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Eliza Fletcher murder: Former law enforcement official says police ‘dropped the ball’ investigating 2021 rape

A former federal law enforcement official says the Memphis Police Department didn’t properly investigate a 2021 rape that was allegedly committed by the same individual who police say killed Eliza Fletcher.

Cleotha Henderson, 38, was charged with first-degree murder and especially aggravated kidnappings in relation to the death of Fletcher; he was also charged with aggravated rape in relation to a September 2021 incident involving another Memphis woman.

The woman, Alicia Franklin, sued the Memphis Police Department and alleged that it didn’t properly investigate the 2021 incident, which allowed Henderson to remain out of jail.

“Cleotha Abston [Henderson] should and could have been arrested and indicted for the aggravated rape… many months earlier, most likely in the year 2021,” the lawsuit states. “And the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher would not have occurred.”

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Henderson and Franklin met on an online dating app in August 2021, the lawsuit states, adding that they met up for what was intended to be a first date. The lawsuit states that Henderson went by the name “Cleo” on the dating app.

When the two met for a date outside a Memphis apartment, which was Henderson’s last address, he allegedly forced the woman into a vacant unit within the apartment complex while holding a gun, threatening to kill her.

“He also blindfolded her with a T-shirt and threatened to kill her,” the lawsuit states, adding that Henderson allegedly took the woman into a car and “forced her into the backseat and raped her.”

Investigators sent a rape kit to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations for analysis, which took nine months to complete and didn’t return a match for Henderson until Sept. 5, three days after Fletcher died.

Fletcher was allegedly kidnapped by Henderson on the morning of Sept. 2, and police say that she was “abducted and forced into” his dark-colored GMC Terrain. Her body was found on Sept. 5 in the “rear of a vacant duplex apartment.”

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations told Fox News Digital that the Memphis Police Department didn’t request an expedited analysis of the sexual assault kit from the September 2021 incident, and “no suspect information or DNA standard was included in the submission.”

If a request for expedited analysis was made, results could have been made within five business days, the spokesperson added.

According to the lawsuit, police “took no physical evidence directly from the crime scene itself” when the crime was reported. The victim gave police the name “Cleo,” a phone number, a description of the car used in the incident, information about the dating app the two met on, and social media information.

The lawsuit states that Franklin couldn’t identify the suspect in a lineup by police, who she allegedly overheard saying, “Maybe we need to show her a newer picture – this photo is 10 to 12 years old.”

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Police then told Franklin they would show her a newer picture but allegedly failed to do so, according to the lawsuit.

Henderson was previously convicted of the kidnapping and robbery of Memphis attorney Kemper Durand, and his DNA was on file.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Neama Rahmani told Fox News Digital that the Memphis Police Department “dropped the ball” in investigating the 2021 case.

“The Memphis police dropped the ball. This is something that they should have pursued immediately. The rape victim who has come forward that same day, she’s provided physical evidence, she’s provided interview,” Rahmani said. “Police should have investigated immediately and their failure to do so may have cost a woman her life.”

Rahmani added that he thinks the case went cold after the DNA sample took a longer period of time to return, but he said that Memphis police officers should have at least gone to the scene to gather additional evidence, which the lawsuit alleges didn’t happen.

If the Memphis Police Department had decided to request an expedited analysis, Rahmani argues that the “tragedy could have been avoided.”

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While Rahmani feels that police didn’t properly investigate the alleged rape, he doesn’t think the lawsuit will be successful.

“I think her case will be dismissed because it’s well established that a delay or even failure to investigate is not actionable in civil courts. Generally failure to act aren’t the basis for civil liability by police officers,” Rahmani said.

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokesperson for the National Police Association who previously worked cases involving sex crimes, told Fox News Digital that it was hard for the Memphis Police Department to predict that the suspect would go on to allegedly murder someone, and if they did, the request would have been expedited.

“We have the benefit of hindsight, it’s called hindsight bias. So, of course, I would imagine Memphis PD, had they been able to predict that this guy was going to go out and rape and murder someone else, they would have asked for it to be expedited,” Smith said. “But this is not the only sexual assault that I’m sure they’re dealing with.”

“We can’t look at Memphis PD and say, ‘Well, you should have known, or you should have predicted,’” she added.

Smith also said that there needs to be a push by politicians to better fund forensic analysis labs to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.

“Any politician should be in favor of this kind of funding. And it can go, you know, like in Memphis, you know, they’re sending it to, they sent this [rape] kit to the [Tennessee Bureau of Investigations], really any police department in a town of 200,000 or more should probably have their own lab.”

A Memphis Police Department public information officer told Fox News Digital that “the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation.”

Fox News’ Michael Ruiz contributed to this report.

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