Press "Enter" to skip to content

The criminal charge has been dropped, but Patrick McNamara could still have his day in court. Will he sue?

Patrick McNamara spent three months under a shadow, but it took less than three minutes for it to clear last Friday, when a Charlottesville judge dropped the criminal charge against him.

What’s next for the 37-year-old technology executive formerly accused of groping a woman on the city’s riverside Rivanna Trail? Will he sue?

"If there’s an opportunity, we’ll have to look into it," McNamara told The Daily Progress. "There’s been no accountability."

Standing outside Charlottesville General District Court beside his lawyer, McNamara seemed relieved by the case dismissal but also unsatisfied. His lawyer, Rhonda Quagliana, explained why.

"The main development that never came was an apology," Quagliana told The Daily Progress. "Somebody stepping up and saying, ‘You know what, we want to be accountable.’"

Quagliana said that the prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the assault charge was inadequate.

"There is no longer proof beyond a reasonable doubt to support this prosecution," was the closest the motion came to agreeing with Quagliana that the alleged victim had misidentified the perpetrator, reported to be a tall, White man wearing a puffy, white jacket who grabbed her buttocks while she was out for a run on the trail Jan. 12.

The criminal charge came undone after Quagliana hired a private investigator to canvas the neighborhood and found that Cosner Brothers Body Shop, which sits just off the trail, had sent surveillance footage to police in late January.

Turned over to the defense April 9, the video evidence shows McNamara clad in a dark hoodie and walking past the victim a few minutes before the attack. The videos also show another man, a tall, White man wearing a puffy, white jacket walking from the direction of the reported attack minutes after it is said to have occurred.

"There was nothing in this file, not a police report, not a scintilla of evidence, that would have put us on notice that these exonerating videos existed," Quagliana said.

Sitting on exculpatory videos isn’t all that troubles the lawyer. She contends that the misidentification occurred because police let amateurs do their sleuthing.

As the prosecutor conceded in the dismissal motion, a friend of the victim snapped a photograph of McNamara on one of his regular walks, and then the victim made the identification after seeing that image.

"Any single image is suggestive — a terrible procedure," legal expert David Heilberg told The Daily Progress.

Such a "procedure" might violate the "Model Policy on Eyewitness Identification," published by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, which urges showing a victim an array of photos.

"There was no attempt to bring what happened within the best practices," said Heilberg. "Police should follow a double-blind procedure."

The Daily Progress reached out to Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis, who declined to comment. He did, however, promise there would be an internal investigation.

"It’s going to take a little bit of time," he said. "Typically, we get them done within 45 days."

Judge Matthew Quatrara, who signed McNamara’s arrest warrant, told The Daily Progress that he does not provide comment outside the courtroom.

"Eyewitness identifications are inherently unreliable," said Heilberg. "They’re the main reason why we have wrongful convictions."

Heilberg pointed to statistics showing that nearly three quarters of wrongful convictions undone by DNA testing involved a misidentification.

Yet Heilberg isn’t confident that a lawsuit in this case will ever reach a jury, because Virginia public officials are typically protected by the concept of sovereign immunity. That means that McNamara might have to demonstrate a willful act or some gross negligence, and not just simple negligence.

"A jury might be sympathetic if you can get the case there," said Heilberg, suggesting that a lawsuit could be tossed by a judge.

McNamara contends that the questionably obtained misidentification was the sole evidence against him.

"I’m speechless that that is allowed," he said.

And he said that a jury might be interested to hear about the eviction process launched against him, about the anguish of seeing his image carried by a city press release trumpeting his arrest and about his Boston-based employer putting him on leave before trial.

"There was no presumption of innocence," he said. "Everyone’s standing behind lawyers."

McNamara, by contrast, spoke out to various media outlets throughout the ordeal, a risky strategy for any suspect because he locked himself into his alibi. His outspoken approach sometimes put him at odds with own lawyer, whose billings, he said, exceed $12,000.

"What he’s really owed is an apology and some accountability for this," said Quagliana. "If this can happen to him, it can happen to any of us. And this community deserves better than that."


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *