‘Victim/Suspect’ Explained: What Happened To Emma Mannion, Megan Rondini, & Dyanie Bermeo?


Directed by Nancy Schwartzman, Victim/Suspect is an important documentary that brings to light the quest undertaken by a journalist named Rachel de Leon and how she uncovers the truth and brings the corrupt practices of the law enforcement authorities to light. In a day and age where the media houses are reduced to being the mouthpiece of the government, Rachel de Leon and the Center for Investigating Reporting, aka “Reveal,” proved that there is still some integrity left in this world. So, let’s find out if Rachel was able to expose the corruption and if she was able to get justice for the numerous victims who had been tricked by the authorities.

What Did Rachel Find About Nikki Yovino?

Rachel de Leon always wanted to become a journalist, and her dream was to work with the Center for Investigative Reporting. In the beginning, Rachel got an entry-level job, and she was asked to work on the stories of other people, but she was restless to find that one story that would help her create her mark in the industry. Little did Rachel know that her ambition would become the saving force for innocent girls who had been victimized by the system and were serving a punishment for no fault of their own. While surfing through the local news, she stumbled upon the case of Nikki Yovino, who was charged for falsely accusing two football players of her university for sexually assaulting her. Nikki’s case had become national news, and as a result, a lot of people criticized her actions and called girls like her the reason why a female victim has to fight too many prejudices and go the extra mile to prove that their story is right. Nikki was given the harshest possible sentence because, due to the media trial, the court felt compelled to set a precedent and show the nation the dire consequences of trying to manipulate the legal system and put the lives of innocents at risk.

But Nikki’s case was not the only one where a female victim was found falsely accusing a man of sexual misconduct. Emma Mannion, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was going through something similar. She had reported that a couple of guys had taken her inside a car and sexually abused her. The police found inconsistencies in her story and later concluded that she had been lying for some unknown reason. Amanda Pike, the editor of the Center for Investigative Reporting, knew that the governing body would be a little skeptical in letting Rachel carry out an investigation, as it didn’t seem like there was something more to it since the women had themselves confessed to their crimes. But Amanda showed faith in Rachel and told her to keep on investigating unofficially and let her know if she found any anomalies which could prove that there was some foul play happening.

Why Did Megan Rondini Commit Suicide?

The victims, who had now become the culprits after being charged for falsely accusing innocent boys, said that they had been duped and manipulated by the system and not the other way around. Nikki Yovino told Rachel that whatever she told the police officers was all true and that she hadn’t made up even a single thing. Rachel went to meet Emma Mannion to learn exactly what had happened on that fateful day. Emma told Rachel all the details of her ordeal, and the latter was now standing at a point where she didn’t know who to believe in. Emma’s eyes told Rachel that she was not lying, but being an investigative reporter, she just couldn’t operate on her intuition, and the evidence clearly said that Emma was the culprit. In Victim/Suspect, we are made privy to the video where Detective Jared Akridge was seen interrogating Emma and asking her to take him through the entire ordeal once again. It was plain and clear from that footage that the police officer was gaslighting her. He was trying to mentally break down Emma and make her accept that it was her fault. He was trying to find inconsistencies in her narrative and was waiting for an opportunity to blame the entire thing on her. Emma hadn’t slept for a couple of days, and she was already in a very vulnerable state of mind because of the traumatic events that had happened to her.

The Tuscaloosa police department, under the leadership of Sheriff Abernathy, had made a mockery of the legal justice system, and the bizarre thing was that they did not fear anybody and did so on an almost regular basis. A victim who has already suffered so much was made to sit in the interrogation room for 2 hours just so that, bit by bit, her spirit could be broken and she would be ready to do anything to escape from the godforsaken place. Detective Akridge went out for a few minutes and then came and told Emma that they had found a surveillance video in which it was visible that Emma was consensually making out with the guy she had accused of abusing her. Somehow, Detective Akridge was able to make her accept that all of it was her fault and that she had made up the entire story. The tactics employed by policemen like Akridge were so potent that the victims didn’t even realize they were walking into a trap from which it was almost impossible to come out.

