Former trooper wins in sex suit
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A woman who claimed that a state trooper forced her into a sexual encounter after a traffic stop in 2008 was unable to convince a jury.
Instead, the jury decided Julie Fato seduced Derek Snavely and willingly had sex with him after he stopped her weaving vehicle in the early hours of the morning on U.S. 60 near St. Albans.
Her attorneys appealed to jurors to consider what Snavely did as "unconstitutional "and outrageous" and asked them to compensate her financially for the emotional and physical distress she suffered for a so-called sexual assault.
But after watching video from the traffic stop and from security cameras at the house where Fato lived, and after learning of the woman's long history of emotional, physical and relationship issues, they were unable to come to a verdict against Snavely.
Fato's attorney, Lonnie Simmons, asked the jury to send a strong statement to law enforcement officers about their conduct.
He said to jurors in his closing argument Thursday, "You can influence our community and the way policing is done and you can encourage other women like Julie Fato, who had the guts to come forward."
Simmons was joined by Michael Clifford and Shawn Bayliss in presenting the case. They said the woman was impaired by alcohol and medications and vulnerable to Snavely's authority over her when she feared she would get a DUI.
"He really needs to be held accountable," Simmons said. "And he has not been held accountable to this point.
Snavely resigned under pressure from the State Police after the incident, but no criminal charges were filed against him. He is now police chief of Hinton.
After the verdict was read by Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky, a smiling Snavely hugged his attorneys and family members.
"It's a good day," he said "I said all along it would be good for the truth to come out, and it did. I'm very, very pleased."
Clifford also addressed jurors just before their deliberations began at 1 p.m. Thursday.
"It's outrageous what happened," he yelled at jurors. "Outrageous! And their entire defense is that she is a lying, mentally disturbed, drunken slut.
"We know what he did was wrong -- he engaged in sexual relations with a person he had stopped while on duty," Clifford said to jurors.
"This man went out in full authority, in a State Police uniform, with his badge, his mace, his handcuffs and you tell me if they were in an equal negotiating position for her to consent."
But jurors were more comfortable with the position of Snavely and his attorney, Lou Ann Cyrus. She said Fato aggressively sat in the front seat of the cruiser and lured the trooper into sex.
"In everything that was said and done that night, Miss Fato was a willing participant," Cyrus told the jury during her closing argument.
"He made a very bad decision, and he gave in to temptation with a pretty lady," she said. "She was in charge of her rights, and she was in charge of her body."
Cyrus said, "She is entitled to no money. My grandmother used to say, 'It takes two to tango,' and it certainly does."
Shortly after starting deliberations, the jury asked to review the security camera video from the home of Jason Knapp, where the two arrived just before 5:30 a.m. That video shows them entering the home, greeting Knapp and proceeding to a bedroom.
At one point, Fato is seen leaving the bedroom to enter a bathroom and then returning to the bedroom. She and Snavely, who was in uniform, are seen coming out the bedroom about 15 minutes later.
The jury continued their consideration of the case for less than an hour afterwards.
Fato left the courtroom immediately after the verdict and made no comment.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4832