Rape, kidnapping and assault charges filed against a 22-year-old Kirkland man were recently dropped by King County prosecutors after a Kirkland police detective found evidence on the man’s cellphone that led investigators to believe his sexual encounter with an 18-year-old Tacoma woman was consensual.
The case was covered by media outlets including The Seattle Times following Thomas Brownlee’s arrest on Aug. 30.
The charges were dismissed Jan. 12 based on electronic communications between Brownlee and the woman, according to court records and Senior Deputy Prosecutor Emily Petersen.
“The nature of those conversations is that she agreed to participate in what I would describe as a rape fantasy,” Petersen said Thursday. “Based on those conversations we no longer believed that a crime occurred.”
Stressing that false rape reports are exceedingly rare, Petersen said they are usually a manifestation of something else going on in an alleged victim’s life. Kirkland police, she said, are not seeking criminal charges against the woman, who was only identified in court documents by her initials, due to mitigating information uncovered during the investigation and the fact she is already receiving services to address the root cause of her behavior.
While the woman reportedly had developmental challenges, Petersen said there was insufficient evidence to prove she was incapable of consent.
Though police searched the woman’s phone, they didn’t find any communications between her and Brownlee, Petersen said. To access Brownlee’s phone, the Kirkland detective first sought help from Bellevue police and when that was unsuccessful, his department paid a software company to open the phone.
After the detective reviewed Snapchat conversations preserved on Brownlee’s phone, he immediately contacted Petersen, she said. That was on Jan. 7. The following day, Petersen notified Brownlee’s defense attorneys that the state was dismissing the charges.
“The conversation led us to believe the encounter, including the sexual encounter, was consensual and planned. Her credibility was undermined to such a degree that we did not feel that we could move forward with the case,” Petersen said.
According to the criminal charges, Brownlee was accused of abducting the woman from outside her Tacoma residence on Aug. 29 and driving her back to his Kirkland condo, where she said she was beaten, strangled and repeatedly raped.
Her parents reported her missing that night. The next morning, the woman called 911 and with the help of a dispatcher, directed officers to the correct building and waved to officers from a window, the charges say.
“She had pretty significant injuries that were consistent with her report,” but the Snapchat messages provided evidence that she consented, Petersen said.
Brownlee, a college student originally from Houston, is set to graduate this spring with a computer science degree. He said he hopes to work in the video game industry and worries the allegation will impede his job search.
Brownlee said he’s grateful for support from family and friends and that his parents had the resources to bail him out of jail and hire his defense team.
Brownlee was represented by Seattle criminal defense attorneys Kristina Selset and David Marshall. Marshall said he appreciates the thorough investigation conducted by Kirkland police.
Brownlee said he feels he was treated fairly by the criminal-justice system.
“I don’t begrudge anyone along the path of what happened. They were just doing their jobs,” he said. “I’m very grateful that the people who were handling the case took the actions they did once they found the exculpatory evidence.”