Archive for Sunday, March 12, 2017

Police end KU fraternity party sex assault investigation; no charges filed, but documents shed light on out-of-control gathering

The Kappa Sigma fraternity house at Kansas University, 1045 Emery Road.

The Kappa Sigma fraternity house at Kansas University, 1045 Emery Road.

March 12, 2017

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One woman recalled taking shots of cinnamon whiskey before blacking out in a man’s room. The next morning she woke up topless, lying on her back in a hallway of the fraternity house and couldn’t find her shirt, purse or phone.

Disoriented and scared, she gathered a blanket around herself and walked home alone.

Another woman at the same party told police she drank some wine from a bag and, after that, remembered only blips from the rest of the night. One memory was waking up to a naked man and running out of the room.

At some point, she went to another level of the house and vomited.

Those are among reports that sparked a large-scale sexual assault investigation into a rogue party thrown by pledges at a University of Kansas fraternity, an investigation that — two and a half years later — has now been completed with no criminal charges filed.

A court document obtained last week by the Journal-World reveals, for the first time publicly, details about what prompted a criminal investigation that Lawrence police described from the beginning as complex. It stemmed from a nonfraternity-approved gathering hosted by freshmen at the Kappa Sigma house, 1045 Emery Road, the night of Sept. 27, 2014, after KU’s homecoming football game.

The Lawrence Police Department opened and investigated a total of three sex-crime cases from the event, department spokeswoman Kim Murphree confirmed last week in response to inquiries from the Journal-World. All three of those cases are now inactive, she said.

One was a report of rape involving an unconscious or physically powerless victim, according to a corresponding police report, which was redacted before being released to the newspaper. Police forwarded that case to the district attorney in November 2016. Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said his office decided in February not to file charges, saying there was no physical evidence of sexual assault or drugging.

After “thorough investigation and review,” police ended the two other sex-crime investigations without forwarding cases to the district attorney, Murphree said last week.

One was a report of aggravated sexual battery, the other a report of sexual battery, according to corresponding police reports, also redacted. Murphree said she could not provide the specific dates those cases were deactivated but that no further action would be taken.

The Journal-World also requested, and last week received, the probable cause affidavit police filed to obtain a warrant to search the fraternity house. In Kansas, a judge must sign off on releasing such documents, and Douglas County District Court Judge Kay Huff did so on Monday.

According to that document, in which individuals’ names are redacted, two women who did not know each other contacted police with suspicions they may have been drugged and sexually assaulted while attending the same party. According to the affidavit, police interviewed them and multiple other partygoers.

•••

One of the reported victims, a KU freshman, told police that a male student she knew, also a freshman, invited her to the party at Kappa Sigma, according to the affidavit.

He told her they had $500 of alcohol and, that afternoon, backed it up with a Snapchat photo of a large amount of alcohol.

About 9 that night, the woman and some friends took the KU SafeBus to Ninth Street and Emery Road and walked a few minutes to the fraternity house. Inside, they found a table of booze — beer, wine and various bottles of hard liquor — in one of the private rooms, being served by a pledge.

During the night, the woman told police, she took “a few drinks” from a bag of wine and felt more intoxicated compared with when she usually drank. She said she saw other girls served by the same man quickly appear “quiet and limp.”

The woman said she agreed to go to a private room with a man whom she’d kissed a few months before; he began kissing and fondling her, and she blacked out shortly after. Her memories after that included being “escorted down a hallway by two unknown males,” waking up "to a nude male who she couldn’t describe” and running out of the room away from him, according to the affidavit.

She could not remember whether she was dressed. She later went downstairs and vomited, before an unknown man arranged for her and a friend to get a ride home.

A text sent from the woman’s phone said, “I drank the wine which made me puke which gave me a hangover. 2 shots of tequila, 6 or 7 cups of mixed drink with a double vodka, and played slap the bag twice, 7 seconds and 9 seconds,” according to the affidavit. (“Slap the bag,” a drinking game, calls for people to chug from the spigot on a bag of wine, slap it and pass it to another person to chug.)

The woman told police that what she said in that message wasn’t true — that she only sent it to a friend who didn’t attend the party to explain why she wasn’t feeling good the next day, because she didn’t want to divulge she was possibly sexually assaulted and drugged.

Other partygoers, however, told police they saw the woman drinking excessively, including tequila, vodka doubles and “slapping the bag.”

