Carson City woman prosecutes assailant
A Carson City woman who was sexually assaulted in a Reno hotel room 17 months ago is going public with her fight to receive punitive damages from the assailant.
To the court, she’s” Jane Doe,” plaintiff in a civil law suit seeking compensation for severe physical, emotional and mental injuries.
But to Northern Nevadans, she’s Roxanne Brooks, a rape victim who is putting a name and a face to the struggle for victims’ rights.
“She felt pretty strongly that she should come forward, out from the shadow of ‘Jane Doe,'” said Carter King, a Reno attorney who Friday filed the civil suit on behalf of the 24-year-old Brooks.
“At first, I wasn’t sure about using my own name,” Brooks said Friday. “But I knew I had nothing to hide. And I know there’s other victims out there.”
Brooks and King say her story and the lawsuit should bring attention to the problems crime victims have in getting restitution ordered by Nevada’s courts.
In Brooks’ case, the man she accused of sexually assaulting and injuring her in a Reno hotel room in April 1998 pleaded guilty last summer to battery with substantial bodily harm and was sentenced to 1-5 years in prison. Multiple sexual assault charges were dropped in a plea bargain, King said.
He also was ordered to pay just $450 in restitution, a fraction of Brook’s medical costs.
“I testified at the preliminary hearing, spent an hour and a half on the stand while his attorney grilled me and made face and hand gestures at me,” Brooks said. “I was even OK with the plea bargain. But it bothered me when all he was ordered to pay was $450, which just covered the medical examination right after I reported it.”
King explained that, while Nevada law provides that convicted criminals can be ordered to pay restitution at sentencing, the district attorneys on such cases often have not had the time or resources to have that information ready for the judges.
“The judge just cannot order some amount to be paid,” King said. “It has to be specified by the DA’s office. And they get sidetracked on other issues, understandably so.”
King said a restitution office should be set up within the courts or the district attorneys’ office to collect information on victim’s damages, losses and costs. That information should be provided to the district attorney’s office, to make sure it gets collected and paid out to victims. The system would be similar to a the child support systems now run by district attorneys, he said.
Brooks recorded two public service announcements about victims’ rights that are being broadcast on the Reno talk radio station KOH this month. King said the announcements will play on other Reno-Carson area stations in the weeks ahead. He said other victims may follow Brooks’ example and record additional announcements.
Brooks said she never has had a counseling session since the assault, only two long phone conversations with a crisis hot line counselor. But she attributed that to being the working single mother of two young girls.
“I just could never find the time,” she said.
King said Brooks future counseling expenses are unknown, as are her medical costs.
“It made me angry to think that, while this guy has the money to pay for it, society will have to pay my bills,” Brooks said.
So her lawsuit will attempt to collect at least $10,000 each on 11 causes for action from Mark Anthony DeMattei, 35, of Santa Rosa, Calif., whom the suit identifies as her assailant.
DeMattei has an ownership interest in Pharbco Marketing Group, a company that distributes an over the counter hangover pill called Pharb, King said. He said there is a good chance that a Nevada jury would award both compensatory and punitive damages to Brooks and that it could be collected.
Compensatory damages are intended to make up losses to the victim, for such items as medical costs, lost salary and counseling expenses, King said. Punitive damages are intended to punish someone for an intentional bad act.
An important difference is that compensatory damages can be discharged through a bankruptcy, but punitive damages cannot, King said. That is important because of concerns DeMattei would try to conceal or transfer assets to protect them from the suit.
But for many crime victims, that would never be a concern, because the assailant frequently has few assets, King said. The only shot at ever recovering any restitution is if the district attorney asked the judge to order it at the time of sentencing, he said.
“Then when they go on probation, they have to be working and the restitution can come from their income as a condition of probation,” he said. “If they don’t do it, they lose their freedom.”
King said he knows of many people who have been able to collect restitution through the criminal courts, but there are those like Brooks where the system did not work. The attorney and the victim hope taking that story to the public will help others.