to us, now make a point of ignoring us. People have been convinced that I’m a serial rapist – and I have never in my life done such a horrible thing, nor would I. The withheld judgment was not a conviction, which means I’ve never been convicted of a crime. I don’t even have a speeding ticket on my record.”
“I was promised that once my probation was over, this false charge would go away,” Mark laments. “The problem here is that federal agencies like the FBI keep all of these accusations and charges that have been dismissed or unproven in a file that never goes away, and that material is available to dishonest and corrupt officials, who can use it to blackmail or retaliate against their critics.”
Whatever one thinks of Mark Patterson, his experience compellingly illustrates that a single contact with the police is quite sufficient to ruin an innocent person’s life.
My family and I are deeply grateful for the generous help we've received over the last week. As an independent journalist I depend entirely on readers for support -- and I am thankful to all of you who have helped us keep the lights on for another month. God bless!
Dum spiro, pugno!