AUBURN — Surveillance video from a downtown Lewiston office building cast enough doubt on a woman’s story of kidnapping to persuade prosecutors to confront the alleged victim, who admitted to having lied about being forced into a vehicle at 4 a.m. on May 24.
On Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis filed dismissal of all charges against Joshua Brown, 41, of Rumford. He had faced two felony charges that were brought last month by an Androscoggin County grand jury, including kidnapping, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. He also was charged with two counts of unlawful sexual contact, both felony and misdemeanor.
“My analysis of the case after we reviewed everything is that we were not going to be able to prove any of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt in front of a jury,” Matulis said Wednesday.
Brown’s wife, Sheri, said Wednesday the ordeal her family has experienced since the criminal charges were filed has cost them jobs, tens of thousands of dollars, their health and their reputations in the community.
Brown said she, her husband and teenage son have endured more than 100 days of shunning, ridicule and finger-pointing.
James Howaniec, Joshua Brown’s attorney, said Wednesday that it was an investigation and series of fortunate circumstances that led to the unraveling of a false account of events that morning in May.
His co-counsel in the case, Jesse Archer, had scoured the area of Lisbon and Pine streets for surveillance cameras that may have captured the alleged abduction. What he eventually found was black-and-white footage from a camera inside an office cooperative on the first floor of a building at that corner.
The video showed a portion of a taillight of Brown’s car that remained lit the entire time it was stopped, thereby disproving the woman’s story that the driver had exited the car to compel her into the passenger seat, Howaniec said.
When Matulis was made aware of the camera, he subpoenaed the video footage from the building’s owner, Howaniec said.
“That’s a significant piece of evidence in this case,” he said. “Thank God it didn’t get deleted.”
Once confronted with the new evidence from the video, the woman recanted after having already told a grand jury that she had been forced into Brown’s car.
“I really think Andrew’s the hero,” Howaniec said. “I really think what (he) did in this case is a profile in courage.”
Prosecutors have “very difficult decisions to make in these cases,” Howaniec said. “Obviously, he did the right thing.”
Police had believed the initial contact had taken place one block from Lisbon and Pine streets. But after viewing footage from a surveillance camera outside 8th District Courthouse on Lisbon Street, Howaniec said it was clear police had been mistaken about where the alleged abduction had occurred.
The woman told police Brown first encountered her on Lisbon Street in front of the Lewiston Public Library. He offered her a ride and she declined.
The second time Brown approached her, he pulled his car in front of her at the intersection of Lisbon and Chestnut streets, got out and, taking hold of her arm and jacket, walked her to the passenger side of his car, police wrote in an affidavit in support of Brown’s warrantless arrest.
Brown forced the woman to sit in the passenger seat by closing the door while she was between it and the seat. She told police she had said, “No,” to Brown a few times to getting a ride with him, “and was afraid to say anything” more. She told police she didn’t feel Brown would take no for an answer, according to the affidavit.
He then drove her to Minot Avenue in Auburn where he stopped at a store. The woman got out of his car. Surveillance video shows Brown going into the store, then exiting and getting back into his car. The woman remained on the sidewalk.
The woman said Brown had forced her to have sexual contact with him on the way to the store.
Howaniec said his client had “adamantly denied” all charges from the time of his arrest and had been prepared to go to trial, likely in November. Brown told him he had offered the woman a ride and that all contact with her had been consensual. He told police he had been driving around Lewiston because he had been running early for the start of the shift at his job in Portland.
For Sheri Brown, vindication for her husband isn’t enough.
Just three days after he was charged, he was notified by certified letter that he’d lost the job he’d had for 15 years.
A couple of weeks before he was charged, the family had applied for membership in a local ATV club, only to be denied for “moral” reasons after the charges were made public, she said.
Their son, a junior in high school, had to miss the last two weeks of the school year because of verbal harassment by students, she said.
Although she kept her job and was supported by her work community, Sheri Brown’s doctor had to double her anxiety medication and prescribed anti-depressants, she said.
They traded cars with their daughter, who lives out of town, in an effort at greater anonymity.
After losing his job, Joshua Brown had to cash in his 401(k), incurring substantial financial penalties. In all, Sheri Brown estimates the family has lost more than $60,000 because of the charges.
They were told they must wait a month to be refunded the $10,000 cash bail she posted for him to get out of jail.
Within 10 hours of the alleged kidnapping, police had arrested her husband, Sheri Brown said.
“It was a huge rush to judgment,” she said. “If they would have listened to him from the beginning and looked at the cameras … this would have never happened.”
Shunned by many in the community and unable to speak publicly about the case, Sheri Brown said the experience has shaken her.
“I was standing by my husband 100 percent because I know his character,” she said of Joshua, her husband of 24 years.
When their son graduates from high school next spring, they will pack up and leave the state, she said.
“Maine is going to be history to me, to us,” she said. “I’m outta here. We’re outta here. Not to say that anywhere else people are going to be fair, but, you know, we won’t have people breathing down our necks and we’re not going to have the pointing and talking and whispering.”