Editorial note: In the US, a Grand Jury is used to determine whether or not a person or persons will be formally indicated and therefore will go to trial for a crime. In other words, the Grand Jury decides whether you can even be charged in the first place for a crime; Grand Juries only need to determine that there’s a reasonable basis to hold a trial. In other words, they decide not whether the person is guilty or innocent. They only determine if there is a reasonable basis on which to even bother with a trial. An old, cynical saying is that prosecutors in the US can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if they want to, i.e. grand juries almost never turn prosecutors down. Which makes the grand jury failure to even allow an indictment here all the more damning for those who called these women rapists.–DE
A university president rushed to judgement by assuming a rape had occurred, but a grand jury says there is not even probable cause to indict the accused
The New Jersey University President needs to apologize for unjustly rushing to judgement in a case where five minority women were charged with rape.
In late November of last year, five female students at William Paterson University were arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a man in a residence hall. At the time, University President Kathleen Waldron said in a statement circulated to students and faculty that the women who were arrested were living in campus residence halls. He 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 him and his 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 women’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 women 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 women. Defense counsel praised the prosecutor — a man 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 women were not in violation of the law. It clearly wasn’t a crime.”
But Ms. Ricci criticized “damaging statements” made by the college’s administrators that, she said, made it seem the defendants were guilty. “It was outrageous that these young women had to go through the publicity they had to go through,” Ricci said.
Attorney, Laura Sutnick, who represents one of the young women, said the women received letters notifying them they were barred from campus and would have a university hearing on the matter. He said he believed the hearing would be held after the grand jury made its determination. His client, he said, has not decided whether she would return to William Paterson. “She may be cautious about going back to that school; that school didn’t support them,” he said. “The damage that was done to them can never be repaired.” Sutnick said his client was unable to find work while she’s been out of school, at least partly because of publicity over the charges against her. He 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 women 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 men could not afford when it came to black women 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 he elevated the accuser to the status of “victim.” He even commended his “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 himself didn’t name them.
When it comes the wrongful accusations, the group most at risk is young black females. The aforewomentioned Hofstra case, and the Brian Banks case, are probably the two most prominent cases chronicled on my blog, and both involved young minority women. The women 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 women. President Waldron owes the accused and the women of color of William Patterson University an apology.