•••

Another woman told police she headed to the party between midnight and 1 a.m. and, once there, took three shots of cinnamon whiskey from a bottle, according to the affidavit.

She went to a room to talk with a man she described as a friend, but did not recall the conversation ending or anything afterward. The woman woke up the next morning on her back in the middle of a hallway at the fraternity house. She had no shirt or bra on. Her shorts and underwear were on, and there was a blanket wrapped around her legs.

She got up, feeling disoriented. Unable to find her clothing, purse or phone, she wrapped herself in the blanket and walked home. After friends contacted a Kappa Sigma member, someone found her purse between some couches and her phone under a bed at the house.

After contacting police the woman agreed to go to Lawrence Memorial Hospital for a sexual assault exam.

Also described in the affidavit is a police interview with a third woman who attended the party. She said, when checking on a friend in a room with bunk beds, she saw a man and woman lying on one bed. A woman was sitting on another bed, leaning against the wall while a man stood in front of her.

One of the men, noticing her looking in, yelled for the door to be shut. About 20 minutes later, the woman checked on her friend again. Someone said she’d be out “in 30 seconds,” and the woman found her friend in the hall shortly after.

Because names in the affidavit are redacted, it’s not clear whether the women in those beds were the same ones who told police they suspected being drugged or assaulted.

•••

Police executed the search warrant at Kappa Sigma on Sept. 30, 2014, according to the judge’s order releasing the affidavit.

They were looking for items including cellphones belonging to certain people, various alcohol containers and receipts, according to the affidavit.

Sixteen Lawrence police officers and detectives showed up with the warrant about 11:30 that night, a Tuesday, said David Steen, the KU chapter’s Housing Corporation Board president. He said police herded all the fraternity residents into the dining room and searched the house for two hours or more.

“The police were unencumbered,” Steen said. “They were taking this seriously.”

The next morning KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little announced in a statement that Kappa Sigma had been placed on interim suspension following “serious and disturbing” allegations of sexual assault the previous weekend.

KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access investigated, and in December 2014 Kappa Sigma was put on a two-year probation for violating the university’s student code, becoming the first organization KU has disciplined for sexual misconduct.

“The standard used to determine a code violation is whether a violation is more likely than not to have occurred, which differs from the criminal justice system,” KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson has said, in a previous statement to the Journal-World.

The fraternity agreed to KU’s probation but maintained that any such misconduct, if true, was not organizational in nature.

Kappa Sigma’s national headquarters also disciplined the chapter, for violating fraternity alcohol rules as well as the law against underage drinking.

•••

The KU chapter acknowledged almost immediately that an unsanctioned party with excessive drinking occurred, though it wasn’t attended by a majority of Kappa Sigma members, Steen said.

“Many people at the unapproved party consumed large amounts of hard alcohol in a relatively short period of time, and it reflected a campus-wide problem — high-risk drinking, as KU classifies it,” Steen said.

Alcohol was banned from the house, and members who weren’t willing to abide by that rule were allowed to leave, Steen said. He said Kappa Sigma became one of the most active and engaged chapters in the KU Interfraternity Council effort that banned hard alcohol from all fraternity houses starting the following fall.

In response to law enforcement closing its lengthy investigation of the chapter, Steen said the fraternity was impressed with the “thoroughness and impartiality” demonstrated by Lawrence police and the district attorney.

“Neither our internal investigation nor that by an outside investigator uncovered any evidence that anyone at Kappa Sigma drugged or sexually assaulted anyone,” Steen said. “We sincerely hoped that our investigations had led to correct conclusions that neither sexual assault nor drugging occurred, and the latest news seems to support that.”

In Lawrence — especially when alcohol is involved — it’s not rare to hear from women who think they might have been sexually assaulted but aren’t sure, said Chrissy Heikkila, executive director of Lawrence’s Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center, speaking generally.

“This is not unique in our community,” Heikkila said. “We do see cases where people do not remember what happened to them and are either just following up with body cues — they feel like something happened to them — or folks that were with them that night, or the flashes of memories that come through.”

Unfortunately, sexual assault exams don’t always provide answers, either, Heikkila said. She emphasized that the Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center provides services whether victims report what happened or what they think happened to law enforcement or not.

Contact KU and higher ed reporter Sara Shepherd
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