When Arizona chiropractor Marino Scafidi met a woman through the online dating service Match.com, their match was anything but made in heaven.
Their September 2012 encounter at the Palms led to Scafidi’s arrest on three counts of sexual assault, but a Las Vegas judge later dismissed the charges after concluding that the state had destroyed evidence. And while prosecutors appeal the judge’s decision to the Nevada Supreme Court, Scafidi is pursuing a civil rights lawsuit against Las Vegas police and the resort where the encounter occurred.
According to the lawsuit, Las Vegas police and Palms security officers unlawfully searched Scafidi’s hotel room and conspired “to not preserve exculpatory evidence.” As a result, the complaint alleges, Scafidi was falsely charged.
Neither Scafidi, 34, nor his lawyers could be reached for comment. Representatives of the Metropolitan Police Department also could not be reached, and Palms spokesman Alex Acuna said the resort does not comment on pending litigation.
According to Scafidi’s lawsuit, he met a woman through Match.com, and they exchanged text messages before agreeing to meet. Although the woman’s name appears in court documents, the Las Vegas Review-Journal typically does not identify victims in sexual assault cases.
Scafidi and the woman went on a date on Sept. 1, 2012, at the Palms. During most of the date, according to Scafidi’s lawsuit, the woman “indicated her romantic interest” in him.
The woman drank alcohol during dinner and later in Scafidi’s hotel room, the complaint alleges. In the early morning hours, they went to the resort’s Rain nightclub to dance.
At about 3 a.m., according to Scafidi’s lawsuit, he and the woman went back to his hotel room, where she sent multiple text messages to her friends.
Eventually, the complaint alleges, Scafidi and the woman “engaged in consensual sexual acts” and “agreed to videotape portions of their sexual activity.”
The video recordings demonstrate that the woman “acquiesced in, and actively enjoyed, the sexual activity,” according to the complaint.
Later, the lawsuit alleges, the woman “began to experience symptoms of a psychotic episode.” The document suggests that the episode was caused by an adverse reaction between her alcohol consumption and a prescription antidepressant, Wellbutrin.
According to Scafidi’s lawsuit, the woman walked into the bathroom, called 911 and stated, “He’s going to kill me.” She also falsely claimed that Scafidi had a gun, according to the document.
The woman “never mentioned anything related to sexual battery” during the call, which lasted about 30 minutes, according to the lawsuit.
Palms security officers and Las Vegas police responded and confined Scafidi in the resort’s security room, according to the lawsuit, where they “attempted to coerce Dr. Scafidi to talk to them despite the fact that he had invoked his constitutional rights to counsel and to remain silent.”
“Defendants then forced Dr. Scafidi to disrobe and forced a cotton swab into his urethra,” the lawsuit alleges.
Scafidi was arrested “without probable cause” and taken to the Clark County Detention Center, where he was “falsely imprisoned” for four days, according to the lawsuit.
During the early morning of Sept. 2, 2012, the alleged victim was examined by Jeri Dermanelian, a nurse at University Medical Center.
Both Dermanelian and the hospital are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which claims the nurse set in motion a malicious prosecution of Scafidi and conspired with all other defendants to violate his civil rights.
“Due to pending litigation UMC is unable to comment on this case,” according to an email from UMC spokeswoman Danita Cohen.
According to Scafidi’s lawsuit, the alleged victim gave a statement to officers on Sept. 2, 2012, and “could not tell the police why she falsely claimed that Dr. Scafidi was going to kill her.”
The defendants “repeatedly attempted to elicit accusations of sexual battery” from her, “yet she continued to explain that she only said ‘no’ in a joking context,” according to the lawsuit.
Although the woman was taking her prescribed antidepressant, tests of her blood revealed that she did not ingest any illicit drugs, according to the lawsuit, which indicates she had a blood-alcohol content of 0.17 percent.
The lawsuit claims Scafidi also provided a blood sample, but the defendants destroyed it and chose not to test it for drugs or alcohol. The defendants also destroyed the alleged victim’s blood and urine samples, according to the document, and chose not to examine her cellphone.
Clark County prosecutors filed a criminal case against Scafidi in January 2013, and District Judge Michael Villani dismissed the case in June of this year.
According to the judge’s decision, the police detective who directed the nurse to perform the sexual assault examination failed to request the preservation of her blood and urine samples. Pursuant to the hospital’s policy, the samples were destroyed within 72 hours of collection.
A sample of Scafidi’s blood was taken at the jail but also has been destroyed and is “unavailable for testing for narcotics or alcohol,” according to Villani’s decision.
In addition, the judge noted that the detective elected to return the alleged victim’s phone to her before he or another officer examined the messages or obtained a record of them. The woman erased the messages, “which are now irretrievable and lost forever,” Villani wrote.
Since the woman was texting just minutes before the alleged assault, according to the ruling, “the text messages would establish her state of mind, her ability to communicate to her friends and to the defendant, her level of intoxication, and any side effects she experienced by consuming alcohol and Wellbutrin.”
“In certain circumstances, the state’s failure to preserve any single piece of evidence could prejudice a defendant, but said prejudice could be cured by an advisory jury instruction,” Villani wrote. “However, in this case, an advisory jury instruction cannot cure the prejudice of three missing pieces of crucial evidence. Accordingly, the charges against him must be dismissed.”
The judge also noted in his decision that another detective made “misleading, inappropriate statements” in an affidavit in support of a search warrant.
“Therefore, even if the present case was not dismissed, the evidence acquired as a result of the search warrant (which relies upon a false and misleading affidavit) must be excluded,” Villani wrote.
Prosecutors, who declined to comment for this story, appealed to the state Supreme Court in July. Scafidi filed his lawsuit in August in District Court in Clark County, but the case was moved to federal court on Nov. 20.
According to the Arizona Board of Chiropractic Examiners, Scafidi has been licensed there since December 2007 and has no complaints or disciplinary action on his record.
Scafidi is the founder of the Arizona Chiropractic &Holistic Health Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., according to the clinic’s website, which describes him as a New York native who has lived in Tempe, Ariz., since 2007.
According to the website, Scafidi received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 2003 and a chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences in Whittier, Calif., in 2007.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.