Crowe case plaintiff Houser settles lawsuit
J. Harry Jones
Oct. 12, 2011
DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO — Aaron Houser, one of three teenagers wrongfully accused of murdering Stephanie Crowe in 1998, has settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount of money against four Escondido police officers, one Oceanside police officer and a psychologist.
Michael Crowe, the only remaining plaintiff, has not settled, and a trial in federal court is tentatively to begin Oct. 31, although a request to continue the proceeding into November has been made.
Joshua Treadway, the third teen who was arrested, opted out of the lawsuit years ago.
The notice of settlement was filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego on Tuesday.
How much money Houser will receive as a result of the settlement is confidential, lawyers for Houser, the officers, and the city of Escondido say. The San Diego Union-Tribune plans to challenge that assertion with the argument that settlements regarding public employees, represented by attorneys working for city-authorized insurance companies, should be a matter of public record.
Twelve-year old Stephanie Crowe was found stabbed to death in her Escondido home on Jan. 21, 1998. Her older brother Michael, 14 at the time, and his friends, Houser and Treadway, were arrested soon afterward. Following hours of interrogations by Escondido police and an Oceanside police officer called in to help, authorities said that Crowe and Treadway confessed. The courts later said the confessions were coerced.
About a year after the killing, on the eve of the boys’ trial, all charges against them were dropped. DNA testing showed that Stephanie’s blood was on the sweatshirt of a transient who had been in her neighborhood the night of the slaying, acting oddly and banging on doors.
That man, Richard Tuite, was eventually convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
A lawsuit brought by all three boys claiming violation of rights against self-incrimination, false arrest and prosecution was brought soon after, but U.S. District Judge John Rhoades threw out the bulk of the case in 2004 and 2005. Rhoades ruled that while the interrogations were harsh, they could not be considered coerced because they were never used against the youths at a criminal trial.
In 2010, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S., Circuit Court of Appeals revived key portions of the lawsuit, setting the stage for the settlement and trial to come.
The Crowe case has had far reaching implications. District Attorney Paul Pfingst was defeated in 2002 while seeking a third term in office. His challenger, Bonnie Dumanis, aired television ads leading up to the election that featured a picture of Stephanie Crowe as an example of why a new county district attorney was needed.
The case was even made into a 2002 TV move called “The Interrogation of Michael Crowe,” which continues to be shown all these years later.