Police deny reports woman beaten, repeatedly raped, robbed

A Canadian woman alleges that Mexican police gang-raped her in jail after she and her fiancé were arrested while on vacation in Mexico for New Year's Eve, CBC News has learned.

Rebecca Rutland, 41, says police in the Mexican resort town of Playa del Carmen took the Ontario couple into custody in the late hours of Dec. 31 following a confrontation between officers and her fiancé.

Once in jail, Rutland, a social worker doing her thesis in Thunder Bay, Ont., says two police officers took turns raping her. Rutland and her fiancé, Richard Coleman, 51, of Toronto, also allege officers robbed them of hundreds of dollars and other valuables.

Mexican authorities deny that Rutland was sexually assaulted and dispute the couple's version of events, saying the two were very intoxicated and quarrelled with police in an exchange witnessed by several people.

After several rum-and-cola drinks, Rutland and Coleman say they stopped at a restaurant to use the washroom on their way back to their nearby resort when a man tried to pick up Rutland. Coleman and the man began to argue on the street packed with partygoers and four police officers intervened, the couple says.

Coleman says he had a heated exchange with the officers when the police wanted to search him for drugs. Coleman, a six-foot-tall man with long hair tied in a ponytail and gold hoop earrings, says he believes police targeted him due to his looks.

"I don't think anything I could've said or not said in that moment in time would have really changed it," said Coleman. "But I believe when dealing with a police officer that is overstepping his authority. I believe it is incumbent on me to point it out to them, even if it means I am going to have to deal with some charges afterwards."

Police threw Coleman to the ground, allegedly causing a gash on his forehead, and handcuffed him. They also arrested Rutland.

On the way to the police station, Rutland said a female officer stole one of her rings. Coleman claims an officer also stole more than $700 cash, his BlackBerry and jewelry. He says he later discovered the word "deceased" posted as his BlackBerry Messenger status, as well as Facebook updates via BlackBerry stating he beat his wife.

Allegations of repeated rape

At the police station, a large city block-sized facility, the couple were brought to separate areas, they say. Coleman says he was placed with another foreigner in a cell that reeked of urine.

Rutland says she was taken to a room where an officer conducted a frontal body search, touching her breasts and undoing her jeans. She alleges the officer then made her kneel and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Two police officers, she alleges, then took turns raping her.

© Stephen Puddicombe/CBCRebecca Rutland went to the Canadian consular agency in Playa del Carmen on Jan. 12 to report the sexual assault.
She says she didn't put up much resistance because she feared for her life.

"I did try sort of push him away but I had four officers standing there in Kevlar with machine-guns and my feeling was if I tried to resist it was going to make things a whole lot worse for me," said Rutland. "And I just wanted to get out as intact as possible, which is not really all that intact actually."

Rutland said the police officers beat her and also bit her during the ordeal, once below her lip and another time on her right arm leaving a gash and bruise.

At one point, Rutland said she saw the night supervisor at the door. "I remember looking up and thinking and seeing him and thinking, 'Thank God, somebody is going to stop this.' [Then] he turned around and walked away," said Rutland.

Coleman said he learned about Rutland's alleged rape from fellow inmates cleaning and then tried to kill himself, hoping the act would draw attention to his partner's plight.

"I was completely losing it and getting completely depressed and was thinking there's a good chance that neither of us are going to get out of here," said Coleman. Both say they feared the officers would kill them.

"I arrived at some bizarre logical process that the only way we were going to get out of here alive is if one of us could ... if I could kill myself so they would have to bring in authorities, at least then Rebecca would have a chance," he said.

Coleman said officers found him trying to commit suicide by hanging himself with a shirt, then beat him and recuffed him.

Mexican police investigate

Eighteen hours passed before the two were released from jail after paying a 1,600-peso, or $130 Cdn, fine, they say.

The two have filed complaints with the judicial police who investigate local police in Mexico and also the Canadian consular agency in Playa del Carmen, which is about 60 kilometres south of Cancun.

"We are very concerned about these allegations," said Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Alain Cacchione from Ottawa.

Mexican authorities say they are investigating the allegations and co-operating with Canadian officials based at the consulate.

"At the request of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Parliamentary Secretary [Deepak] Obhrai has spoken with Mexico's ambassador to Canada to discuss the case," said Cacchione. "We welcome the Government of Mexico's investigation into these allegations, and we expect a thorough and transparent investigation and a timely resolution to this case."

Rutland says she hoped a video camera in the room where the alleged sexual assault took place would prove her allegations. But Rutland says she was told the camera, apparently screened by officers at another station, has been broken since Dec. 28, days before the alleged attack.

Quintana Roo State Attorney General Francisco Alor Quezada said a rape kit test on Rutland came back negative.

A sexual assault expert from Toronto's Women's College Hospital, however, says a negative finding on the kit doesn't mean a sex assault didn't happen.

"[It could be] for a lot of the reasons, perhaps no penetration by penis, no ejaculation, perhaps digital penetration, a condom was used, a delay in presentation or evidence, did not persist in time," said Dierdre Bainbridge, a primary health-care nurse practitioner with the hospital's Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre.

"It isn't a logical conclusion that no findings equals no sexual assault," said Bainbridge. "The sexual assault evidence kit is one part of a case."

Rutland and Coleman have hired a Mexican lawyer to represent them in the case.

"I'm not going to let this go," said Rutland, who vowed to pursue every avenue possible.