Police Suspend Rape Investigation at University of Virginia

Police suspend rape investigation at University of Virginia

Photo: BlueSalix/Wikimedia Commons

In the explosive wake of a Rolling Stone article in November 2014, police in Charlottesville, Virginia, have announced that they are suspending the rape investigation discussed at length in the Rolling Stone article. The article was about a woman who claimed to have been gang raped at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia; however, investigators have uncovered contradictory information. In addition, Rolling Stone has been criticized for their handling of the rape investigation story.

Rape Investigation, Journalistic Sensationalism, or Both?

According to a Miami Herald Associated Press article, the alleged victim in the rape investigation, known only as “Jackie,” told Rolling Stone magazine that during her first semester at the University of Virginia in 2012, she went on a date with a classmate known only as “Drew” who later lured her into a secluded room at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house where she was raped by seven fraternity brothers.

Between the AP article and a Los Angeles Times report, there is a discrepancy as to when the university first heard of the rape. The AP article says the story first came to light in May of 2013 when Jackie was in a dean’s office on an unrelated academic matter. The Times stated that “Jackie” reported a separate incident of being attacked by four men on campus in April of 2014 to a dean and campus police. During this meeting, she supposedly also told them about the alleged rape in 2012. According to Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo, police found inconsistencies in Jackie’s account of the attack from the four men in 2014 but that she did have an abrasion on her head.

Regardless of when the story was first related to university officials, what seems to be consistent with both dates is that Jackie stated she didn’t want to push for a rape investigation regarding the 2012 fraternity rape incident. Even after the story broke in Rolling Stone in November and University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan asked law enforcement to look into the alleged assault, investigators were forced to proceed without cooperation from Jackie.

While they were working on the rape investigation, several other inconsistencies came forward which led Charlottesville police to announce that they were suspending (but not closing entirely) the investigation on Monday, March 23. Longo stated that campus deans, fraternities, employees, and even friends of Jackie provided documents and statements which didn’t support Jackie’s claims.

In the Rolling Stone article, entitled “A Rape on Campus,” Jackie said she told three friends about the assault and that two of them told her not to report the incident to the police. However, the friends told the Associated Press that the exact opposite was true. They said they had insisted that Jackie contact the police, but she had refused.

In addition, in the course of the rape investigation, it was discovered that contrary to Jackie’s statement, there was no party at the Phi Kappa Psi house the night of the alleged rape. The classmate Jackie referred to as “Drew” was contacted, but it was discovered that he was not only a member of a different fraternity but claimed to not even know Jackie.

“That doesn’t mean that something terrible did not happen to Jackie,” Longo said at a news conference on Monday. “I can’t prove that something didn’t happen.” He went on to say that while the investigation wasn’t officially closed, investigators were “not able to conclude to any substantive degree than an incident consistent with the facts in [the Rolling Stone] article” had occurred.

Damning to Future Rape Investigations?

After the publication of the article in Rolling Stone, several critics stepped forward to voice their concerns over not only questionable reporting but also damages that this story could cause to future rape investigations. One of the biggest issues from a journalistic standpoint was Rolling Stone’s decision to not contact the accused in the case for their side of the story.

Rolling Stone published a letter from Managing Editor Will Dana on Dec. 5 detailing some of the inconsistencies in Jackie’s story but saying that she still stood by it. Dana said that in light of some of this new information, they realized they were in error in not attempting to contact the allegedly guilty parties.

The story also had a negative impact on the University of Virginia, which was accused of having a rampant culture of sexual violence. University President Sullivan banned social activities at fraternities after the article was published. These activities were reinstated after the organizations agreed to much stricter rules and regulations of the social activities. In light of the new information, it has been reported that these new rules and regulations will be re-evaluated.

Many rape survivor advocates say the article and subsequent rape investigation has set the cause back considerably, given the fact that often women who claim rape are already not taken seriously by law enforcement and the general public.

According to a statement from Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity “is now exploring its legal options to address the extensive damage caused by Rolling Stone.”

