After two years, a case’s status changed due to a student media investigation
By Julia Contarelli
Two years after an attempted sexual assault was classified as unfounded, Campus Police have redefined it as a forcible sex offense.
“Upon further review of the incident, it did fit the definition of an act of fondling as described under the Clery Act guidelines,” Randy Melton, Chief of Campus Police in a written statement. “The recently submitted Clery Report included the updating of the 2014 data to include this incident which was unintentionally left off the original 2014 report.”
The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges to report crime statistics.
According to Kimberly Lessner, Executive Director of Marketing, Media and Communications, the changes happened because student media questioned the report and Campus Police took a second look at it.
“Chief Melton … makes the decisions to reclassify. I did not,” said Lessner. “They’re the ones making the decision. I think what it says about Campus Police is that they take their roles very seriously, they strive to do their best at every point in time.”
In the last issue of The DrumBeat, the story “TJC failed to report ‘unfounded’ crime as required by law” reported that experts believe the attempted sexual assault should have been listed on the Annual Security Report.
“If and when a point arises about a case, they are very open to going back. They’re open to looking at it, to check if, you know, ‘did we do this correctly,’ and if in their estimation, they could’ve done something differently,” said Lessner. “They are gonna correct it immediately. I think that that’s what happened in this case, and I think that’s what they did.”
The case was considered ‘unfounded’ beforehand because the victim exchanged text messages with the perpetrator 10 days after the incident, on Jan. 26.
According to the police report investigation narrative, Officer P.Scott on Jan. 22:
“I explained I could not go any further with the case because of the text she sent, (victim) said she sent it for a friend. I advised her that with her name and number it would be very hard to prosecute. (Victim) understood.”
The police report shows ‘case is closed’ after the quote from Jan. 22, five days before the text messages were exchanged.
Together with the normal investigation, all sexual assault cases are required by law to have a Title IX investigation as well. TJC officials could not confirm if this case had one.
According to the U.S. Department of Education:
“Even if a student or his or her parent does not want to file a complaint or does not request that the school take any action on the student’s behalf, if a school knows or reasonably should know about possible sexual harassment or sexual violence, it must promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation.”
After analyzing the report, experts said the case should not be ‘unfounded’ because victims often have a sense of denial and self-blame.
“If the police talked the victim out of pressing charges based on that exchange of text messages, that reflects a real lack of training and professionalism on the part of the police department,” according to Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center. “It’s well-documented that especially in a campus setting where people encounter each other socially, victims sometimes will act pleasantly toward the people who’ve assaulted them, partly because it’s hard to conceive of yourself as having been sexually assaulted.”
The revised 2014 report and the 2015 report was sent to students and faculty on Sept. 30 through an email. The new corrected version that now shows the forcible sex offense from 2014 has not yet been emailed. The Department of Education requires that if a Clery Act report undergoes a correction after being issued, it must be sent again in the same way as it was first issued.
“If there was an email notification to the entire campus when the report first came out, then there must be another notification using the same method … the report must be redistributed campus-wide and, if it is posted online, the campus must receive notification to look for the corrected report,” said LoMonte.
According to Lessner, the students and faculty will be notified, but she did not specify how that would happen.
The Drumbeat asked whether the victim would be notified that the case had been reclassified, what will happen to the perpetrator and if a new investigation will happen.
Neither Lessner nor Campus police could inform by press day if the victim has been notified, if anything happened to the perpetrator, or if a new investigation is happening.