On July 8, 2002, 16-year-old Brian Banks, a blossoming football star at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California, was attending summer school and anticipating his senior season on the football team. He had verbally accepted a four-year scholarship to play football at the University of Southern California.
Shortly after 11:00 a.m., the 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound Banks requested a pass to leave the classroom to use the telephone. On his way down the hall, he saw 15-year-old Wanetta Gibson, whom he had known from middle school, leaving the bathroom.
They got into the elevator and went to a secluded area of the school near a stairwell that was known as a “make-out” spot. About a half hour later, Gibson returned to class, where her teacher criticized her for taking so long.
Moments later, Gibson passed a note to a friend saying that she had been raped by Banks and that she was no longer a virgin. At the end of classes, she met her sister to go home and, prodded by her sister, said that Banks had raped her.
They went back inside the school and reported what happened to school officials. That night, Banks was arrested at his parents’ home in Artesia, California.
He turned 17 on July 24, 2002.
On January 3, 2003, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office charged him with two counts of forcible rape and one count of sodomy with a special circumstance of kidnapping.
Facing a potential prison term of 41 years to life, Banks pleaded no contest on July 8, 2003. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
In 2006, Banks filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, contending that there was no evidence that a rape had occurred—no biological evidence that could be tested for DNA was found. The petition argued that he had received inadequate legal assistance because his lawyer had not sought to present this evidence. The petition was denied as vague.
He sought help from the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law in San Diego, but was told there was no evidence of innocence.
In the meantime, Gibson’s family filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach Unified School District alleging inadequate security. The suit was settled for $1.5 million, split evenly between the family and their attorney.
Banks served five years in prison and then was released on parole with an ankle monitor. He was required to register as a sex offender.
Then, on February 28, 2011, Gibson sent a message to Banks on Facebook, asking him to become an online friend. Banks did not accept the offer, but instead messaged back asking if she would meet with him. Banks also contacted the California Innocence Project again.
Gibson agreed to meet and during a video-taped interview admitted that there was no rape. She and Banks had kissed, hugged and fondled, but had not engaged in sex, she said. She was afraid of coming forward, she said, because of the thought her family might have to give back the $750,000 they received in the lawsuit.
On August 15, 2011, the California Innocence Project filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus, seeking to vacate Banks’ conviction.
The petition said that two years after Gibson said she was raped, she confessed to the classmate to whom she had passed the note that she had not been raped, but made up the accusation because she did not want her mother to know she was sexually active.
The petition also said that Gibson stated that when she was preparing for her deposition in the civil lawsuit, she told her attorney that she had not been raped and that she and Banks were “just playing.” According to the petition, when Gibson expressed her concern, the lawyer said, “Don’t say nothing. Like don’t talk at all. Let them do what they gonna do.”
On May 24, 2012, the conviction was set aside and the charges against Banks, 26, were dismissed at the request of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Brentford Ferreira.
In 2013, the Long Beach Unified School District won a $2.6 million default judgment against Gibson.
– Maurice Possley