“This is the only time you’ll see him in front of a judge,” Jenny Crain-Brady said about her then-13-year-old son Connor when she was last sworn in by a judge as a Bunnell city commissioner in 2011, with her son at her side. There was an unspoken context to Crain-Brady’s quip: her rival John Rogers, who had just unseated a Crain-Brady ally, was also being sworn-in, and his son had had a few appearances before a judge–in a courtroom–the last one just days earlier. Rogers took the commissioner’s remark as a direct and hurtful slight, and never forgot it.
Crain-Brady’s remark turned out to be not entirely accurate. Stephen Connor Brady, 20, appeared before a circuit judge after he was charged last November with sexual battery, or statutory rape, a second-degree felony charge, subsequent to an accusation by an 18-year-old woman that he had assaulted her after she went to his house to comfort him. A Flagler County Sheriff’s detective had an initial interview with the alleged victim at Halifax hospital in Daytona Beach, immediately after the alleged victim was examined by a sexual assault nurse examiner.
The investigation carried on over a weekend following which Brady was arrested, bonding out almost immediately. But week after week the State Attorney’s Office, which must file the charge if it is to be prosecuted, never did. And on Feb. 8, it announced that no charges would be filed. Its explanation is not black and white. It does not rule out inappropriate behavior, nor does it conclude that the alleged victim made up the story. It just didn’t feel it could prove the case.
To Michael Lambert, Brady’s attorney, the dropped charge raised questions about the sheriff’s handling of the case.
“When an agency jumps the gun and arrests someone without doing a thorough investigation beforehand, the result is a police report filled with unsubstantiated claims adverse , here to Mr. Brady and his family,” Lambert wrote in an email. “Frequently law enforcement provides its report to the media that runs with it believing that ‘if the police say so, it must be true.’ Here, we now know that the allegations were not supported” by the state attorney’s investigation. “I recognize that the State attorney will probably not say, “she was a liar, she misrepresented the facts” , etc. because it would subject the office to complaints. However, I have no doubt that the State will say it cannot go forward, as the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt he was guilty. That explanation would be the best way of self-protection.”
The sheriff’s office, which had issued a release about Brady’s arrest, declined to respond to Lambert’s claims. Chief Mark Strobridge provided a brief statement: “The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office does not have the ability to speak for the State Attorney’s Office regarding the prosecution of a case. Our detectives made the arrest, and following that arrest a judicial review also found probable cause for the arrest.”
Lambert, reputed to be among the most skillful and successful trial attorneys in the region, had immediately filed a series of motions common in such cases–to suppress certain elements, to compel the sheriff’s office to return Brady’s cell phone, which contained text messages that had been material to the investigation, to compel the agency to disclose any findings that may be favorable to Connor, and of course a motion to dismiss the case. Judge Terence Perkins granted the motion to return the cell phone, only for the state to argue against the motion subsequently and call for it to be reversed–which it was. Melissa Clark, the assistant state attorney, argued that the defense motion had been filed and granted without giving the state time to respond. Just as relevant though was the fact that at that stage, the state appeared intent on prosecuting the case.
Then Clark met with the alleged victim and others. According to her notes, obtained by FlaglerLive, there was “insufficient evidence to prove lack of consent.” The memo is written in heavily technical language, but it states that Brady claimed the victim “said no in way he thought she was kidding and when she said no again, he ceased the activity. That coupled with [defense witnesses’] claims that [the victim and Brady] had prior romantic involvement, vic had come to [Brady’s] house and to his bedroom, and lack of similar fact witnesses, there is insufficient evidence to disprove [Brady’s] reasonable belief that vic was kidding when [she] initially asked [Brady] to stop and when he realized she was serious he stopped the activity.”
It has been a common refrain of the #MeToo movement that when alleged assailants are faced with accusations of sexual impropriety, they speak of misunderstood humor–theirs or their alleged victim’s.
In Brady’s case, the arrest report had not mentioned explicitly that he had been in a romantic relationship with the alleged victim. “The testimony revealed she and Mr. Brady had a physical relationship before the incident, well known to many,” Lambert said, referring to the alleged victim’s interview with Clark. “Withholding and even denying that eliminated any credibility that would otherwise resided with her.” There is no evidence that the sheriff’s investigation withheld that evidence, though such relationships are irrelevant in matters of sexual assault under Florida law, which recognizes date and spousal rape as crimes punishable with equal severity as an assault where no prior romantic relationship exists.
The arrest report, based on the alleged victim’s recollection, describes Brady pushing the victim onto a bed, preventing her from getting up, unbuttoning her jeans, pulling them down then penetrating her digitally “against her will.” The alleged victim told a detective she told Brady to stop “multiple times,” attempted to move away from him and remove his hand, “to no avail.” He left to wash his hands when he realized there was blood on them. She dressed and left. He then contacted her by phone to apologize and according to the report “admitted to ‘being a little too aggressive'” with the alleged victim and “kinda [taking] things way too far,” and for “not listening when [she] said stop.”
“Her claims and the knee jerk reaction of law enforcement have hurt 2 families, Mr. Brady’s and hers as well,” Lambert said of the alleged victim.
But even the assistant state attorney’s notes on her investigation don’t go so far as to discredit the alleged victim so much as to conclude that while behavior may have been inappropriate, it had not been intended as such.
According to the assistant state attorney’s notes, the alleged victim “was upset but understood” when told that no charges would be filed. “Explained vic could still avail herself of VCC and counseling,” Clark’s notes continue, referring to a victim’s advocate, “even if case did not go through case system. Told vic to call me if has any additional questions.”
Lambert said Brady’s record would be expunged, which means the public record would be scrubbed of evidence of his arrest, though documentation of his arrest would remain visible to law enforcement, the judiciary and select other official agencies.