Southern California

Woman Arrested in Rolling Hills Estates Mall Murder Files Lawsuit

Cherie Townsend was arrested in the days after a retired nurse was found dead in a mall parking garage

A woman who was arrested on suspicion of murder in the stabbing death of a retired nurse at a Southern California mall has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Cherie Townsend names outgoing Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the department, LA County, the cities of Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills Estates, and other individuals.

Towsend told NBC4 in September that she planned to sue because she was desperate to clear her name after she was accused in the death of Susan Leeds, found dead in her car at a mall in Rolling Hills Estates.

"I was arrested for a murder I didn't commit," she said. "It's important for my story to be out, because I was wrongly accused."

Leeds' body was found May 3. Her throat had been slashed and she suffered about a dozen stab wounds. Items had been stolen from her car.

Deputies arrested a homeless man the following day, but quickly released him. McDonnell then announced Townsend's arrest on suspicion of murder.

Townsend confirmed she was at the mall that day, shopping and passing time after dropping her daughter off at a friend's house in nearby Lomita. She said she knows nothing about the murder, and didn't see anything unusual while walking through the parking garage.

Her car was recorded by a security camera as she left, but Townsend said she didn't realize she'd left her phone behind until later that day. Townsend said the phone, found later in the parking garage, is the only thing that connects her with the murder scene, and it's how detectives tracked her down.

Townsend was in jail for four days. Prosecutors reviewed the evidence and decided no murder charge would be filed before Townsend was released.

The Sheriff's Department detectives on the case declined to be interviewed. The department would not say if it still considers Townsend a suspect, but her name is not mentioned in a statement calling the case a "very complex, active investigation" that lacks witnesses. 

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