Friday, January 30, 2015

University president rushed to judgment and assumed rape occurred, but a grand jury says there is not even probable cause to indict the accused


A New Jersey University president needs to apologize for unjustly rushing to judgment in a case where five minority men were charged with rape.

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In late November of last year, five male students at William Paterson University were arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a woman in a residence hall. At the time, University President Kathleen Waldron said in a statement circulated to students and faculty that the men who were arrested were living in campus residence halls. She noted: “I am angry and dismayed that this crime was committed on our campus and allegedly by students." Waldron added: “My deepest concern is for the victim of this criminal act who has courageously stepped forward to take legal action and seek justice. No expression of anger or sadness on my part can alleviate the harm done to the victim and my heart goes out to her and her family.” (The actual statement -- which is no longer on the school's website -- is posted here.) The statement does not mention the names of the accused, and it says the crime was "allegedly" committed by students, but the men's names were identified in the news, and it was very easy to infer that if, indeed, this brutal crime occurred (and Waldron's statement made clear that it did), that these five young minority men had to be the perpetrators.

This week, after hearing evidence for a day, a grand jury -- using the probable cause standard (the same as used in college campus sex hearings) declined to indict the young men. Defense counsel praised the prosecutor -- a woman named Lisa Squitieri -- for doing a fair job. Ron Ricci, an attorney for one of the students, said this: “The facts demonstrated that this was not a sexual assault, and the actions of those young men were not in violation of the law. It clearly wasn’t a crime.”

But Mr. Ricci criticized “damaging statements” made by the college's administrators that, he said, made it seem the defendants were guilty. “It was outrageous that these young men had to go through the publicity they had to go through,” Ricci said.

Attorney, Laura Sutnick, who represents one of the young men, said the men received letters notifying them they were barred from campus and would have a university hearing on the matter. She said she believed the hearing would be held after the grand jury made its determination. Her client, she said, has not decided whether he would return to William Paterson. “He may be cautious about going back to that school; that school didn’t support them,” she said. “The damage that was done to them can never be repaired.” Sutnick said her client was unable to find work while he’s been out of school, at least partly because of publicity over the charges against him. She said those charges and the events that followed would affect the defendants “for life.”

President Kathleen Waldron's rush to judgment in assuming this rape occurred not only unfairly tainted the five young minority men arrested for the alleged crime, but was a chilling echo of the sentiments often expressed under the hanging trees of the Old South, where due process was deemed a luxury women could not afford when it came to black men accused of rape. It is a disturbing reminder of the Hofstra false rape case. President Waldron, who is white, publicly stated that a crime had been committed, and she elevated the accuser to the status of "victim." She even commended her "courage" for coming forward with the allegation. Anyone who bothered to read the local newspaper could connect the dots and learn who the "rapists" were, even though Waldron herself didn't name them.

When it comes the wrongful accusations, the group most at risk is young black males. The aforementioned Hofstra case, and the Brian Banks case, are probably the two most prominent cases this blog has chronicled, and both involved young minority men. The men of the black and Hispanic communities are common targets of false rape scandals, and false rape claims strike a very sensitive nerve in those communities, given this nation's sad history of lynching black men. See here.  President Waldron owes the accused and the men of color of William Patterson University an apology.