3 William Paterson students cleared in alleged sex assault file claim against university, others
Defense attorneys representing three young men cleared in the alleged sexual assault of a student at William Paterson University filed notice Friday that they plan to sue the school, its president and the campus police, contending that a botched investigation resulted in arrests and jail time for the teens.
“These young men have to live with being called criminals the rest of their lives,” said Michael J. Epstein, an attorney representing Noah Williams of Camden and Garrett Collick of Paterson, both 18.
They were among five charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault in the alleged Nov. 25 incident at the Overlook South residence hall. Also charged were Darius Singleton of Jersey City, Termaine Scott of Vineland and Jahmel Latimer of Hoboken. Latimer’s attorney also filed a notice this week to sue the university, its president and others.
A Passaic County grand jury voted last month not to indict the men, all students at the university who have been barred from campus since their arrests.
A spokeswoman for the university said Friday that officials would not comment on legal matters.
The case is bound to trigger debate about whether campus police should independently handle any allegations of sexual assault, among the hardest cases to prosecute, defense attorneys and prosecutors agree. Instead, law enforcement experts say that dedicated sex crimes units, with continued training and detectives available around the clock, are more adept at such investigations.
“The idea is to have these cases handled by a centralized, specialized unit where experts are trained at the statewide and national level rather than have training for officers in every town or at every college,” said Paul B. Brickfield, a former first assistant prosecutor for Bergen County and longtime defense attorney.
“How many specialists can you have on a local police force?” Brickfield said. “This case sounds like a complicated factual scenario with multiple defendants that would generally call for special investigative action. It seems there was a rush to judgment.”
The criminal complaint filed by the campus police alleged that four of the five students put the woman “in a condition of involuntary servitude,” turning off the lights and television and “standing in front of the victim and blocking” her. The teens allegedly conspired to commit sexual assault, according to the complaint.
In a statement after the arrests, William Paterson President Kathleen M. Waldron expressed concern for the “courageous victim.” Waldron said she was “angry and dismayed that this crime was committed on our campus and allegedly by students.”
In the notice filed Friday, Epstein said the university, Waldron, campus police and others failed to provide Collick and Williams “with due process.” The notice also argues that university officials “failed to conduct a proper investigation, did not have adequate training and experience to conduct investigations into sexual assaults, failed to contact the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office immediately so experts on allegations of sexual assault could conduct a proper investigation, issued warrants for Mr. Collick’s arrest without probable cause, and engaged in improper searches and seizures.”
Epstein said Collick and Williams spent nine days in the Passaic County Jail with the general population, including five days in maximum security and four days in medium security.
Ron Ricci, an attorney for Latimer, filed a separate notice of intent to sue the university for alleged violations of civil rights, “malicious” prosecution and violations of the state’s law against discrimination. The notice includes Waldron for claims of defamation and libel, Ricci said.
“We absolutely think there was wrongful conduct,” Ricci said.
“It’s egregious,” Epstein said regarding Waldron’s comments. “It’s actionable because she defamed their character and said there was criminal activity.”
The allegation was made at a time of national debate over sexual violence on college campuses: Last year the U.S. Department of Education released a list of universities and colleges under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. A White House task force released findings that nearly 1 in 5 female college students is sexually assaulted. The assailants are often someone known to the victims and many cases go unreported, the report found.
When the students were cleared, Waldron released a statement saying the university “has its own student conduct process that is independent of the state’s legal proceedings.” That process, she said, “would continue.”
“It’s not clear if they are suspended or expelled,” Epstein said. “There has been no hearing.” The students would not participate, he said, given how the case has been handled so far.
Epstein also is representing Collick’s mother, Nancy Williams of Paterson, who “continues to suffer significant emotional injuries,” according to the notice, after watching her son’s arrest and incarceration.
It was unclear Friday if the two other young men were planning legal action.