Woman arrested in Rolling Hills Estates killing files damages claim

- A woman who was arrested in connection with a fatal stabbing outside a Rolling Hills Estates mall but released days later when prosecutors declined to charge her with a crime announced a multimillion-dollar damages claim 

"Being falsely accused, I live my life in hiding afraid that the police are gonna come, or that I'm going to be unjustly targeted like I was before,'' Cherie Townsend, now 40, told reporters at a downtown Los Angeles news conference with her attorneys.

The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, does not specify an amount, but notes that the damages are expected to exceed $12 million.

Townsend was arrested in mid-May in connection with the stabbing death of Susan Leeds, 66, of Rancho Palos Verdes, who was attacked about 12:15 p.m. May 3 in the parking garage at the Promenade on the Peninsula in the 500 block of Deep Valley Drive.

Leeds was found inside her white 2016 Mercedes-Benz SUV parked on the first floor of the Promenade's parking garage, with her throat cut and several stab wounds to the chest.

Townsend's vehicle -- a gold 2008 Chevrolet Malibu -- had been parked on the same floor, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said at the time, noting then that there was still a "tremendous amount of investigative work'' to be done and asking anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity around the two vehicles that day to contact detectives. He said the motive for the crime appeared to be robbery.

Five days after she was arrested, Townsend was released, with the District Attorney's Office declined to file charges and asking sheriff's officials to conduct additional investigation.

In a statement released Monday, sheriff's department officials did not directly respond to the damages claim, but said the killing remains under investigation.

"This has proven to be a very complex, yet active investigation,'' according to the sheriff's department. "Investigators are still receiving tips from the public and are diligently following up on each and every lead. With the lack of eyewitnesses in this case, the physical and forensic evidence collected is continually re-evaluated. Additionally, investigators are coordinating their efforts in the furtherance of this investigation with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office Major Crimes Unit.''

Sheriff's deputies initially detained a man in connection with the killing, but he was ultimately ruled out as a suspect and was released.

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