BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An ex-Alabama state trooper who was accused of raping a woman while on duty was sentenced to six months in jail after he pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor sexual misconduct charge.
Felony charges of rape and sodomy against Samuel McHenry II were dismissed as part of a plea agreement he filed in Butler County District Court in Greenville.
McHenry’s Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission certification will be revoked and he’ll have to register as a sex offender, according to the agreement. Alabama Law Enforcement Agency spokesman Sgt. Steve Jarrett said McHenry began working as a trooper in 2009.
The plea deal comes amid increased national attention on allegations of sexual misconduct by law enforcement officers. In a yearlong investigation of sexual misconduct by U.S. law enforcement, The Associated Press learned of about 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period for offenses including rape and propositioning citizens for sex while on duty. The figure includes only officers whose licenses have been revoked. Not all states take such action, maintain accurate records or have a statewide system to decertify officers for misconduct.
In McHenry’s case, the trooper drove a woman away from the scene of a car accident the night of Dec. 6 and threatened to take her to jail if she didn’t have sex with him, according to a warrant. He made the demands after he found pill bottles and an empty nasal spray bottle in her car at the accident scene, investigators have said.
McHenry drove the woman to a closed store after having sex with her, then let her out and drove off, investigators have said.
McHenry was ordered to report to the Butler County Jail by March 12 and serve the complete sentence by March 3, 2017. He was also ordered to pay court costs, fines and crime victims’ compensation fees.
Butler County District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer said she recused her office from the matter because McHenry was involved with pending cases in county court. Cases in which McHenry was the sole witness against a defendant will be dropped, Tesmer said.
Prosecutors in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office handled McHenry’s case and did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
“Both sides have to agree to it, so in that sense there was that discussion about is this acceptable to both sides,” said James Williamson, one of the attorneys who represented McHenry. Williamson said state prosecutors offered McHenry the plea deal.
Prosecutors and McHenry’s defense team reached an agreement after about three hours of negotiations, said Judge J. MacDonald Russell Jr., adding that judicial ethics rules prevent him from giving further details on the case.
“I suppose the court can always refuse a plea bargain but that’s not done very often,” he said. “I’ve never refused a plea bargain that the parties have hammered out and worked on since they know the facts.”
Stanford University law professor Robert Weisberg, who was not involved in McHenry’s case, said the reduced charge may indicate a lack of evidence to prove force was used — a key point in a trial that could have hinged on the trooper’s word against the victim’s.
“But you have a plausible argument that the woman didn’t consent. So that’s a fallback that the prosecution has, and it’s usually a good thing to have because otherwise the guy might get off completely,” said Weisberg, who is the faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and lists criminal procedure, plea bargaining and sentencing among his areas of expertise.
“The plea offer would make sense if this was a non-stranger case with some kind of complicated or ambiguous relationship between them,” Weisberg said. “If it was a one-off act of alleged violence, and if there was some reasonable doubt over whether the guy really raped her it would make sense for the guy to go to trial.”