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Prosecutors reviving cases of 4 women who told police they were sexually assaulted by same Utah State student

Published July 31, 2016 11:33 am

Investigation • In 2015, the victims went to police and informed the school, but no charges were filed.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cache County prosecutors say they have begun reviewing and investigating the cases of four women who reported to Logan police that they'd been sexually assaulted by the same Utah State University student in 2015. Meanwhile, USU has tasked its in-house legal counsel with reviewing the school's sexual-assault policies and events reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

The women — who did not know each other — separately went to Logan police last year and made official reports naming the same man as their attacker.

Three of them were students and also informed the school.



But no charges were filed and it appears the university never fully investigated the allegations against the student, who has since graduated but remained on USU's Logan campus through spring 2016. Two of the women left the school because they no longer felt safe, they told The Tribune.

Under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination, higher education institutions have an obligation to swiftly respond to complaints of sexual assault.

After the story was published, USU spokesman Tim Vitale released a statement saying officials would do a "thorough examination of the events reported" as part of an "ongoing comprehensive review" of how the school handles sexual assault cases.

Vitale said this week that the review has begun, and will look at communication between offices that deal with sexual assault, how the school handles anonymous or confidential sexual assault reports and mandatory reporter training.

"The inquiry will be led by our in-house legal counsel," Vitale told The Tribune. "We're trying to address this as quickly as we can, and any recommendations will be shared widely with our constituents."

He did not answer questions about the scope of the inquiry or who would review the findings or act on any recommendations that come out of it.

S. Daniel Carter, board president of SurvJustice, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to survivors of sexual violence, said the school's investigation sounds like a good first step.

But Title IX and the Clery Act — a campus-safety law — are specialized and might not be part of every lawyer's expertise, especially as the requirements have tightened in past years, he said.

Vitale said Friday he could not reach USU's general counsel, Mica McKinney, to determine whether she has had Title IX training, but said she has been "a driving force" in past changes to the school's sexual assault policies.

Carter noted that "There is a conflict of interest, that the in-house counsel has to protect the institution."

One way to protect an institution from future liability is to identify and correct deficiencies, he said, but that would not "address potential past errors, which they may, understandably, be reluctant to identify," he said.

"There were still a lot of unanswered questions about what happened, and how it was allowed to happen," he said.

The three female students — Catherine, Mary and Anna — all went to the Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information office (SAAVI), which provides confidential counseling, before going to police.

Jenny Erazo, SAAVI coordinator, told The Tribune she would tell the university if she received multiple allegations against the same perpetrator, but would not say if that's what she did in this instance.

Catherine didn't report to the Title IX office, but informed her dormitory complex's resident assistant — who is required to report to Title IX — and the dorm's supervisor.

Mary said she also told the school's Title IX office about the incident, but later asked the school to stop investigating.

Anna told someone she believes worked in the Title IX office, but said they never got back in touch with her about how to proceed.

The Tribune generally does not name people suspected of a crime before they have been charged; it also generally does not name sexual assault victims. Anna agreed to the use of her first name; the other three women requested pseudonyms.

Title IX mandates that when universities have a credible report that a student has sexually abused multiple students, "that pattern of conduct should trigger an inquiry" — even without a formal complaint from an alleged victim.

"The university will continue to look for additional ways to improve our processes and resources, and we will look closely at the recommendations from the inquiry and make any changes necessary to protect the safety and well-being of our students," Vitale said.

Carter said an internal review may have some advantages over hiring external lawyers, who would not have full access to information protected by federal education privacy laws.

A school could do both, he said, but "I think a proper Department of Education investigation would be the best way," as federal officials have the authority to "dig deep" and access every single record, he said.

"The downside of that is that it can take years."

As of this week, 257 sexual violence cases at 200 schools are under investigation by the education department, including two in Utah: Westminster College and the University of Utah. Investigations are usually requested by the students who were affected.

All four women gave their names to Logan police, but said the investigations languished and that they weren't contacted about the final outcomes of their cases, which were all handled by Detective Kendall Olsen. Police reports indicate he sent two for review to Deputy Cache County Attorney Barbara Lachmar, who declined to press charges in both instances. She never received the other two cases, according to police reports, and the accused student was not interviewed in those. Logan police did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Lachmar this month asked Olsen to send her all four cases for review, two days after The Tribune asked for comment on its initial story. She said she was aware of the cases before The Tribune contacted her.

On Wednesday, Lachmar said she has received all four cases and is currently reviewing them. On Friday, she added that the office is also "doing some additional investigation to assist us in making our final decision."

She said that process will not take months but could take several weeks.

astuckey@sltrib.com

Twitter @alexdstuckey

 

 

 

 

 

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