2002-02-08 Grand Haven Tribune GH woman fakes attack, robbery no charges to be sought

GH woman fakes attack, robbery No charges to be sought
Grand Haven Tribune

A Grand Haven woman spurred on a city-wide police search Thursday for an attacker and robber who later was determined to be a fabrication in an elaborate hoax, officials said. The 39-year-old woman told officers form the Grand haven Department of Public Safety that a man had attacked her in the elevator of a downtown bank building with a utility knife, causing lacerations to her cheeks and throat, police spokesmen said.

After the call to Bank One, 300 Washington Ave., at 12:31 p.m., about 11 officers tended to the injured woman and spanned the city looking or a man who fit the description given by the woman, police Lt. Rick Yonker said. The woman, who was found with wire wrapped around her wrists, told police she was the victim of strong-armed robbery, Yonker said. She said the man had stolen $50.

She was taken to North Ottawa Community Hospital for treatment of her injuries and released from medical care later in the day. The description given to police was of a Hispanic man about 40-years-old, with a mustache and wearing blue jeans, a tan Carhartt denim jacket and a Caterpillar hat. Yonker said there were some initial indications that made detectives wary of the woman’s story, but the department erred on the side of caution until she received medical treatment and more questions could be asked.

“The blood was dry when officers initially met up with her,” Yonker said. “So there were some suspicions that things may not have happened the way she said. “Also, there was no blood on the elevator floor, which is where the woman said she was when the attack occurred,” Yonker said. Grand Haven detective Tim Bulthuis interviewed the woman at the hospital about 3 p.m. and she admitted to making up the story. The woman indicated to Bulthuis that she had made up the story for the purpose of getting attention, Yonker said.

The utility knife used in the stabbing was found in the bushes outside the bank building, Yonker said. “It appears she stabbed herself out-side and walked into the bank,” Yonker said. A spokesman for the bank at the regional offices in Grand Rapids said the bank never closed down during the incident, and that the woman was in no way connected to Bank One. Police said the woman told police she was either coming from or going to an attorney’s office on the second floor of the building.

Employees in the building said they heard the woman screaming from the elevator shaft and went to her assistance. A call to 911-Central Dispatch also was placed from the building. Deputies from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department, including dogs from the K-9 unit, were called in to assist in the search. Sheriff’s deputies at the Ottawa County Building were outside their usual posts, looking of people fitting the description.

Almost immediately after the call to police, a patron at the U.S. Post Office, 324 Washington Ave., who partially fit the description, was questioned by officers, Grand haven Capt. Dan Shaw said. When the man’s identification and contact information was obtained, he was allowed to go. Gail Harrison, director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said it concerns her that the description given by the woman, who is Caucasian, was that of a Hispanic person. “That goes back to the ingrained fear that white folks have of people of color,” Harrison said. “Often times our only exposure to people of color is through negative media coverage. “When something like this happens, it becomes more credible for the person perpetrating the hoax to identify the assailant as a person of color,” she said. “That’s just a pity.”

After investigators determined the report was a hoax, the woman was turned over to the Department of Ottawa County Mental Health for an evaluation. Ronald Frantz, Ottawa County prosecuting attorney, said no charges will be brought against e woman. “It sounds as though (assistant prosecutor) Greg Babbitt was given the background on the matter and decided that prosecution was not an appropriate action, at least at this point,” Frantz said this morning.