High Schooler Tweet, Suspension Raises First Amendment Issues

The case of a Minnesota high school student who is suing his former school as the result of a suspension has come back into the light at the online site of the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. While the Twitter incident which led to the student suspension occurred at the beginning of 2014, the circumstances surrounding the incident raise important questions about not only the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but also about how to approach behavior from a legal standpoint in what is still the relatively new world of social media. The Power of Just Two Words In January of 2014, Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn was on the last leg of his high school career. As a National Honor Society member with a 3.8 G.P.A., captain of both the football and basketball teams at his high school, and a student who had already received his letter of acceptance to North Dakota State University, the future was looking bright for Sagehorn. Then he made a mistake common to many high school students—and adults for that matter. He made a joke online which was both false and potentially damaging to another party, raising questions of the bounds of the First Amendment. In an online confession group which Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told the Minneapolis Star Tribune the school didn’t even know existed, Sagehorn posted a two word response when someone asked if he had ever “made out” a 28-year-old female gym teacher. Sagehorn’s response was “actually, yeah.” According to the Star Tribune, even though Sagehorn admitted this was just a joke, approximately a week after the incident, he was called into the principal’s office and suspended for five days. Principal Pierskalla told Sagehorn’s mother that Reid was suspended because he “damaged a teacher’s reputation.” The five days turned to a ten day suspension, which turned into a nearly two-month suspension. This additional suspension was justified by saying that Sagehorn was guilty of “threatening, intimidating, or assault of a teacher, administrator, or other staff member.” Additionally, the Rogers police chief, Jeff Beahen, said they were looking into potential felony charges of defamation; however, within a few days, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office said there would be no charges. In June, after graduating from another high school, Sagehorn filed the suit against the Elk River School District and Police Chief Beahen, as well as Superintendent Bezek, Principal Pierskalla, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr, and police liason Stephen Sarazin. The 31-page suit claims that Sagehorn’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated and that his name “is forever linked with the term ‘felony.’” Sagehorn’s suit seeks monetary damages, policy changes to protect other students, and expungement of Sagehorn’s suspension from his record. Is a Tweet Cause for Suspension or a Case for the First Amendment? Several questions arise, primarily brought up by Sagehorn’s attorneys when it comes to this case. Even though Sagehorn publicly apologized and admonished himself for the actions—stating that “No matter how I meant it, [it] doesn’t matter … Sarcasm doesn’t belong on the Internet.”—intentions don’t always come into play when it comes to questions of guilt or innocence. However, attorneys for Sagehorn believe the school and law enforcement reactions when it came to the actions of a minor are very important. Regarding their justification of Sagehorn’s actions being “threatening” and “disrupting,” Raleigh Levine, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law who specializes in the First Amendment, was quoted in a KARE 11 article as saying, “The facts are particularly bad for the school because there’s not threatening behavior here … [T]he only disruption from speech came because of the school’s extreme reaction to it.” The lawsuit also takes issue with Police Chief Beahan’s claim that Sagehorn’s conduct was like “crying or yelling, ‘Fire!’ in a movie theater or saying, ‘I got a bomb,’ on a plane,” two instances where the protections of the First Amendment are questioned. However, the suit goes on to say that Sagehorn’s comments couldn’t be compared to those examples, and that in addition to a violation of the First Amendment, his privacy was invaded considering the actions occurred outside of school hours, off school property, and on his personal computer. When Superintendent Bezek found out about the lawsuit, he was surprised. However, he went on record with the Star Tribune as saying that he believed it’s hard to keep up with the technological world. “Kids are living in a world without consequences and boundaries,” Bezek said. Bezek went on to say that he had just returned from a superintendent’s convention when he found about the lawsuit. The primary topic of the convention was “staying out of trouble with social media.” Bezek said he wasn’t sure if the rules in place today were appropriate for the “game” kids were playing with technology. Professor Levine would agree with Bezek in this instance, saying that cases like Sagehorn’s were occurring across the country. “I think schools not only in Minnesota but all over the country are looking at the cases again because there hasn’t been any kind [of] definitive guidance from the Supreme Court,” Levine said. According to Sagehorn’s attorneys, as of December, the Elk River School District and Rogers Police Department had answered the complaint and filed motions to dismiss.

Photo: Steindy/Wikimedia Commons

The case of a Minnesota high school student who is suing his former school as the result of a suspension has come back into the light at the online site of the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal. While the Twitter incident which led to the student suspension occurred at the beginning of 2014, the circumstances surrounding the incident raise important questions about not only the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but also about how to approach behavior from a legal standpoint in what is still the relatively new world of social media.

