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Woman says she was kicked off COTA before reported rape

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Officer Christopher Billman (left) and officer Thomas DeWitt (right) caught a man reportedly raping a woman early Saturday morning. Credit: Chelsea Spears / Multimedia editor

Columbus Division of Police officer Christopher Billman (left) and officer Thomas DeWitt (right) caught a man reportedly raping a woman early Saturday morning.
Credit: Chelsea Spears / Multimedia editor

A woman who was reportedly raped inside an off-campus garage early Saturday morning told detectives that before her alleged assault, she was asked to get off the Central Ohio Transit Authority bus she was riding because she wasn’t wearing shoes, a detective with the Columbus Division of Police Special Victims Bureau said.

The woman, whose name is not being released and who is not an Ohio State student, according to Columbus Police spokeswoman Denise Alex-Bouzounis, was riding a COTA bus headed southbound on High Street early Saturday morning, detective James Ashenhurst said. He said her flip-flop was broken, so she took off her shoes.

“The bus driver said, ‘Hey, you have to have shoes on,’ so she got off to try and find a cheap pair of flip-flops,” Ashenhurst said following a conversation police had with the woman.

Ashenhurst said the woman got off the bus at North High and East Hudson streets but wasn’t sure of the exact time she exited the bus.

At about 1:50 a.m., three Columbus Police bike patrol officers found a man on top of the woman inside a residential garage, located between East 12th and East 13th Avenues, “engaging in what appeared to be sexual intercourse,” a CPD press release states. The three male officers intervened and waited for a female officer to come talk to the woman.

During the course of that conversation, the woman said the man had forced her into the garage and sexually assaulted her, the press release states.

Officer Christopher Billman is one of the bike patrol officers who caught the man reportedly raping the woman. During a Wednesday evening press conference, Billman said the officers didn’t hear the woman shout for help— they just routinely check on open garages.

“We didn’t really see or hear anything at the time. We just lit up the section of garages (with our flashlights) and that’s when we found the suspect and victim,” Billman said.

Billman’s been with CPD for 14 years and spent four of those years on the bike patrol. He said coming across a situation like this doesn’t happen often.

“It’s very rare to catch someone in the act – so many times you hear about it,” Billman said. “It’s just one of those things – be in the right place at the right time.”

Joshua Martin, lead detective with the CPD Special Victims Bureau, said there were increased patrols in the area that night with OSU students being back on campus and it being an OSU gameday weekend.

“It was just really lucky. (The officers) happened to be in the area,” Martin said. “It was just on their beat.”

Sometime between the time the woman got off the COTA bus and her alleged assault in the garage, she encountered Randy Graham Jr., a homeless man with a history of criminal offenses, according to a search on the Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk of Courts website. He’s also a man who frequents the OSU area, Alex-Bouzounis said.

Martin said the woman ran into Graham on High Street and East 12th Avenue.

The woman was not intoxicated at the time of the assault, Martin said.

It was not immediately clear where the woman was coming from that night, but Martin said she was trying to get to Grove City. The woman did not know what time she got off the bus, so it was also not clear which COTA bus she was riding that night, Martin said. 

COTA’s spokeswoman Lisa Knapp said COTA is reviewing surveillance video from every bus that was traveling southbound on High Street late Friday night and early Saturday morning to “determine if (the incident with the shoe) occurred and if protocol was followed.”

COTA was not done reviewing the surveillance video as of Wednesday afternoon, COTA spokesman Marty Stutz said in an email Wednesday afternoon.

Although Billman said the woman couldn’t have done anything to avoid her assault, he did issue some safety tips for other people who might find themselves in situations similar to hers.

“Be aware of your surroundings. Stay off your phones. A lot of people are latched on that cell phone — staring at it, texting,” Billman said. “Avoid dark areas, stay in lit areas, stay together.”

Graham appeared in arraignment court Monday on rape and kidnapping charges. A judge set Graham’s bond at $200,000, Ashenhurst said. But Graham did not bond out, however. His next court date is set for Sept. 16.

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