Questions remain in sex assault investigation

Credit: Anne-Sophie Kim/ Credit: Anne-Sophie Kim/

A university investigation into alleged sexual assaults in a Greek Quad fraternity house may have violated federal law on reporting and disclosing campus crimes.

Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno first alerted the campus community of an ongoing investigation into the Carnegie Mellon chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity last semester, on March 29. In the email she sent out, Casalegno said that the fraternity was being investigated for “alleged videos and pictures of a sexual nature.”

The investigation involved Carnegie Mellon University Police and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and WTAE-TV Pittsburgh also confirmed in April that the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office was in contact with the school “regarding recent behavior on campus.” Beta was suspended during the investigation, and the chapter was ultimately shut down by the national fraternity for “hazing.”

After the incident, Carnegie Mellon released a media statement on March 29 that said, “Due to the ongoing nature of this investigation, we cannot comment further on the details of the case at this time.” No followup statement was subsequently released. There is evidence that the university investigation, which University Police told Casalegno had officially closed on Aug. 22, may not have met federal standards and regulations for reporting crimes that occur on a college campus.

The Clery Act

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, more commonly known as the Clery Act, is a federal law enforced by the U.S. Department of Education that requires colleges and universities to disclose information about crimes that occur on and around their campuses.

The Clery Act’s requirements include publishing an annual security report, disclosing crime statistics for crimes that occur on and around campuses, issuing timely warnings to the campus community about crimes that pose a serious or ongoing threat to students and employees, and having a public crime log.

“In general, the crime logs are made available to inform the campus community about crimes and to create transparency on campus,” explained Abigail Boyer, the assistant executive director of programs, outreach, and communications for the Clery Center for Security On Campus. The log must include the “nature, date, time, and general location of each crime” and be available for the public’s inspection.

The Tartan has learned that multiple students spoke with the police during the spring semester about alleged crimes that occurred at Beta which include sexually explicit photographs taken without consent and sexual assault. However, there is no mention of the investigation or any cases involving sexually explicit photographs or sexual assault in the University Police crime log, which is available for inspection at the front desk of the police station.

When asked about the discrepancy, University Police lieutenant Gary Scheimer said, “The crime log is not updated with ongoing information that is uncovered during a criminal investigation.... The original report is published, but not the updates of an ongoing investigation.”

However, when told that the original report had not been published in the crime log either, he went to check for the report in the crime log and confirmed that it was not in the log, saying, “The way [the investigation] came in, it did not come in on the media log.”

Casalegno could not be reached for an interview in person or on the phone, but she wrote in an emailed statement, “I have full confidence they [University Police] followed their procedures and ensured complete compliance with the Clery Act throughout this investigation.”

While Boyer could not comment on individual cases, she said that if a student thinks that his or her case was handled in a way that did not meet the standards of the Clery Act, “I always encourage student to talk to their institutions to ask questions about what information is available. In addition ... an individual has the option of filing a complaint with the Department of Education.”

The complaint would be handled administratively, rather than in court. If the Department of Education finds a complaint to be valid, a university could be fined up to $35,000 per infraction and, in extreme cases, could be suspended from participation in student financial aid programs. This is not the first time that questions have arisen over Carnegie Mellon’s handling of a sexual assault case. In May 2012, Nicole Ickes published a blog post alleging that Carnegie Mellon had mishandled a sexual assault case that she reported to the university in March 2011. She wrote that she was not informed of academic accommodations that the Department of Education’s Title IX requires universities to make available to sexual assault survivors.

Beta investigation

When asked about the outcome of the investigation into Beta, Scheimer said he would have to check with Casalegno and the university’s Office of General Counsel to see what information he was allowed to disclose. As of press time, he had not contacted The Tartan with any information about the investigation’s results.

As of May 8, three sexual assault cases had been referred for disciplinary review through the university in 2013.

Casalegno could not say what month these cases occurred, or if they were connected to Beta. When asked about her opinion of the investigation, Casalegno said via email, “I believe the investigation was handled with utmost sensitivity and professionalism by our university police. They partnered very closely with the division of student affairs to ensure appropriate engagement with the men of Beta and with any potential members of the community who might have been involved in the matters they were investigating.”

National trend

Numerous universities around the country have recently been accused of not following federal requirements for sexual assault cases. Last October, a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., sued the university for not following Title IX requirements when she was raped at the Mu Epsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi.

37 students and alumni at Occidental College in Los Angeles filed a lawsuit and a Clery Act complaint in April that alleged the school had mishandled their sexual assault cases. The school recently settled the lawsuit, while the Department of Education’s investigation into the Clery Act complaint is still ongoing.

In May, Yale University was fined $165,000 by the Department of Education for “serious and numerous” Clery Act violations, including not reporting forcible sex offenses. The fine was later reduced to $155,000.