Victim/Suspect shows that cases like Emma’s were not new for Tuscaloosa, as 15 months earlier, a girl named Megan Rondini was accused of a similar crime and ended up taking her life. Investigator Adam Jones was handling the case, and once again, the exact same modus operandi was used with Megan as it was in Emma’s case. The police had already presumed that Megan was lying, and they wanted her to accept that fact so that they could frame her for misleading the police investigation and falsely accusing innocent people. The guy Megan was accusing, TJ Bunn Jr., came from a wealthy and well-known family, and she knew that he would exercise his influence and try to turn the investigation in his favor. It was almost ludicrous how the investigators questioned TJ Bunn when he arrived at the police station.

The policemen acted as if they were his spokespersons, and even before he could present his narrative, they told him that they agreed that whatever had happened between TJ and Megan was all consensual. Megan did have inconsistencies in her statement, but that didn’t mean that she was making it all up. They used her recantation as evidence to prove her guilt, but anybody in that state of mind, who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and was dealing with so much stuff, would feel a bit confused when the police officers intentionally pressured her. Detective Carl Hershman tells us in Victim/Suspect that inconsistent statements are not proof that the victim is lying; in fact, it is the other way around. T.J. Bunn was found to be innocent, and Megan was charged with theft, as he had told the police that she had stolen money from his house. Megan tried her best to cope with the trauma, but in the end, she lost the battle. The police authorities had made her feel helpless and miserable, and in the note that was found next to her body, she mentioned that she was not only sexually abused but harassed by the police to the extent that she had just lost her will to live.

Was Rachel Able To Expose The Police Officers?

Rachel wanted to find out if there was a pattern to these cases and if they were happening in other parts of the country or only in Tuscaloosa. She came across more than 150 such cases where the female victims were made suspects and charged with falsely accusing the other party. In all these cases, the molesters knew the victims before, but there was one case from Abingdon where a girl was sexually abused by a total stranger. Dyanie Bermeo was stopped by a traffic police officer and asked to get out of her car, for no rhyme or reason. The officers, under the pretext of frisking her, touched her in the most inappropriate manner he could, and then left her as if nothing had happened. Later, based on CCTV camera footage, which in reality proved nothing, and other baseless grounds, it was concluded that no traffic police vehicle was following her and that she was making up the entire sexual assault thing.

Rachel got to know that the police officers often used to come up with a ruse and use it against the victims to make them confess to the crimes they had not committed. At the end of Victim/Suspect, Rachel met Detective Walberto Cotto, who was probably the only police officer who was quite vocal about how he used to think of a ruse to take out information from the victims. He was the same man who had investigated Nikki Yovino’s case, and he had no clue that one of the suspects in Nikki’s case had been accused of committing sexual assault just a month before. The officer had been caught off guard, and at that point, it was plain and clear how botched up the entire investigation was. Cotto couldn’t say anything after that because his lie had been caught, and he didn’t know how to deny it. Not even once were the accused interrogated, and the police reached an ex-parte judgment using some bizarre logic.

Dyanie Bermeo appealed against the judgment passed by the lower court, and the judge came to the conclusion that recantations were not enough to suggest a false report and that there was no evidence presented by the police that could prove that Dyanie was lying about being sexually assaulted. Just days before Rachel’s report was going to be published, Sheriff Abernathy sent her a video on the basis of which Emma was convicted, and as expected, it didn’t prove anything. But still, the district court did not overturn Emma’s conviction, as they told her that it was her responsibility to inform them if there was missing evidence. Emma decided not to stop until she got justice, and she is currently planning to appeal against the judgment given by the district court.

No police officials were held guilty for how they had manipulated the girls and destroyed their lives. Had it not been for a courageous journalist, the corruption would have never come out in the open. The police officers didn’t have anything specific against the girls, and they were doing it solely because they didn’t want to take on the extra workload and wanted to dismiss the case as soon as possible. Victim/Suspect proves why the media is called the fourth pillar of democracy and how necessary it is to have journalists like Rachel who are not afraid to go against the system and fight for the cause of justice.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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