Tattered Tale: A dubious sex and drugs complaint has a St. Louis police officer demanding justice

Cassidy Harris was at a south St. Louis bar last winter when she claimed to encounter city police officer Michael Haman acting improperly.

"I would like to report one of your officers — badge No. 304. He is sleeping with a customer at Johnny Gitto's in the bathroom and doing cocaine with her in the bathroom," stated Harris in a 911 call she made to police the night of February 27. "[He is] working the front door in his full uniform and is being nothing but a loser for the badge. I want to know why he's getting away with this."

According to court documents, Harris made a follow-up call the next morning to the police department's internal affairs division. "If you guys don't do anything about this, I'm going to go all the way up to President Bush, and don't think that I can't," Harris relayed in her voicemail message. "I will take all your mother-fucking jobs, I swear to fucking God. This motherfucker was letting her suck his dick in the bathroom."

Police reports indicate that officers arrived at Johnny Gitto's shortly after Harris' 911 call to find Haman working his department-approved secondary job as a security guard for the restaurant. The police noted that Haman seemed alert, with his "pupils appearing normal and his speech being clear."

The officers interviewed witnesses who claimed that a belligerent Harris was observed pounding on the door to the women's bathroom and screaming that the patrons inside were snorting cocaine. When two women emerged from the ladies' room, Harris reportedly challenged them to a fight and threatened to "drop kick" them. Haman then intervened and removed Harris from the establishment at approximately 2 a.m. As they headed toward the door, one witness said she overheard Harris yell that she planned to tell people that Haman was also using cocaine in the restroom.

A few days after the incident, Capt. John Hayden, head of internal affairs, reached Harris by phone. Transcripts of that conversation revealed that Harris had not actually witnessed Haman engaging in sex or doing drugs at the restaurant. Instead, she said she passed along information she heard from a stranger while they both waited in line to use the restroom at Johnny Gitto's.

Haman was temporarily relieved of his patrol duties and forced to take a drug test. The results came back negative. Finding no other evidence to further corroborate Harris' allegations, the department concluded its investigation and cleared Haman of any wrongdoing.

It could have ended there — if only Haman and his colleagues in the St. Louis Police Officers' Association would let it go. Instead, Haman filed a civil suit in April accusing Harris of slander, abuse of process and malicious prosecution for the allegations made during her call to 911 and her voicemail to internal affairs.

The lawsuit seeks $75,000 in damages and is the first time in memory that a St. Louis police officer has sued someone for filing a false police report. On November 10, Haman's attorney, Albert Watkins, took his client's claims a step further when he requested that the St. Louis circuit attorney press criminal charges against Harris for filing a false claim.

"The nature of these complaints is so prurient and salacious they demand ramifications," says Watkins. "If you're going to play this kind of game, do it in seventh grade, and not when you're jeopardizing a man's career and livelihood."

Gary Wiegert, president of the Police Officers' Association, says his organization has considered filing similar lawsuits but never followed through until now. The police union is picking up all of Haman's legal bills in the case. (Haman declined an interview request for this story.)

"We're taking a proactive stance," says Wiegert. "On this occasion, the lies were so blatant, and yet the police department treated the claims as though they had validity and then refused to charge the woman when it became apparent they were made up. People need to know that a police officer doesn't surrender his civil rights when he puts on a badge. You can't make these claims without repercussions."

Cassidy Harris concedes she made the 911 call, but doesn't recall the exact language she used that night to describe her confrontation with Haman. She adds that she soon put the incident behind her. Then, last April, the 28-year-old Harris says she was reading the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when she saw mention of her name in an article about Haman's lawsuit.

"That's how I found out I was being sued," maintains Harris. "The last time I talked to police was when I told them I didn't see the officer doing this stuff. It's what the woman in line in front of me told me. They thanked me for my honesty."

Until recently, Harris represented herself in legal proceedings related to the suit. In September, she stormed out of a video deposition in which attorney Watkins grilled Harris about her former occupation as an exotic dancer and her inability to recall key facts about the February 27 incident — even though she said she consumed just six ounces of white zinfandel wine that night.

"Mr. Watkins is the reason attorneys have such a bad reputation," opines Harris. "I think he has me confused with someone else. There must be a Cassandra Harris out there with money, and he's angry because he now realizes I'm not her."

Watkins counters that the lawsuit has never been about money; rather, it's an attempt to curb the rising number of false complaints that criminals use as leverage against police.

Of the 469 complaints made to internal affairs last year, 44 percent were found to be true and factual allegations that could merit disciplinary action, according St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department records. Some 43 percent of complaints were dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence, while just 6 percent were dismissed for being patently false.

"Even that's terribly alarming when you consider what it puts the officer through," says Watkins. "How do you think Officer Haman's wife reacted to these allegations? These false reports completely compromise the integrity of internal affairs and the officers who protect and serve."

Earlier this month, Harris retained St. Louis defense attorney Philip Dennis to represent her in the civil suit and against any criminal charges that may result from her complaint against Haman.

Dennis says his first order of business is to submit to the court the paperwork and motions that Harris failed to file when she represented herself. He then plans to attack the merits of the case.

"Here you have an incident that could have gone quietly away, but instead you have the plaintiffs making this as public as they can," argues Dennis.

"Are they that concerned about the reputation of this officer, or are they more concerned with quashing all complaints made against the police?" he says. "To me it sounds like a warning. File a charge that gets dismissed and you better watch out, because now we're going to sue you and ask the circuit attorney to file criminal charges, too."