SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A couple's defamation and emotional distress lawsuit against a Northern California city can proceed after a kidnapping so bizarre that police initially called it a hoax, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Police discounted the story told by Denise Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, after she reappeared following her kidnapping in March 2015.
She said she was drugged and dragged from their home, while Quinn described being bound and drugged by a man who claimed to be part of a band of "gentleman criminals."
The case felt, police said erroneously, like it had been torn from the pages of the book and movie "Gone Girl," in which a woman goes missing and then lies about being kidnapped after she reappears.
Police realized the couple was telling the truth only after the perpetrator, disbarred Harvard University-trained attorney Matthew Muller, was implicated in a separate crime. He is now serving a 40-year prison term.
"The conduct Plaintiffs allege goes beyond Defendants being skeptical, investigating alternate theories, and expressing skepticism," U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley wrote in his 22-page decision, adding that, "A reasonable jury could find that Defendants engaged in conduct that was extreme and outrageous."
Wendy Motooka, an attorney representing the city, did not return telephone and emailed messages seeking comment.
"Denise and Aaron are thrilled that the Court has agreed that the Vallejo Police Department's malicious and public attacks against them are not immune under the law," their attorney, James Wagstaffe, said in a statement. They "look forward to holding the Vallejo Police Department accountable for its shocking offensive against two victims of a horrific crime."
Muller was eventually arrested after an attempted robbery at another San Francisco Bay Area home. Authorities said they traced a dropped cellphone to Muller and later turned up evidence linking him to the Vallejo abduction.
Nunley gave the parties 30 days to say what they will do next.