Woman says Memphis police did not investigate her rape. The suspect is now charged with the murder of Eliza Fletcher.

A woman who said she was raped last year by the man accused of murdering Eliza Fletcher says Memphis police didn’t investigate her case properly and Fletcher would still be alive if they had.

In a lawsuit against the city of Memphis, Alicia Franklin said she met Cleotha Abston on a dating app last year and they talked for about a month before meeting in person at the apartments of The Lakes at Ridgeway on September 21, 2021.

Franklin said in the suit that she and Abston, whom she knew as “Cleo,” planned to have dinner, but when she arrived he pulled a gun on her and forced her into an empty apartment.

Abston, who told Franklin he was a maintenance worker at the complex, blindfolded her with his t-shirt and threatened to kill her, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Shelby County Circuit Court.

The suit states that Abston Franklin walked through the apartment and through a back door to his vehicle, where she says he raped her in the back seat.

Abston was charged earlier this month with aggravated rape in the 2021 incident and pleaded not guilty.

More about the disappearance and death of Eliza Fletcher

Franklin said in the lawsuit that she tried to stop Abston by telling him she was pregnant, but he seemed “unmoved,” according to the lawsuit.

The woman said Abston then stole money from her and left her in the apartment waiting for him to drive away, according to the court document.

Franklin said she immediately sought medical attention and reported it to the Memphis Police Department. According to the lawsuit, she submitted to a forensic medical examination, which involved collecting an assault kit and containing DNA evidence.

Cleotha Abston will appear in court for his arraignment on Sept. 6 in Memphis, Tennessee.Mark Weber / Daily Memphis via AP file

She took officers to the crime scene, but the lawsuit states that the police “didn’t take physical evidence directly from the crime scene itself”. To help investigators, Franklin gave them the name “Cleo,” his phone number, a description of his vehicle and his social media, including the dating app they met on, according to the lawsuit.

Days after the attack, Franklin was asked to look at a series of photos of possible suspects. The lawsuit says police included an older photo of Abston in the lineup, but Franklin was unable to identify her attacker.

For months, Franklin received no update on her case. According to the lawsuit, the Memphis Police Department sent the assault kit to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), but did not request expedited processing.

Memphis police declined to comment Wednesday, citing pending lawsuits. The municipality did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Eliza Fletcher
Eliza Fletcher.The Memphis Police Department

The assault kit remained untouched until June, according to the lawsuit. The DNA was not determined to match Abston until Sept. 5, three days after Abston was accused of pushing Fletcher into his SUV while she was jogging.

Abston, 38, was arrested the next day after police found the SUV in a parking lot near his residence, an affidavit says. He was indicted on several charges, including first degree murder and kidnapping.

Fletcher’s body was found on September 5 in a vacant duplex apartment. A cause and manner of death have not been released.

Franklin’s lawsuit says Abston “had and could have been arrested and charged for the aggravated rape of Alicia Franklin many months earlier, most likely in the year 2021…and the kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher would not have occurred.”

The TBI said it rarely knows the details of a case and relies on local law enforcement agencies to provide relevant information. It is expediting a case only at the request of local police, the TBI said in an emailed statement.

Franklin’s case “was placed in the queue of unknown attacker kits because no request was made to accelerate TBI analysis and no suspicious information or DNA standard was included in the submission,” the agency said in its statement. Franklin’s kit was pulled in June to be examined along with 19 other kits.

While investigating Fletcher’s kidnapping, the agency said it had been notified by the Memphis Police Department of a possible connection to Franklin’s attack.

Franklin told Memphis’ NBC affiliate WMC-TV that she didn’t want to be in the “spotlight”, but felt that sharing her story “could help a lot of women come forward.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

A spokesperson for Fletcher’s family was not immediately available.