CNN has reached out multiple times to Michael Borges, an attorney for Papini, for comment.
In a 55-page affidavit filed last week in federal court, prosecutors detailed what Papini told authorities after she was found. She told police she was abducted and branded by two Hispanic women who kept her chained in a closet. Papini mentioned hearing them talking about a buyer and getting paid for the kidnapping, the document states.
She told police that one of them wore “those big hoop earrings” and had thin, “almost drawn in” eyebrows, according to the affidavit. A sketch based on Papini’s statements and released by the FBI showed one of the women wearing a bandana over her face.
The political climate at the time of the alleged fake abduction can’t be ignored, said Saenz, the president and general counsel of MALDEF. Anti-Latino sentiment had been surging and Papini’s story likely fed into it.
The impact on the Latino community
The search for Papini and her claims to police in 2016 took a financial and mental cost in a county with a growing Hispanic community, Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson has said.
In all, the cost of the investigation borne by public safety agencies was an estimated $150,000, Johnson said in a statement on Facebook last week. The case also diverted resources from real cases with real victims.
“Not only did this charade take valuable resources away from real criminal investigative matters,” the sheriff said, “but in a time where there is serious human trafficking cases with legitimate victims Sherri Papini used this tragic societal phenomenon to gain notoriety and financial gain.”
“Not only did this charade take valuable resources away from real criminal investigative matters,” Johnson said, “but in a time where there is serious human trafficking cases with legitimate victims Sherri Papini used this tragic societal phenomenon to gain notoriety and financial gain.”
Bill Garcia, a private investigator who volunteered to help find Papini in 2016, said Shasta County sits on Intestate 5, which is known to be a corridor for trafficking between Mexico and Canada. That made me him believe Papini could be a possible target of trafficking like other women in the region.
‘Racialization of crime’ played a role, scholar says
Some people have drawn comparisons between Papini’s case and the behavior that other White women have shown in past controversial interactions with people of color.
In 2020, Amy Cooper, a White woman, called police on a Black man while he was birdwatching in New York’s Central Park. The incident, which was partially filmed and posted on Facebook by the man, Christian Cooper (no relation), was shared widely as another example of White people calling the police on Black people for mundane things. In the recording, he is silent for the most part, while she frantically tells police he is threatening her and her dog.
Amy Cooper faced a misdemeanor charge of falsely reporting an incident to police but the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office dropped the charge last year after she completed education and therapy classes on racial equity.
“She wasn’t under threat, but she had very much internalized that ‘if a Black man is speaking to me, I’m being threatened and when I tell the police that a Black man is threatening me they will believe me,” Canizales said. “In the Sherri Papini case, she was evoking the same sort of racialization of crime.”
When Papini described her alleged abductors as Mexican women, she had a similar confidence “that no one would question her because the public has accepted that this is what criminal looks like,” Canizales said.
Advocates and scholars said the notion that Latinos are viewed as part of a migration crisis or being criminal has not stopped or disappeared.
“It’s a great concern that we are in 2022 and we are dealing not with less, but in many ways with more open statements of racial bias against the Latino community,” Saenz said.