When a public safety notice was released Monday about a rape reported Sunday, it prompted questions about the reason for the delay.
Those questions remain, since the suspect was identified and apprehended before the notice was ever sent — the first time in at least three years when that’s been the case.
Public safety notices, after all, are issued when a crime occurs that’s considered a concern or continuing threat to campus. And because the suspect had been apprehended, it’s unclear what continuing threat or concern prompted the notice’s issuing after the rape, which reportedly occurred early Sunday in a North Campus residence hall.
The University Police chief, meanwhile, referred The Lantern to Ohio State’s policy on timely warnings when asked what exactly the concern was that prompted the notice. He also said the police wanted to make sure everything was accurate when they sent it.
The incident was reported on Sunday at about noon by a woman unaffiliated with OSU. She told police the rape had occurred earlier that morning between 2-3 a.m. in a residence hall on North Campus, according to the notice.
The suspect — described as a 19-year-old white man, standing at about 5-feet-8-inches tall and weighing approximately 185 pounds — had been “identified and removed from campus,” the notice said.
University Police Chief Paul Denton said in an email Monday the suspect was an OSU student but not a resident of the dorm where the reported incident occurred. He later said the suspect did not make a forced or illegal entry into the residence hall, and that the suspect and victim were “very casually” acquainted.
Although the suspect was identified and removed from campus, it’s uncertain if the suspect was ever at large before the notice was issued — Denton said Wednesday he would not provide a timeline of events for the incident, citing the fact that the investigation is still open and ongoing.
When asked to clarify how the suspect was “removed” from campus, Denton referred to a statement he provided The Lantern Monday after the safety notice’s release.
“The suspect was identified and escorted from university property by OSU police officers without incident,” Denton’s Monday email said.
One expert said if police knew about an alleged sexual assault before the suspect was “removed” and didn’t send out a public safety notice about it, that could be perceived as the police ignoring the Clery Act, which says colleges and universities have to let students know in a timely manner when crimes of ongoing threat take place.
“The whole purpose of a Clery Act alert is to let people take precautions to protect themselves as soon as it’s known there’s a danger,” said Frank LoMonte, a lawyer and executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “So if you have a rape on campus and you don’t immediately apprehend the suspect, that’s exactly when you’re supposed to give the warning.”
Denton said the notice was issued more than a day after the alleged incident took place because police wanted to protect the victim and to make sure officers had their facts straight.
“The concern for the survivor is the first and foremost issue of importance — to make sure they’re safe, that they have the resources they need, medical treatment if that’s applicable, all of those things are done first before a police report or investigation is even thought of,” he said Wednesday afternoon on a phone call. He said there are also parts of the process like finding out where the crime occurred, whether there is any evidence to collect, gathering witness statements and identifying suspects that come first.
LoMonte said although the Clery Act requires schools to inform students of crimes, it doesn’t say police have to inform students within a set period of time.
“There’s a lot of flexibility for colleges to make judgement calls because there are no absolute numbers in the Clery Act. It doesn’t say one hour or two hours, it uses words like ‘timely’ and ‘immediate,’” he said.
Comparing to the past
Monday’s public safety notice was the second spawned by a reported rape in a residence hall this year, and it was the first public safety notice in at least three years that was issued after a suspect had been both identified and apprehended.
In February, University Police issued a public safety notice about a rape that allegedly occurred Jan. 25 in a South Campus residence hall. That notice said information about the rape that had surfaced — including forensics report and the suspect’s return to the residence hall — caused police officers to believe there was a continuing threat.
One public safety notice in that three-year period was issued after a suspect was identified, but not apprehended.
That notice was issued Feb. 27, 2013, after a wanted person, Michael Moses Tarpeh, also known as “Bigggggg Mike,” was said to be have been seen in the campus area.
Tarpeh was later arrested March 5, 2013, in Iowa while allegedly attempting to steal gas to fuel the stolen car he was driving.
Some students living in the North Campus residence hall where Sunday’s reported rape occurred had mixed feelings about being kept in the dark for more than a day.
Becca Moorhead, a first-year in nutrition and industry, said she wished police would have released the notice sooner or included more information about the suspect.
“It seemed like it kind of caused more panic than really anything else because it was so ambiguous,” she said. “People were starting to question like, ‘Who is it? Am I living next to this person? Like what’s going on?’”
Others like Haley Bogomolny, a first-year in international studies, said she still feels safe in her residence hall, despite the reported incident.
“I never really felt any danger living here,” she said. “I don’t see this as being more dangerous than living in any other dorm, but I think it just makes me worry that even if you feel safe, you still have to take safety precautions.”
Adam Kimble, a second-year in computer and information science, said police should do what they need to do in order to find a suspect, even if it means delaying a public safety notice.
“The only reason I could see them issuing a public safety notice would be to help them in finding the criminal,” he said. “So it depends on what is the most useful to helping them find the criminal. If it was going back to their police station, I guess,and searching online databases, then that takes precedence over sending an email to all the kids.”
About two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website.
OSU provides services for victims of sexual assault that include counseling, advocacy, wellness and health services through Student Life.
Grant Miller and Ryan McGlade contributed to this story.