From The Charlotte Observer of December 16, 2011 by Meghan Cooke
A man accused of sexually assaulting two women Thursday morning was questioned by police and released just hours before he assaulted a third woman, investigators said.
But Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said they didn’t immediately press charges against the suspect, 31-year-old Lavatae Evans, after the first attack because of inconsistencies in statements given to investigators.
Lavatae Evans, 31. Photo courtesy of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.
Just before 6 a.m. Thursday, police received a report of a possible sexual assault at a hotel on Equipment Drive, off West Sugar Creek Road near Interstate 85.
Police said two women – a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old – voluntarily went to the hotel with Evans but were later sexually assaulted at gunpoint. The women sustained minor injuries, according to a police report.
Police said at least one of the victims identified her attacker, and officers found Evans at the hotel.
Evans voluntarily came to the Law Enforcement Center for questioning, said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Maj. Vicki Foster. At the time, Evans was not in custody nor under arrest, she said.
Records show Evans, a convicted felon, has been arrested several times in Mecklenburg County. More than a decade ago, he was arrested in connection with a 1997 incident and charged with first-degree rape of a child, first-degree sex offense against a child, kidnapping and robbery. The rape and kidnapping charges were dismissed, records show, but he was convicted on the robbery charge. For the sex offense, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge: felony crime against nature.
Foster said Evans was cooperative Thursday morning and that investigators interviewed him for about an hour.
But police said they found inconsistencies in statements they’d received, and detectives went to an area hospital to meet with the victims in order to clarify information.
Police didn’t elaborate on the nature of those inconsistencies.
Evans hadn’t asked to leave the Law Enforcement Center, Foster said, but police allowed him to go around 8:20 a.m.
Then, between about 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., police said, Evans ran into his third victim, an 18-year-old woman, on a bus when she asked him for directions to the SouthPark area. It’s unclear whether he’d previously met the young woman.
Evans offered to help, but then they got off the bus along Oaklawn Avenue just north of uptown, not far from his home on Brewton Drive, police said.
Evans told her he needed to talk to someone, police said, and she waited outside on the steps of his home while he went inside. When he returned, he pulled her inside, forced her into a bedroom at knifepoint and then forced her to perform a sex act, according to police. She received a minor knife wound to her hand during the attack.
She called for help just before noon – about 45 minutes after Foster said police were signing warrants for Evans’ arrest in connection with the earlier sex assaults.
He was arrested Thursday afternoon following a 25-minute standoff with police at his home.
He’s now facing multiple charges, including first-degree sex offenses, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon, in connection with the assaults of all three women. He remained in Mecklenburg jail Friday under a $830,000 bond.
In a statement released Thursday, police said Evans assaulted the third woman while officers were attempting to locate him.
On Friday, the Observer and other local media received an anonymous email message that said police had questioned Evans after the initial assaults and then released him. Police held a press conference Friday afternoon to explain the investigation.
Foster said that as a result of the inconsistent statements, police didn’t have sufficient evidence to charge Evans while he was at the Law Enforcement Center. She said investigators can’t rely only on a victim pointing out a suspect to make an arrest.
“We have to do an investigation,” she said. “We want to be fair to both parties.”
Foster said Evans was free to leave at any time, but cooperated in the investigation. She said officers had his address and believed they’d be able to find him if charges were later filed.
“The best we could do was try to verify the information,” Foster said.
Dr. Paul Friday, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, explained that once authorities take a person into custody, they must file charges within 24 hours.
“They’ll take someone into custody and won’t let them leave if they believe they can gather enough evidence – probable cause – to get a warrant for his arrest,” Friday said. “If they didn’t have enough to piece it together, then they technically couldn’t arrest him.”
He said it appears police followed procedure.
He said the criminal justice system upholds individual rights and works to prevent people from being detained unnecessarily.
“It’s a cost of having a democratic criminal justice system,” he said. “Nobody likes these things to happen. Some people slip through the cracks. But I don’t know a way to caulk the cracks without creating an oppressive society.” Staff writer Gary L. Wright and staff researcher Maria David contributed.