Los Angeles, CA–A federal judge has ruled that a woman wrongly accused of murder can proceed with her civil rights lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles. In his ruling Monday, Judge Gary Klausner said that the County of Los Angeles and the Sheriff’s Department cannot hold Cherie Townsend in limbo as a suspect in the May 2018 unsolved murder of Susan Leeds.
After being released for lack of evidence, Townsend is still considered a suspect by the Sheriff’s Department in the high profile murder but has remained a free woman.
Townsend was accused of murder by former Sheriff Jim McDonnell after visiting the Promenade on the Peninsula shopping center in Rolling Hills Estates on May 3, 2018, the same day retired nurse Susan Leeds was found in the driver’s seat of her Mercedes SUV stabbed to death.
Townsend was subsequently arrested by the Sheriff’s Department for the murder but on May 22, 2018, after the Sheriff’s Department presented their evidence against Ms. Townsend to prosecutors, the District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges stating that there was not enough evidence to charge Ms. Townsend with a crime.
Townsend was put in jail for five days during which time Sheriff McDonnell, who was in the middle of facing two challengers in an election the following month, held a news conference where he identified Ms. Townsend as the murder suspect to the media.
Asked if the announcement had been a mistake, McDonnell said, “No, I thought it was what we needed to do to be able to let the community know where we were on the case. There was a lot of interest in that case, certainly, and a lot of anxiety, and to the degree that we were able to provide some closure, some comfort to that community, we wanted to do that.”
Ms. Townsend was released and remains free without restrictions although the Sheriff’s Department won’t clear her as a suspect in the murder.
“The County of Los Angeles has repeatedly tried to deny my client the right to proceed with her lawsuit against them claiming that it would interfere with and impede the Sheriff’s Department’s ongoing criminal investigation into the still unsolved murder of Susan Leeds,” said attorney Nazareth Haysbert. “My client did not commit the murder of Ms. Leeds. The Sheriff’s Department knows it, we know it. It’s been one year and a half. The Sheriff’s Department needs to exonerate my client and return her car and property to her.”He continued, “Cherie Townsend is still dealing with the aftermath of being publicly accused of murder by the sheriff. Her entire life has changed and the lives of her two children. She lives in hiding and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome. She’s scared to be in public because she thinks that everyone looks at her like she’s a murderer and when she sees the police she gets nervous with fear.”
Ms. Townsend is currently suing the County of Los Angeles, former Sheriff Jim McDonnell, various Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officers, the City of Rancho Palos Verdes and Mayor Susan Brooks, the City of Rolling Hills Estates and Mayor Britt Huff for defamation, emotional distress, negligence, false arrest/imprisonment and violation of civil rights.
A jury trial date has been set for July 28, 2020.
Immediate Press Release Via Jasmyne Cannick