(Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.)
The 18-year-old woman who claimed she was abducted and sexually assaulted by three black men two weeks ago was arrested Wednesday afternoon after Denison Police said her report was a hoax.
Breana Harmon-Talbott was arrested at 1 p.m. at the police department for a Class B Misdemeanor offense — false report to a peace officer. Denison Police Chief Jay Burch said the offense is punishable by up to 180 days — six months — in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. The department is also seeking restitution for the expenses involved in conducting the investigation.
The department released a statement Wednesday morning that said Harmon-Talbott confessed the previous evening to fabricating the report. The statement said the case was unfounded, and the department was closing the investigation. Burch and Lt. Mike Eppler held a news conference later that afternoon and outlined what police found.
“We have mixed emotions on a case like this,” Burch said. “We’re happy it didn’t occur, but there could be permanent damage as a result — a damage of relationships within our community, damage to the reputation of our community.”
At about 5:30 p.m. on March 8, the fiance of Harmon-Talbott called police and reported she was missing from her apartment complex in the 3800 block of Texoma Parkway. The vehicle was found with the driver door open, and her phone, keys and a shoe were located nearby. Police mobilized resources and began a search for Harmon-Talbott.
A few hours after the she was reported missing, Harmon-Talbott, wearing only a shirt and underwear, walked into a church in the 3400 block of South Eisenhower Parkway. She told police she was kidnapped by three black men clad in ski masks near her vehicle at the apartment complex. She claimed the men took her in an SUV to a wooded area near the church, and two of the men raped her while the third held her down. She also had visible cuts and scratches on her.
Harmon-Talbott was transported to the hospital, and police search the area where she claimed she was assaulted.
“From a social media perspective, rumors and other information out there quickly spun out of control,” Burch said. “A lot of our citizens became fearful.”
As the investigation continued after a day or two, Burch said police became more suspicious of Harmon-Talbott’s report because the pieces just weren’t fitting together. Burch said police could not find any evidence of the abduction itself nor the sexual assault. He said medical staff could not corroborate that a sexual assault had occurred.
“It just wasn’t coming together,” Burch said. “An investigation is like a puzzle, and you have to start trying to fit those pieces together. We weren’t getting anything to come together.”
Detectives talked with Harmon-Talbott several times, and Tuesday night she confessed that it was hoax. Burch said the crime scene — from the vehicle at the apartment complex to point where she walked to the church — was staged. She confessed the injuries were self-inflicted, and Burch said detectives just couldn’t corroborate anything she stated.
Burch said once the story started to unravel, Harmon-Talbott reached the point where all she could do was tell the truth.
“As you know people start lying and they have to lie to cover other lies — eventually it just reaches a point like this one where it’s just out of control,” Burch said. “She had dug herself so deep a hole that I don’t think there was any other way of getting out of it but just telling the truth.”
Sam Hollingsworth, Harmon-Talbott’s former fiance, said the suspicions that her story could be a hoax reached him a week after the incident. He said detectives showed him text messages between her and another man and told him of the lack of evidence indicating a sexual assault. He said it just didn’t add up, and last week he said he ended the relationship. The two were together since April 2016.
“I was hurt knowing that someone who I thought I could trust and I was wanting to spend the rest of my life with could betray me like this,” Hollingsworth said.
The hoax, Burch said, was an insult to the city and the African-American community. He said the damage caused from this hoax could be long lasting as people may remember the original allegation but not the result. He said the misdemeanor charge against Harmon-Talbott is all the law allows.
“These kind of things are hurtful to the community in general and specifically when a race is alleged to have committed a crime on a particular race — it’s going to be hurtful to that part of our community,” Burch said. “It’s difficult and in this case it was just so unnecessary.”
Burch said they wished they could have come forward with the suspicions on the report sooner, but they had to be 100 percent sure that was a hoax. The confirmation came from the confession. He said police don’t think others were in on the hoax.
“Initially we did question two or three other people close to her that we thought may have knowledge,” Burch said. “From our investigation we’re pretty certain that no one else had any information that this was a hoax.”
As information on Harmon-Talbott’s motivation behind the hoax will be used in the criminal case filing, Burch said he couldn’t speak to it. He noted that they’re not a 100 percent sure of the motive but they have a good idea.
“All I want to know is why she did it,” Hollingsworth said.
As the story initially spread on social media, Burch said it caused detrimental effects on the investigation. He said people jumped to conclusions and spread rumors of other abductions and sexual assaults. He noted that later police did received some assistance from social media as the hoax unraveled.
“Initially it was very detrimental to our investigation because information was released including the name of the alleged victim, which you just don’t normally see in such a crime like this or an alleged crime like this,” Burch said. “It did slow the investigation and was distracting at times because there were a couple of fires that I felt we needed to put out so to speak.”
Burch said he just hopes people remember that Denison is a safe place.
“The message that we’re trying to get out to our citizens is that Denison is, remains and will remain a safe community with a great quality of life,” Burch said.