Stillwater police: "stunned" by comments from university - ocolly.com : Crime

Stillwater police: "stunned" by comments from university

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Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012 3:46 pm | Updated: 7:22 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

Amid debate over whether Oklahoma State University had a legal or moral obligation to notify police about multiple reported sexual misconduct violations, Stillwater police Capt. Randy Dickerson said he was "stunned" at administrator Gary Clark's comments during a Wednesday conference call with media.

Clark said student conduct correctly determined former student Nathan Cochran, 22, was not a safety threat. Cochran was found responsible for four violations of sexual misconduct by the student conduct panel on Nov. 30 and was arrested Wednesday night on a warrant for three sexual battery charges. He was involved in several leadership positions on campus and was a member of FarmHouse fraternity until earlier this year.

"It is my understanding that two students came forward initially with sexual assault claims against one suspect," Dickerson said. "Before the case was even heard by student conduct three more victims came forward to be heard by the board.  I would certainly draw the conclusion that one suspect who had sexually assaulted five young men might be considered a threat to other students."

Dickerson also refuted the university's defense of its decision not to notify police of its findings. University officials said they could not tell law enforcement because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. Clark said he would not be able to provide the names of victims in the case and without those names, revealing Cochran's identity would not be beneficial to them.

"The decision to notify law enforcement at that time was certainly available to Oklahoma State University through exceptions in FERPA," Dickerson said. "They made the decision not to notify police, which is their call to make however; to attempt to justify this by saying this man is not a threat to other students is quite honestly, a huge misunderstanding of this case."

The captain also said he believes there a "significant number" of victims who have not come forward to authorities.

"We have been in contact with numerous victims in this case; some are willing to make police reports while some are not," he said. "The five or six victims we have worked with to initiate formal criminal investigations are not the same five who reported to student conduct...Obviously Mr. Clark and I have a difference of opinion on some aspects of this investigation."

Dickerson further disputed Clark's assertion that Cochran's name would not help the police in their investigation.

"OSU has never released any information to us in this case," he said. "Our case was generated after I learned of the sexual assaults Thursday night-Friday morning through a reporter from the campus newspaper. We generated a case by talking to members and officers within varying fraternity houses and other students, just by putting out the word we were looking into it...Our department did not directly contact any victims; we waited for them to contact us if they wished.  We opened a case Friday at noon and had already been contacted by three victims by that evening."

He also said assistance from the university would have been appreciated. 

"I cannot determine a level of importance on specific pieces of information but any kind of timely notification by the University would have instigated this investigation weeks earlier than how it occurred," he said.  "We verified credible information that crimes might have taken place in or around Stillwater on Friday, December 7 and as of that night had three victims contact our department."

The university first became aware of possible sexual misconduct violations Nov. 9, Clark said Wednesday. 

On Thursday, OSU Director of Communications Gary Shutt sent out a news release saying President Burns Hargis ordered a task force review into the university's handling of the situation.

"The seriousness of this matter warrants a focused and full investigation into how it was handled by the University,” Hargis said.  “We treat sexual misconduct incidents among students at OSU as a violation of the student code of conduct, involving confidential on-campus hearings...I cannot say enough about the students who came forward to participate in the hearings.  They did the right thing and I personally commend them.  And I am also appreciative that University officials involved in the hearings repeatedly urged the students to contact the police."

Hargis also said the university must answer any remaining questions.

"...we have an obligation to clear up any ambiguity, and if warranted, amend and strengthen our policies and procedures while abiding by federal laws," he said. "In that regard, the task force set up by the OSU/A&M Board of Regents affords us a timely opportunity to take a deliberate and comprehensive review of the handling of this specific incident.  We cannot leave any doubt that we are indeed properly and appropriately handling sexual misconduct allegations, and we must determine if we need to amend our policies and procedures to more effectively and efficiently handle these types of matters in the future."

The task force will be led by regents member Andy Lester, who said the university has a responsibility to review its policies, especially in the aftermath of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal.

"We will do so in a constructive manner, ever mindful of the sensitivities and concerns of victims; but, it is also our obligation to expeditiously protect our students and community from those who are found to threaten our society with sexual misconduct," Lester said.

As of Friday, Cochran was released from the Payne County Jail on a $100,000 bond.