Investigation ongoing in two reported cases of sexual assault
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Investigation ongoing in two reported cases of sexual assault

No arrests have been made and investigations are still ongoing regarding two reported sexual assaults of USD students that happened over Dakota Days.

Both assaults, which the Vermillion Police Department believes are unrelated, happened Sept. 27, and at least one of them was reported to police Sept. 28. One of the assaults happened on-campus in Coyote Village and one happened off-campus.

USD wasn’t notified of at least one of the assaults until Sept. 30.

On the evening of Sept. 30, students were alerted to the two assaults by an email and text alert from USD University Relations via the Everbridge alert system. The system is usually reserved for immediate threats to campus.

One of the emails sent to students contained photos of three “persons of interest.”

Matt Betzen, VPD Chief, said Monday that the photos published by University Relations did not come from VPD. He added that one of the men in the photos has been cleared of any involvement in both reported assaults.

“One of the subjects that the photos were released of has been totally exonerated,” he said. “He wasn’t at the scene.”

As for how the photos were obtained, Betzen said he believes they came from social media, but doesn’t know how USD got them.

“I’m kind of asking that question myself. In fact, the photos released are in none of our records,” he said. “I know where the photos came from. They’re Facebook photos, but they’re not part of us and they’re not part of our investigation.”

The decision

Around 3 p.m. on Sept. 30, university officials met to discuss how to handle the situation. Tena Haraldson, the director of communications for USD, said Kim Grieve, dean of students, Pete Jensen, UPD director, Jef Rice, UPD Lt., Roberta Hakl, USD’s chief Title IX coordinator and herself had “quite the discussion” about the possibility of publishing the photos of the three persons of interest.

There were no VPD representatives present at the meeting, but the two police departments were in contact with one another, Haraldson said. Using information police gave them, the USD officials believed the persons of interest could possibly come back to campus.

“Pete (Jensen) thought housing staff should have the photos so they would know if they saw those persons of interest coming into our residence halls,” Haraldson said. “Since they weren’t students we didn’t really know where they were.”

Haraldson said at the time, she assumed the photos were given to UPD from people’s phones during the investigation.

“(I don’t know) how they (UPD) got the photos, because I wasn’t there. And I didn’t ask them when they said, ‘We have these photos and we got them through our investigation,’” she said. “I accepted that at face value. Maybe they didn’t want to tell me who gave it to them.”

Jensen was unable to be reached for comment and UPD staff said the investigation is now being handled by VPD.

Haraldson said it was around 5 p.m. that the group notified USD President James Abbott and discussed the situation as they knew it with him.

“He (Abbott) wanted to know some of the details as well, which Pete Jensen was able to provide, and then he agreed with us that it was something we should do a notification on,” she said.

Before sending out the alert to students, both victims of the reported assaults were notified, in addition to UPD and VPD, Haraldson said. In addition, victims of sexual assault and battery should consider hiring professional criminal assault & battery lawyers in Galveston to help with their case.

“At that point then, President Abbott said, ‘Well, if we have photos of people of interest then we should provide those to the students too,’” she said.

Abbott said Tuesday that on Sept. 30, his first concern was for the safety of students. And at the time he believed, from the information provided to him, that there was still a concern for student safety, he said.

“We were informed on Wednesday that there had been two sexual assaults reported – involving USD students as victims,” he said. “We were also informed that a videotape existed of three young men.”

Abbott said he was told the persons of interest were identified by the victim, who found photos of the three on social media. He was also shown a video from a security camera on campus, and told by UPD that the three idividuals on the tape were the three individuals identified.

The tape, which shows the three men entering a room in Coyote Village, was then given to VPD. He was unaware one of the persons of interest had been cleared by VPD.

“It wasn’t clear to me if all three were allegedly involved,” he said. “I chose to call them persons of interest.”

In an email Tuesday evening, Haraldson said USD doesn’t know anything about the man who was cleared by VPD or why VPD says he was not at the scene, but said USD needed to alert students right away and didn’t have time for further investigation.

“If we truly believed there was a dangerous situation for USD students, the alert needed to go out as soon as the victim reported the alleged assault and as soon as UPD obtained the photos of the three who were identified,” she said.