The opening episode of Netflix’s new series Unbelievable is difficult to watch. It follows the initial investigation into a the assault of a young woman named Marie. At first, the detectives are attempting to catch the man who broke into her apartment and raped her. But, as they continuously press the young woman to repeatedly tell her story—as she’s showing clear signs of someone traumatized by the assault—the detectives grow suspicious and eventually coerce a false confession out of her that she made up the assault. She is charged with false reporting, ostracized from friends and family, and made a pariah by local media.
From there, the show continues to follow a true story reported by ProPublica. The eight-episode series works on two different timelines. The bulk of time is spent with Detectives Rasmussen and Duvall, two investigators who diligently work to solve a string of rapes throughout Colorado. The two detectives played by Merritt Wever and Toni Collette are measured and thoughtful with victims, yet dogged and stern in their pursuit of justice.
Rasmussen and Duvall catch the serial rapist, and Marie’s original report is proved to have been true. She was eventually awarded $150,000 from the state after settling a suit out of court. The series shows her driving off in a new Jeep in hopes of establishing a better life elsewhere. But the only unsavory loose end from the finale is what happened to the men who discredited Marie. Detectives Pruitt and Parker are based on real people named Sgt. Jeffrey Mason and Detective Jerry Rittgarn, and this is what happened to them after incorrectly seeking a false confession from Marie.
What Happened After the Truth Came Out?
When Marie’s rapist was caught, Detective Rittgarn had already left the Lynnwood police department. According to the ProPublica article, after Marie’s rapist was apprehended, the Lynnwood Police Department opened up an outside review into the department. In this report a sex crimes supervisor noted that Marie’s situation was “nothing short of the victim being coerced into admitting that she lied about the rape.” The investigation concluded that “bullying” and “hounding” led to Marie’s admittance of false reporting. The article also notes that Lynnwood reported 21.3 percent of rape cases “unfounded,” or rather, lied about. The national average for “unfounded” cases is around five percent.
Did Anyone Lose Their Jobs?
Even with the strong language used in the Lynnwood Police Department investigation cited in the ProPublica article, no one at the department lost their job. As previously noted, Detective Rittgarn left the department prior to Marie’s rapist being caught. Sgt. Mason moved to his post working on narcotics cases. Neither man followed standard protocol when it came to the initial investigation into Marie’s report. There is no law against this particular miscarriage of justice. Sgt. Mason told ProPublica, “It wasn’t her job to try to convince me. In hindsight, it was my job to get to the bottom of it—and I didn’t.” Detective Rittgarn refused an interview with the publication.