The Power of Just Two Words

In January of 2014, Rogers High School senior Reid Sagehorn was on the last leg of his high school career. As a National Honor Society member with a 3.8 G.P.A., captain of both the football and basketball teams at his high school, and a student who had already received his letter of acceptance to North Dakota State University, the future was looking bright for Sagehorn.

Then he made a mistake common to many high school students—and adults for that matter. He made a joke online which was both false and potentially damaging to another party, raising questions of the bounds of the First Amendment.

In an online confession group which Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek told the Minneapolis Star Tribune the school didn’t even know existed, Sagehorn posted a two word response when someone asked if he had ever “made out” a 28-year-old female gym teacher. Sagehorn’s response was “actually, yeah.”

According to the Star Tribune, even though Sagehorn admitted this was just a joke, approximately a week after the incident, he was called into the principal’s office and suspended for five days. Principal Pierskalla told Sagehorn’s mother that Reid was suspended because he “damaged a teacher’s reputation.”

The five days turned to a ten day suspension, which turned into a nearly two-month suspension. This additional suspension was justified by saying that Sagehorn was guilty of “threatening, intimidating, or assault of a teacher, administrator, or other staff member.” Additionally, the Rogers police chief, Jeff Beahen, said they were looking into potential felony charges of defamation; however, within a few days, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office said there would be no charges.

In June, after graduating from another high school, Sagehorn filed the suit against the Elk River School District and Police Chief Beahen, as well as Superintendent Bezek, Principal Pierskalla, Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr, and police liason Stephen Sarazin. The 31-page suit claims that Sagehorn’s First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated and that his name “is forever linked with the term ‘felony.’”

Sagehorn’s suit seeks monetary damages, policy changes to protect other students, and expungement of Sagehorn’s suspension from his record.

Is a Tweet Cause for Suspension or a Case for the First Amendment?

Several questions arise, primarily brought up by Sagehorn’s attorneys when it comes to this case.

Even though Sagehorn publicly apologized and admonished himself for the actions—stating that “No matter how I meant it, [it] doesn’t matter … Sarcasm doesn’t belong on the Internet.”—intentions don’t always come into play when it comes to questions of guilt or innocence. However, attorneys for Sagehorn believe the school and law enforcement reactions when it came to the actions of a minor are very important.

Regarding their justification of Sagehorn’s actions being “threatening” and “disrupting,” Raleigh Levine, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law who specializes in the First Amendment, was quoted in a KARE 11 article as saying, “The facts are particularly bad for the school because there’s not threatening behavior here … [T]he only disruption from speech came because of the school’s extreme reaction to it.”

The lawsuit also takes issue with Police Chief Beahan’s claim that Sagehorn’s conduct was like “crying or yelling, ‘Fire!’ in a movie theater or saying, ‘I got a bomb,’ on a plane,” two instances where the protections of the First Amendment are questioned. However, the suit goes on to say that Sagehorn’s comments couldn’t be compared to those examples, and that in addition to a violation of the First Amendment, his privacy was invaded considering the actions occurred outside of school hours, off school property, and on his personal computer.

When Superintendent Bezek found out about the lawsuit, he was surprised. However, he went on record with the Star Tribune as saying that he believed it’s hard to keep up with the technological world.

“Kids are living in a world without consequences and boundaries,” Bezek said.

Bezek went on to say that he had just returned from a superintendent’s convention when he found about the lawsuit. The primary topic of the convention was “staying out of trouble with social media.” Bezek said he wasn’t sure if the rules in place today were appropriate for the “game” kids were playing with technology.

Professor Levine would agree with Bezek in this instance, saying that cases like Sagehorn’s were occurring across the country.

“I think schools not only in Minnesota but all over the country are looking at the cases again because there hasn’t been any kind [of] definitive guidance from the Supreme Court,” Levine said.

According to Sagehorn’s attorneys, as of December, the Elk River School District and Rogers Police Department had answered the complaint and filed motions to dismiss.

Jail Overcrowding in Illinois Eased via Controversial Measures

Easing Jail Overcrowding

Photo: Monique/Wikimedia Commons

At a time when Utah is facing prison overcrowding issues, matched with a facility at Point of the Mountain in Draper that is considered incapable of supporting the growing prison population, Cook County in Illinois is proposing and enhancing several measures which seek to reduce not only their own jail overcrowding issues but also perceived problems in the state’s criminal justice system in general.

