Salisa’s Story: After Brutal Rape and Police Misconduct, A Continuing Search For Justice

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  • Thousands of defenseless, unsuspecting women are raped and brutally beaten each year.

    In Louisville, Kentucky, the vicious attack of Salisa Luster, an unassuming, highly educated young professional, placed her among the many thousands attacked annually by predators.

    More than 212,000 women over 14 years old nationwide were sexually assaulted in 2006, statistics show, and one in six females in the United States have been sexually assaulted, according to a United Nations report.  More than 25 percent of all college aged women say they have been raped.

    Luster’s story, though, is more than an account of a brutal beating and rape. It is also about stoic strength; of battling a cold, callous police department seemingly intent on protecting itself from legal liability and the glare of probing media.

    But without crucial assistance from For almost a year, however, Luster’s pain and suffering would not have drawn much, if any, attention–like the countless women who suffer in silence without activists to seek justice for them. is a component of the Police Complaint Center, in Washington, D.C.  The Center was founded in 1994, by Diop Kamau, a former Hawthorne, California, police sergeant.

    Since 1988, when several white officers forced his late father, a retired, 65-year-old Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy, out of his vehicle and beat him unmercifully, Kamau has pursued justice for victims of police abuse, irrespective of race or ethnicity.

    In Louisville, the search for justice for Luster began the day after she was raped, on April 30, 2008.  Along the way, she has been stymied by gross police negligence, flagrant misconduct, a fistful of errors and a series of transparent untruths.

    This horrific combination traumatized Luster and angered and bewildered her family and close friends.

    Just as painful for them, Luster’s family and friends say, was the failure of perhaps the most culpable Louisville Metro Police Officer, Rick Woolridge, to arrest, question, detain or label as a person of interest “an unidentified black man”–believed to be the suspect–when Woolridge arrived at the crime scene.

    Increasing the pain of family and friends was the alleged indifference of then Chief Robert C. White, a black man, who refused to use his authority to open an
    official investigation into Woolridge’s misconduct.

    Had Luster been a white woman, critics charge, Woolridge’s policing would, without a doubt, have been aggressive.  Luster’s attacker is a light complexioned black man with a goatee.

    This alleged indifference, critics maintain, obstructed justice and shielded Woolridge, a white officer, from accountability.

    Since Luster’s attack, her mother and chief advocate, Cheryl Ellis, has waged an ongoing campaign to obtain justice for her daughter. Her efforts, Ellis said, have been routinely blocked by Louisville Metro’s chain of command.

    Worse still, Ellis told, “all the attorneys I approached to represent Salisa  against the Louisville Metro Police Department “offered a variety of excuses, ranging from fear of police retaliation” to the belief that Luster’s case wasn’t “strong enough to prevail in litigation.”

    Luster’s nightmare began on the afternoon of April 29, 2008: A maintenance man, employed by East Chase Apartments, owned by Sentinel Real Estate Corporation, arrived to repair the toilet, but, after fixing it, returned hours later.

    While Luster slept on a sofa, he used a pass key (only maintenance men and management executives had access to them), to open the apartment’s front door.  Undetected, he entered her apartment.  After creeping in, he began raping her.

    When Luster awoke, the maintenance man, whose green uniform she later remembered, was choking and raping her.

    Soon he was hitting her on her head “so hard I could barely think,” she said.  Then the rapist, in a bizarre twist, according to Ellis, “used a solution to wash her hair, took several pieces of clothing from her closet, drenched them in water and threw them on the floor.”

    The rapist, Ellis told, did not leave the apartment after attacking Luster, but stayed through the night.  Luster, only semi-conscious after the attack, was beaten so severely that her left eye was shut, both eyes were blackened and blood clots formed in both.

    Despite her battered condition, Luster managed to call 911 and say, “there’s a strange man in my apartment; I’m having trouble breathing,” yet the operator who received her plea failed to alert paramedics.

    In the morning, when Luster didn’t answer her telephone or report to work, five young colleagues, all women, went to her apartment to see if she “was okay.”
    Luster’s car was parked in front of her apartment building, so they believed she had not left it, but was still inside her unit.

    Without a key to Luster’s door, they were forced to wait outside.

    Officer Woolridge, a 20-year Metro Louisville veteran, was dispatched to the scene and arrived soon after the young women, but would not allow them to go inside with him.

    After “less than six minutes inside” Luster’s apartment, according to Ellis, Woolridge left and locked the door behind him, leaving the five young women without access to the apartment.

    No one knows what Woolridge said to the suspected rapist, if anything, but Ellis believes the “unidentified black man” told Woolridge that he and Luster had had “a lover’s spat,” which Woolridge officer apparently believed or deemed inconsequential.

    Although Luster’s face bore all the earmarks of a brutal beating, Woolridge didn’t call emergency medical assistance.  Nor did he file a police report or record any notes regarding his observations, if any.  Woolridge would later claim that he “saw no injuries.”

    His one single action was to advise another Metro Louisville police officer that he was not needed at the crime scene.  After giving that “advice,” Woolridge walked away.  Although the women say they begged him to open the apartment door, he turned, walked to his vehicle and drove off.

    “He told us Salisa was okay,” said Julie Kraemer, one of the five friends.  “We don’t believe that,” one of the young women responded, according to Kraemer.

    As Woolridge drove away, one of the young women ran to the apartment manager’s office and said, “I know something is wrong. Please open Salisa’s door, so we can go in and see her.”

    When the friends finally got into her apartment, they were horrified by the damage from the beating.  One of them cried, another began praying. “We’re here for you, you’re safe now,” a third friend said, as she called 911 for an emergency response.  Luster, in a daze, was unable to speak.

    “She just stared when we asked what happened and who did his to her,” said Julie Kraemer, one of the five friends, in an interview with

    A detective, Brian Tucker, eventually arrived.  He accompanied the paramedics and the friends to the University of Louisville Medical Center’s Trauma Unit.  Nurses in the sex crimes section, who photographed Luster, said Woolridge “would have had to be blind not to see her injuries.”

    Tucker later told Emergency Medical Services personnel that Woolridge claimed that “an unidentified black man told him: “There are no problems, everything is alright.”  In September, Tucker also alleged that he interviewed all five friends who accompanied Luster to the hospital the morning after she was attacked.  The women, however, flatly deny that Tucker ever interviewed them.

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