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'We made some mistakes' | New policies, training coming to Cherokee Co. following investigation into unsolved rapes

Five women came forward to The Reveal with allegations their cases were either mishandled or not taken seriously. Now, they're all getting a second look.

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. — Major changes are on the way to Cherokee County following an 11Alive Reveal investigation into unsolved rapes and sexual assaults.

The department sat down with The Reveal for the first time since our series of investigations began back in June. The news is welcomed for five women who came forward to 11Alive with accusations against the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office that their cases were either mishandled or not taken seriously. One of those women is Ashley Grier.

“It's just disgusting,” she said.

It’s been nearly eight months since Grier told Cherokee County authorities she was sexually assaulted during a massage.

“He started massaging my breasts, like, full-on massaging my breasts,” she told 11Alive.

Grier called police and filed a report. The Reveal obtained video of Cherokee investigators talking to Grier about what happened. She told the investigator she felt ashamed for freezing up during the massage and not telling the man “stop."

“I wish that I could go back and change the way that things happened,” she cried.

The investigator responded, “Just because you don’t’ say anything doesn’t mean you’re giving somebody consent. OK? So, please don’t feel bad about that at all.”

But any feelings of support or comfort she had that day went away after hearing what that same investigator said to the man she accused of assault. 

The Reveal got a copy of that recording and the investigator said, “I would just say, be careful going forward where your arms travel (laughs), because some young women come in, you don't know what their background is, if they've been assaulted before, sometimes they can make up something in their mind or they can think something that didn't happen, and they'll be convinced that it happened.”

“It made me so hurt and so angry because it sounds like he is telling them 'she's just making this up,'" Grier said, livid when she heard that recording. 

Shortly after that, Grier saw our 11Alive Reveal investigation into unsolved rapes in Cherokee County. 

"Then I realized, 'OK, so it's not just me that is having these feelings about nothing being done or being taken seriously,'” she explained.

Her feelings, in fact, were shared with multiple women.

“It’s not really a crime in their book,” added Megan Fraser, a woman who said her rape case in Cherokee County remains unsolved. 

Meanwhile, another women accusing Cherokee officials of mishandling her rape investigation said “I felt like he was judging me the whole time.” 

11Alive played those accusations and more for Cherokee Sheriff’s Captain Mark Anderson and Lieutenant Garrett Carter. They heard them for the first time because it was the first time Cherokee County agreed to speak with us on the subject. 

"If I have someone who comes to me and complains that one of my detectives spoke in a way that was inappropriate, then I would open an investigation into that,” Anderson said.

However, Anderson still defended the investigator’s interaction with the man accused of sexual assault in Ashley Grier’s case.

“He had concluded the case. He had realized that he did not have any probable cause for arrest in that case,” Anderson said. “Although it may sound distasteful. There isn't anything procedurally wrong.”

However, those procedures are about to change.

“Being honest with you, in going back and looking at the first story that you did, we made some mistakes,” Anderson said. "And we own that, I own that. And going forward we can always do better.”

Here’s what the agency plans to do: Create a policy that directly covers sexual-related crimes, something that didn’t exist before, and implement new training for investigators. 

“And once these processes are in place, taking a historic look at our cases that we still have statute of limitations on and re-evaluate those historic cases to right any wrongs that may have been committed in the past,” Carter added.

That means every rape and sexual assault case that can still be prosecuted is going to get a second look.

Grier began crying tears of joy at that news.

“Thank you,” she said. “It’s exciting a little bit, that my case can get re-opened because I just feel like it was such a joke.”

The decision is also good news for Briana Couch, who believes she was drugged at a bar and raped.

"That's a happy cry," she said following the county's news, noting that she has not had many tears of joy in the last five years. "I've cried literally every day."

Couch added that investigators never took her seriously because of her past history with drug abuse.

“No matter what a person has been through in their past, they should just be treated like a person every day,” she said.

All the women who shared their stories with 11Alive said they’re happy Cherokee County announced these changes, but they’re also skeptical. For them, seeing is believing.

“If they're not able to find justice in the offender being arrested because of our limitations for one reason or another, then we're always, our door is always open to help them with that,” Anderson added.

Though that's another promise the women said they vow to hold them to.