MOLALLA, Ore. (KOIN) — For her entire life, Laurie Swanson has dedicated herself to showing, teaching and caring for horses.
But in June, her world and reputation were shattered. It all started on a regular day when she walked into a Molalla Safeway store for lunch.
“I went into the restroom,” Swanson recalled. “I went into a bathroom stall.”
She visited the Safeway store often, making lunchtime there part of her routine.
While in the restroom, Swanson said she heard a woman and child walk in and enter a stall. Swanson didn’t know it at the time, but another child was in the restroom.
“I walked out of the bathroom stall and there was a girl standing there nervous, agitated, fidgeting and looking like this, back and forth as if someone were chasing her,” she said.
Swanson said that’s when she put her iPad down to wash her hands.
“I said, ‘I’m putting this here while I wash my hands,’ thinking that hopefully she would think I was really paying attention to that iPad,” she explained. “I went around, washed my hands really fast, went over, picked up the iPad and walked out the door.”
After that, Swanson recalled walking out of the Safeway store and into her car. She drove away and headed home to her horse farm.
Store surveillance cameras captured Swanson leaving the store.
Soon, thousands of Oregonians would see her face plastered across their TV and computer screens; the girl from the restroom told her parents Swanson sexually abused her.
Her parents called police, changing Swanson’s life forever.
Late the next night, Molalla police knocked on her door. They had identified her as the woman in the surveillance video.
“I looked out through those windows and I could see a fellow standing in the driveway in dark clothes,” Swanson said. “I couldn’t understand why they would be doing what they were doing: pounding and yelling and screaming.”
Startled and unaware of what was going on, Swanson opened her door to police.
“There was a big guy standing in the blocked area there,” she said. “He just grabbed me and handcuffed me behind my back.”
Swanson was taken to the Molalla Police Department where a female officer told her what was going on.
“She said, ‘well, you’ve been on the news,'” Swanson said. “I thought, how could I be on the news when they just picked me up?”
In a Facebook post, Molalla police shared surveillance images from the Safeway store, asking for the public’s help identifying her.
Swanson was taken to Clackamas County Jail where she was booked. Shortly after, her mugshot was broadcast on the news and shared across a variety of digital platforms.
By now, Swanson’s attorney had looked at the police report and determined things weren’t adding up. The girl’s mother was in the restroom — just feet away from her daughter — but didn’t hear anything. The girl hadn’t yelled out for help.
In addition, the 11-year-old’s account of what happened changed several times. Then, there was this: her 9-year-old brother told police he was also molested by a man in the store. He later admitted fabricating the story.
Swanson was released on her own recognizance after sex abuse charges were filed. It was something she never imagined could happen.
But thanks to a Clackamas County Grand Jury, her nightmare was about to end.
After listening to testimony from both Swanson and the 11-year-old girl — in addition to reviewing all the facts and evidence — the grand jury did something they rarely do: they issued a no true bill.
There would be no indictment and no trial. Swanson was free.
But there was one problem: in the minds of many who had seen her mugshot sprawled across their TV screens, she was already presumed guilty.
“I think I would feel worse except that I’ve had so many people reach out, and so many people come to me in a very positive way and bend over backwards to engage with me and talk to me about, you know, what can we do to help you?” Swanson said.
After everything that happened, she said she felt Molalla police could have handled the situation in a better way.
Molalla Police Dept. Chief Rod Lucich provided KOIN 6 News with the following statement:
“We need to be careful not to confuse the role of the courts with the responsibility of law enforcement to take appropriate action in the investigation of incidents.”
After Swanson’s story aired on KOIN 6 News, Molalla police removed her mugshot and surveillance photos from their Facebook page. Earlier, vulgar comments directed at her still appeared on the website.
Swanson is still trying to put the pieces back together.
Today, she finds joy on the horse farm that’s been in her family for nearly 100 years. But for true peace, she said she’s had to reach deep down inside herself.
“To hang on to your self esteem really is big,” she said. “I think it’s a decision to maintain your self esteem and not allow, you know, what’s happening to you to take you away from the person that you are.”
Out of more than 2,000 felony cases presented to the Clackamas County Grand Jury last year, only 8 cases resulted in a no true bill. According to legal experts, it’s a very unusual move.
KOIN 6 News reached out to the girl’s family for comment, but did not receive a response.