Last month, Denise Huskins and Aaron Quinn confronted kidnapper Matthew Muller in a Sacramento courtroom, tearfully reliving the night he crept into their Vallejo home, drugged and bound them, then abducted Huskins and raped her twice at a South Lake Tahoe cabin.
Now she faces a second wrenching challenge.
Now, with Muller sentenced to a 40-year federal prison term and currently housed in the Sacramento County Main Jail, Huskins and Quinn are facing the prospect of a lengthy legal battle with Vallejo officials over the civil lawsuit the couple filed against the city and its Police Department.
There have been no settlement talks or negotiations over how the case may settle, and their lawyer said he expects to end up in trial over their allegations that Vallejo police destroyed their reputations by initially treating Huskins’ March 2015 kidnapping as a hoax.
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Instead of seeking a respite from the ridicule the city has faced over its handling of the sensational case, Vallejo attorneys are digging in, seeking thousands of pages of documents from the young couple that range from Facebook postings to emails they sent each other or their family members.
The city has gone as far as to request any emails Huskins may have exchanged with Muller – her kidnapper – from September 2014 to the present, a request her attorney rejects as another attempt by the city to suggest she was complicit in the abduction.
“No such thing exists, and I think they’re engaging in a fishing expedition to hopefully find something out there, a sort of moonshot,” said Kevin Clune, an attorney handling the couple’s civil suit. “They’re hoping to find anything to continue to attack Denise and somehow find out she was somehow involved in her own disappearance.”
The notion that the kidnap case was a hoax stems from comments Vallejo police made in March 2015 after Huskins turned up alive in Huntington Beach two days after she disappeared. Quinn had told police an unlikely tale of men breaking into the couple’s Mare Island home, drugging both of them and abducting Huskins for ransom.
Police were skeptical, questioning Quinn for 18 hours and accusing him of killing Huskins. At one point, Quinn says in a claim filed against the city as a precursor to his lawsuit, police tried to convince his brother – an FBI agent – “to help get a confession from Aaron.”
Once Huskins turned up alive, Vallejo police complained that the couple owed the city an apology.
Huskins and Quinn remained in limbo for months, until June 2015, when Muller was arrested in an unrelated home invasion and authorities discovered evidence in his South Lake Tahoe home linking him to the Huskins case and indicating that he acted alone.
The couple filed legal claims against Vallejo in September 2015, and filed their lawsuit in March 2016.
Since then, the case has dragged on in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. The latest turn came last Wednesday during a brief hearing on disagreements between the two sides over what email and other evidence must be provided to Vallejo.
During that session, Huskins and Quinn attorney Brady Dewar asked that documents Vallejo placed in the public court file a few days earlier be redacted. The city had included in its filings documents that provided Huskins’ personal cellphone number and her current place of work.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan ordered that the information be removed immediately.
“I think it shows how insensitive and incompetent Vallejo Police Department and Vallejo city is; that’s horrendous,” Quinn’s mother, Marianne Quinn, said after court. “They should know better.”
Clune said such instances show that Vallejo is determined to go after the couple.
“We can see no reason why that sort of information was at all relevant to the actual discovery dispute at issue,” Clune said. “It just seemed to be part of a larger problem of Vallejo continuing to aggressively go after Denise and Aaron as if they’ve done something wrong. I think Vallejo should apologize for how they keep going after them.”
Vallejo city officials were subjected to a barrage of negative media coverage and online commentary that turned the city police into a national punchline. Sacramento attorney Wendy Motooka, who is among the attorneys representing Vallejo, did not respond to a request for comment.
But the city’s legal filings reject the notion that it owes anything to Huskins or Aaron Quinn. When police told reporters that the abduction “appears to be an orchestrated event and not a kidnapping,” the statement was made in the context of an investigation and is privileged, Vallejo’s attorneys argue.
“Police skepticism and willingness to pursue alternate theories of the case do not amount to conduct so extreme as to exceed all bounds of that usually tolerated in a civilized community,” the city’s attorneys wrote, adding that the couple cannot prove their claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Quinn, 32, and Huskins, 31, see things differently.
“(M)y life had been destroyed,” Huskins wrote in a declaration filed with the court in August. “I lost out on a prestigious fellowship, and was out of work for over a year.
“I have suffered from depression, anxiety, general distrust of people and paranoia.”
Quinn, in a statement in court last month as Muller was sentenced, said the case “will always be with me, always trying to drag me under.”
Despite the emotional toll the kidnapping has taken, the two are prepared to see their lawsuit through to trial, their attorney said.
“Aaron and Denise want their day in court,” Clune said. “So, barring a dramatic change from the city, I don’t see how else it ends up.”
Clune added that Huskins and Quinn want the city to acknowledge they were mistreated. “This has never been about the money for Denise and Aaron,” he said.
While the legal case lingers, the two have moved away from Vallejo and found new jobs as physical therapists. They are planning their future together.
“They’re doing well; they just got engaged and they’re feeling better,” Marianne Quinn said outside the federal courthouse downtown. “But this kind of stuff going on is just a little hard.”