City of Austin, Travis Co. DA’s Office served 2nd lawsuit claiming sexual assault cases were mishandled

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office are now facing a second lawsuit for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases.

The first lawsuit, filed by eight women in 2018, was dismissed earlier this year and is now going through the appeals process. However, four more women are now coming forward.

The women said they believe the system failed them, particularly because of their gender. None of their cases were prosecuted.

“There are thousands of women in Travis County who have been subjected to Defendants’ unconstitutional and discriminatory Policies that treat sexual assault against women differently from every other violent crime,” the lawsuit reads. “Thousands of
women in Travis County have been, and continue to be, impacted because, as alleged in more detail below, Defendants’ conduct is systemic, ongoing, and gives rise to a clear inference of gender discrimination.”

Hanna Senko is one of the women who filed the lawsuit on Monday. Senko and her attorney spoke to KXAN’s Jacqulyn Powell about why they’re suing the city and county.

“I experienced what I consider a very typical date rape experience,” Senko said, “where my perpetrator slipped a drug into my drink and basically took my choices from me.”

Senko said the system then took justice away from her.

“An investigation wasn’t really held,” she said. “It was multiple days before detectives were assigned. There were witnesses from that night that were never contacted. The site of the crime was never visited.”

She said when she learned about the 2018 lawsuit, in which other women shared similar experiences with the process, she realized it hadn’t just happened to her.

“I quickly realized that there wasn’t a problem with me or my case, but that there was a much larger systemic issue going on,” Senko said.

This lawsuit blames understaffing in the Austin Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit, a lack of thorough investigating, and a culture that discriminates against the women telling their stories — who often feel they aren’t believed or taken seriously.

Senko said at this point, it isn’t just about her case.

“I also hope that you know for every survivor that’s out there — whether they reported or not — they know that they’re not alone,” Senko said. “And that there’s an army of women that are really here trying to fight for change.”

The City of Austin released a statement saying it’s aware of the lawsuit and is continuing work to improve the criminal justice process for sexual assault cases.

In a statement sent to KXAN on Tuesday, the Travis County D.A.Margaret Moore said:

“As of this afternoon, the plaintiffs have not afforded us a courtesy copy of the lawsuit, nor have we been served. Therefore, I am unable to respond to any specifics. However, I am confident that this Office has consistently fought for the constitutional rights of all citizens, including sexual assault victims, thoroughly and vigorously. I expect this lawsuit to be as unsuccessful in state court as it was in federal court.”

Previous lawsuits

Moore was previously named in the 2018 lawsuit, along with Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, and other Austin officials.

Prior to that, Moore was named in another lawsuit, along with First Assistant DA Melinda Montford. In this lawsuit, the victim claimed that Moore and Montford conspired together to say that her alleged sexual assault was consensual.

The victim, UT senior honors student Emily Borchardt, said she was abducted, strangled and repeatedly raped by three men over a 12-hour period in January 2018. The lawsuit claimed that despite Borchardt making it clear the incident was not consensual — in addition to DNA evidence — the DA’s Office twice declined to prosecute for any of the sexual assaults.

Due to the DA’s Office choice not to prosecute, Borchardt joined a class-action lawsuit, after which Borchardt’s attorneys said put tremendous pressure on Moore and Montford — and potentially jeopardized Moore’s re-election.

A family friend of Borchardt claims she received a call back from Montford and that the First Assistant DA made malicious and false claims about Borchardt. These conversations, attorneys said, were recorded.

Then, the lawsuit claimed, Moore reviewed and publicly consented to Montford’s misconduct, with Moore reportedly saying in a news article that the allegations were “unfounded.”

In July, Moore conceded her bid for re-election to Democratic primary runoff opponent, José Garza, who will face Republican candidate Martin Harry in November.

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