01/16/2006

Maine: Officer's accuser will face charges

MARK PETERS Staff Writer
 
SOUTH PORTLAND

Copyright 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc. 
Portland Press Herald
 
A Massachusetts woman faces a felony perjury charge after accusing a police officer of a sexual assault that investigators say never happened. Police arrested Shannon Wehkoja, 29, on Friday and charged her with perjury, false swearing, filing a false report and violating a condition of release. She also was charged with possession of scheduled drugs.

Police say Wehkoja made up a story that Officer Ed Knutson sexually touched her after he arrested her on a drunken-driving charge Jan. 1.

Wehkoja's attorney could not be reached for comment Friday, but police said she continued to claim she had been assaulted. She is being held in the Cumberland County Jail.

Friday's arrest followed an internal investigation that included video footage from a camera in Knutson's cruiser and a notarized statement about the incident, signed by Wehkoja.

"The concern that the department had was, these charges could have been career-ending for the officer and they were totally false and fabricated," Police Chief Edward Googins said at a news conference.

Wehkoja told police that Knutson stopped his cruiser while taking her to jail, had her get out of the back and unlawfully touched her.

The internal investigation showed that was untrue, police said, in part because video from Knutson's cruiser documented the trip from the location of the arrest to the jail.

"I don't like having my reputation being questioned, and in this case it was," said Knutson, a 22-year veteran of the department, in a phone interview after the press conference.

During a review of the police department's internal affairs policies last year, union officials encouraged the department to press charges when false allegations are made against an officer, Googins said.

Departments should consider charges as often as possible and update their internal affairs procedures to ensure that happens, said Paul Gaspar, executive director for the Maine Association of Police.

"It is always our push that people who falsely accuse police get prosecuted to the fullest extent," said Gaspar, who attended Friday's press conference.

If convicted, Wehkoja could face as much as five years in prison for perjury. She could face additional time if convicted of the other charges, which are misdemeanors.

Staff Writer Mark Peters can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:
mpeters@pressherald.com 
 
Shannon Wehkoja
 
January 15, 2006

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