A West Columbia woman has been jailed on felony charges that she made up a report about a rape and armed robbery in Five Points over the weekend.
The case has left Columbia police angry over a false report that further fueled fears over public safety in the popular entertainment district. And Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said the case wasted about 90 man-hours spent by police officers, sexual trauma nurses and others who helped investigate the incident.
Meanwhile, advocates for sexual assault victims expressed concern over the impact the false report may have on true victims. Those victims often feel that no one will believe them, said Pamela Jacobs, executive director for the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Heather Felicia Atkins, 26, was charged Tuesday with filing a false police report and perjury for making a false oath to officers, according to arrest warrants provided by the Columbia Police Department. She was being held in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on a $20,000 bond. Both charges are felonies. Each carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
During a Wednesday news conference, police Chief Randy Scott described an elaborate account of a woman being punched in the face by two men, dragged behind a Harden Street restaurant, sexually assaulted and then robbed.
The woman told police the attack happened early Friday morning, Scott said. She reported it on Sunday.
But the sexual assault and robbery never happened, Scott said.
Instead, Atkins had been in a fight with another woman over a man and was trying to cover up that incident, Scott said. Atkins booking photo showed a blackened left eye.
Investigators reviewed hours of footage from Five Points security cameras, but no evidence of the attack was found, Scott said.
Atkins confessed Tuesday night to making up the entire account, he said.
She lied to the city of Columbia Police Department, Scott said. She lied to her parents.
Scott said he held a press conference because the story about the reported rape was gaining traction on social media websites and the department was receiving calls from people who were asking why officers had not made an arrest.
This really breaks the public trust and further puts the fear of violence in our community, Scott said.
Stranger rapes are rare. So are false rape reports. More often, victims do not report sexual assaults because they are embarrassed and afraid, Jacobs said.
I want people to continue to believe victims, Jacobs said. Many dont come forward because they fear people wont believe them.
Scott said his officers took Atkins claims seriously until her story began to unravel.
Everyone at the Columbia Police Department takes sexual assault seriously, he said. We take domestic violence seriously. These cases will not be put on the backburner.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.