Five months after her arrest and subsequent release from jail, Cherie Townsend announced Monday she is taking legal action against authorities in Los Angeles County for falsely arresting and accusing her in the May stabbing death of a retired nurse in Rolling Hills Estates.
Townsend's attorney, Nazareth Haysbert, said at a news conference on Monday his team has filed claims for damages on Townsend's behalf alleging humiliation, physical and emotional distress, false arrest and imprisonment, ahead of a lawsuit, for the handling of the investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
"They took her DNA, collected all the evidence they could find from the car, yet my client is still here with me so that should tell us something. My client is right here sitting next to me, where is the murderer of Susan Leeds?" Haysbert said. "When asked if they regretted making the announcement of Miss Townsend's arrest so early, Sheriff McDonnell said and I quote, 'No.'"
Townsend, 40, was accused of fatally stabbing and slashing the throat of 66-year-old Susan Leeds in the parking garage of the Promenade at the Peninsula mall on May 3. The case against her was later rejected by prosecutors due to insufficient evidence and charges were never filed. But Townsend said she is still dealing with the emotional trauma she suffered from being arrested at gunpoint, questioned by detectives, spending several days in jail and being labeled a murderer in the media.
"I've had to put on a brave face and be strong, while being falsely accused. I live my life in hiding, afraid the police are going to come, or that I am going to be unjustly targeted like I was before," Townsend said in tears.
Surveillance video shows Townsend's car at the mall on the day of the murder, but she is adamant she was not involved. She said she dropped her cell phone in the vicinity of the mall's parking garage, which was later found by detectives. But Haysbert said there was no proof or evidence tying her to the crime and said Townsend's arrest was influenced by race.
No other suspect's have been named in the case.
"This is what the sheriff's job is. This is your responsibility to find the person who committed this crime, it just wasn't my client," Haysbert said. "If you can't do it then I think we need a new sheriff in town."
In a statement issued by LASD on Monday, authorities said the investigation has become very complex and is still active.
"Investigators are still receiving tips from the public and are diligently following up on each and every lead," Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said in the statement. "With the lack of eyewitness in this case, the physical and forensic evidence collected is being continually re-evaluated."
Haysbert said he will also be filing a lawsuit against the city of Rancho Palos Verdes and Mayor Susan Brooks for reportedly making accusatory statements regarding Townsend to a local media outlet.
Townsend and her legal team said they would like an apology from LASD and Brooks in order to help begin to restore her name and reputation.