Most of these measures put Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart firmly in the spotlight, either supporting such issues as a “rocket docket” for low-level cases, or expressing concerns over increases in defendants being released into electronic monitoring.

Easing Jail Overcrowding the Sheriff’s Way

According to articles in both the ABA Journal and Chicago Tribune, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is critical of the very criminal justice system he helps to administer. In his most recent actions, Dart has implemented some changes and proposed others in an effort to ease jail overcrowding in his county.

The first area Dart wants to address is the length of jail stays—perhaps more importantly, the cost of those stays—for detainees being held on minor offenses. In a press conference on Tuesday, March 10, Dart said the system is “not set up to care” about these detainees who may sometimes wait for months for their case to be resolved.

Using an example of a man who spent 114 days in jail for allegedly stealing a pack of candy bars, a stay which cost taxpayers more than $16,000, Dart criticized “the outrageous amounts of money we spend incarcerating the wrong people.” He said the system leads to not only jail overcrowding but also “unjust incarceration.”

Addressing the latter part of the statement, Dart—who has referred to the Cook County Jail as the largest mental health facility in the country—is proposing a diversion program for mentally ill defendants, but the outcome of that proposal remains to be seen.

In order to address the overly lengthy and costly stays, starting the week of March 16th and continuing every week thereafter, Dart said county officials will identify five-to-ten cases where they believe people should not still be held in jail, and then work with county prosecutors and public defenders in an attempt to fast track those particular cases.

Along the lines of fast tracking, Dart is also proposing legislation for a “rocket docket” which would give the county 30 days to work out cases of retail theft and criminal trespassing before the defendants would be released on recognizance bonds or electronic monitoring. Dart said he believes that if successful, this could potentially be applied to low-level drug offenses as well.

When Easing Jail Overcrowding Increases Stress

The issue of electronic monitoring is an issue that is more of a concern to Dart, seeing as those defendants are under his office’s responsibility. Even though Dart has pushed for releasing more nonviolent offenders on electronic monitoring and instituted a program in 2013 which would intensely monitor “high priority defendants”—to include three daily unannounced visits from sheriff’s deputies—the 70 percent increase of defendants put on electronic monitoring last year by Cook County judges has the Cook County Sheriff’s Office scrambling to keep up.

With electronic monitoring, a defendant wears an ankle or wrist bracelets which sends radio signals to a cellular tower to assure the defendant is staying within the confines of their release (which may include places of employment). While electronic monitoring has been shown an effective tool for easing jail overcrowding and allowing defendants to continue working and supporting their families, it also raises several concerns. One issue is judges worrying that they are releasing the wrong defendants back into the public simply to go on to commit another crime spree.

This issue came to a head in Cook County when Chief Judge Timothy Evans stated that a long-standing federal court order directed Dart as the sheriff to decide who would be released onto electronic monitoring. Dart maintained that judges would know better if a defendant might be dangerous or a flight risk.

Evans also said the sheriff’s office wasn’t releasing everyone who had been ordered onto electronic monitoring. However, Dart stated that just because a defendant is ordered onto electronic monitoring doesn’t mean they will be released. Certain circumstances—such as a defendant being homeless or not being able to raise the money necessary for their bond—may lead to those defendants remaining in jail.

Perhaps in response to this dispute and Dart’s other pushes for easing jail overcrowding, Cook County judges ordered 14,717 male and female defendants awaiting trail onto electronic monitoring, as opposed to 8,657 in 2013. The sheriff’s office reported that the jail population dropped from 10,388 in February of 2013 to 8,427 at the beginning of March of this year, reflecting a trend that is the opposite of many other places in the country, including Utah.

However, Dart is concerned that it seems judges are releasing considerably more defendants to electronic monitoring who are potentially dangerous. Many of these defendants would fall under the Cook County Sheriff’s Office “high priority” category, which would mean increased supervision and responsibilities to Dart and his deputies.

While one such high-profile defendant—a former suburban deputy fire chief charged with attempted murder among several other crimes—had originally complained about the intense supervision, claiming it bordered on harassment, he has since come around to accepting the situation as a condition of his release.

“It sure beats being in jail,” he said.