Black rape victim ‘attacked by Eliza Fletcher’s accused killer’ files lawsuit against Memphis
Memphis woman Alicia Franklin says she was raped by Cleotha Abston, who authorities believe abducted and killed billionaire heiress Eliza Fletcher on September 2
A woman in Memphis who was allegedly raped last year by Eliza Fletcher’s alleged killer has filed a lawsuit against the city’s police department accusing them of negligence for not sufficiently investigating her case.
The suit, filed by Alicia Franklin on September 20, says Memphis police may have been able to prevent Fletcher’s kidnapping and death if they had adequately investigated Franklin’s assault in September 21 more seriously.
Franklin, 22, says she was raped by Cleotha Abston, who authorities believe abducted and killed billionaire heiress Fletcher on September 2 as she was running early in the morning.
‘Cleotha Abston should and could have been arrested and indicted for the aggravated rape of Alicia Franklin many months earlier, most likely in the year 2021,’ says the suit filed in Shelby County Circuit Court.
The suit contends that if authorities had acted when Franklin reported her assault, ‘the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher would not have occurred.’
A lawsuit filed by Franklin says Memphis police may have been able to prevent Fletcher’s kidnapping and death if they had adequately investigated Franklin’s assault
The suit says police failed to collect necessary physical evidence, such as fingerprints, from the scene of Franklin’s assault
After a four-day search in September, Eliza Fletcher’s body was discovered near a dilapidated home, just yards from where police last spotted the vehicle she was forced into
Franklin’s suit names the City of Memphis as the only defendant and seeks an unspecified amount of compensation for pain and suffering and other damages.
‘I just think it wasn’t a priority,’ said Franklin on Sunday. ‘I was just an average black girl in the city of Memphis, you know.’
Franklin said she wanted her name and face to be publicized as to help other women avoid similar situations.
The suit, filed by Memphis attorneys Jeffrey S. Rosenblum and Gary K. Smith, says police failed to collect necessary physical evidence, such as fingerprints, from the scene of Franklin’s assault.
They also allege the police department did not pursue Abston enough, who has now been charged with Fletcher’s death.
‘As is standard practice, we do not talk about pending litigation,’ city spokesperson Dan Springer wrote in an email to the Daily Memphian.
When DNA results came back from the state’s crime lab days later, he was charged with Franklin’s rape.
In the case of Fletcher’s abduction, Abston was identified as a suspect in just 18 hours, after a sandal left at the crime scene came back with a match to his DNA.
But Abston’s mother, Virgie Abston, has insisted her son is innocent, claiming the convicted felon is a ‘kind’, ‘good person’ and is once again being ‘railroaded’ for a violent crime.
Emerging from her low-income apartment complex in north Memphis, the mother told DailyMail.com she is standing by Abston, who declared his innocence to her from jail.
‘I talked to him and he said he didn’t do it,’ she recalled of their conversation. ‘He said [to me]: “They’re trying to put me in some stuff, mom”.’
‘I believe him,’ she continued. ‘I don’t believe he did it. If it comes out of his mouth, that’s what I believe.’
‘He’s just a good person, kind, lovable,’ she added, disputing depictions of her son as a monster that the lawsuit alleges.
Abston was charged with Franklin’s rape just days after he was charged with Fletcher’s murder as police finally received results of the rape kit a year later
Speaking outside her north Memphis apartment, the suspect’s mother, Virgie Abston, 65, told DailyMail.com she is standing by her son who she said declared his innocence to her from jail
‘I really thought he was going to shoot me in the back of my head,’ Franklin said of her 2021 assault
‘MPD already had enough information to suspect Cleotha Abston was the man who had raped Alicia Franklin, but MPD officers did not seek to apprehend him,’ the suit says.
Franklin’s attorneys also filed a second lawsuit against the building owners of the apartment Franklin was raped in for not maintaining proper security.
According to police reports, the rape occurred on Sept. 21, 2021, at a vacant apartment at 5783 Waterstone Oak Way, which Abston allegedly lives next door to.
Franklin says she met a man she only knew as ‘Cleo’ through the online dating app Plenty Of Fish, and agreed to meet him in a large apartment complex in southeast Memphis.
His invitation had originally been to meet for dinner at Olive Garden, but when Franklin said her car was riding on a spare tire and she didn’t want to drive that far, they agreed to meet at what he said was his apartment.
But when she arrived, she says Abston held a gun to her neck and led her inside one of the apartments, which appeared to be empty and under renovation.
There, he blindfolded her with a T shirt and led her to a white Dodge Charger, where he assaulted her, and then took her back into the apartment. It was a terrifying ordeal that she did not expect to survive.
‘I really thought he was going to shoot me in the back of my head,’ she told the Daily Memphian.
Abston was identified as a suspect in Fletcher’s murder in just 18 hours, after a sandal left at the crime scene came back with a match to his DNA
Well wisher Justaphine McGhee Crime scene where Eliza Fletcher’s body was found after an intense search
‘Can you please let me go? Please let me go,’ she recalled pleading with her attacker.
After the assault, the attacker rummaged through her purse, touching her keys and cell phone, before stealing some cash and leaving her.
According to a police incident report, the apartment is located at 5783 Waterstone Oak Way, just doors away from where Abston appears to live, and where he was arrested for Fletcher’s murder a year later.
Franklin also says she gave police her assistant’s phone number.
Cops did present Franklin with a photo lineup, but she says she wasn’t able to confidently identify Abston, because the photo of him they included was old, and showed him with a dreadlock hairstyle that he didn’t wear any longer.
‘Memphis Police Department officers then indicated to Alicia Franklin that they would obtain another (and more recent) photo of a suspect for her to review… but no officers obtained another photo of Cleotha Abston at that time,’ the suit alleges.
The suit also claims ‘MPD had access to more up-to-date photographs of Cleotha Abston through the Tennessee Department of Correction.’
‘They never showed me an updated picture. I called like two or three months later, and was like, ‘Hey, you know, (the detective) said that she was going to, you know, try to do another photo lineup with updated pictures and … I haven’t heard from her,” recalled Franklin.
‘And then they were like, ‘Oh, well, she’s actually been promoted since then, so she’s no longer the detective on your case,’ the victim said.
The suit notes that police failed to ‘rush’ Franklin’s rape kit at the time of her assault, but requested it be hastened after Fletcher’s death, leading them to Abston within hours.
But the suit contends that the police did not even need the rape kit to find Abston, as they were given more than enough information by Franklin.
‘MPD already knew that Alicia Franklin had provided MPD the first name of ‘Cleo’ for the suspect who had raped her, a phone number for him, social media information on him and a description of the car he had driven,’ the suit says .
Abston previously served 20 years in prison for a kidnapping he committed at age 16.