A sexual assault accusation against a Superior man running for the Montana Legislature led to a permanent hold on his student registration at the University of Montana four years ago, and the alleged victim has come forward to tell her story about the 2008 incident.
Nicholas Schwaderer, a Republican running for House District 14 west of Missoula, was never charged in connection with the incident, which was reported by the then-21-year-old woman to Missoula authorities, who declined to prosecute. He adamantly denies “any allegation of sexual misconduct or sexual assault,” and he has threatened legal action against anyone making “slanderous statements” against him.
Yet the woman, Laura Williams, who teaches high school math outside Montana, told the Missoulian that she decided to come forward because she doesn’t think Schwaderer should be elected or be in a position of authority.
“This is not someone who should have power over other people,” Williams said. “He has had power over me for the better part of four years. ... My life will never be the same because of what he did.”
When first reached by phone earlier this summer about the allegation that he sexually assaulted Williams on her 21st birthday, Schwaderer passed the phone to his mother, Marlys Schwaderer.
Marlys Schwaderer, who declined to comment on his behalf, said the family needed to call lawyers before making a statement. In an email with the subject line “Regarding Ms. Williams,” Nicholas Schwaderer responded.
“I adamantly deny any allegation of sexual misconduct or sexual assault against this individual,” Nicholas Schwaderer wrote. “In 2008 this case was fully investigated by the Missoula Police Department and I cooperated fully, I provided them with a complete statement of the events of that night. After a full investigation was completed, no charges were filed.
“If this individual attempts to make these slanderous statements that I in any way sexually assaulted her it will be my intention to use any and all legal recourse possible against her and any other responsible party.”
Schwaderer initially declined requests for interviews, but he took the story of Williams’ allegations to the Mineral Independent after being contacted by the Missoulian. He later agreed to answer written questions from the Missoulian via his lawyer, Lance Jasper.
“It is important to note that following these allegations by Ms. Williams, no criminal charges were ever filed,” wrote Jasper in part of the written response. “Likewise, at no time did she pursue a civil claim against Mr. Schwaderer. To raise the allegations now, four years later, makes her motive highly suspect.”
Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg said his office declined to prosecute because the case lacked proof. Deputy County Attorney Shawn Thomas, who made the decision, referred questions back to Van Valkenburg, who added that disclosing details would mean discussing “the alleged victim’s own conduct.”
“Both the police and the county attorney’s office concluded that it would be impossible to prove that there was any non-consensual sex that occurred,” Van Valkenburg said.
The detective assigned to the case declined, through police spokesman Travis Welsh, to comment.
Williams, however, is coming forward despite the lack of charges and threat of legal action. She said her motivation is not political and she has no ties to the Montana Democratic Party; rather, the UM graduate said she does not believe someone of Schwaderer’s character should hold public office.
“There is nothing I gain by this becoming public,” Williams wrote in an email. “I have no ‘angle.’ In fact, this could potentially hurt my career, my security, and hypothetically, my emotional health.”
Earlier this year, Williams tried to quietly dissuade Schwaderer from running for the Legislature. She told her story to the chairman of the Montana Republican Party because she hoped he would discourage Schwaderer from seeking office, Williams said.
“When the Republican chairman and I finally did connect, I told him my story. He did not believe me. He asked me repeatedly if I would be going to the media,” Williams said. “At the time, I was unsure because I didn’t want to drag my name through the mud and bring this all up again.”
State GOP chairman Will Deschamps did not respond to multiple messages left on his voicemail over the course of a month about the allegations against Schwaderer.
When she contacted the Missoulian, Williams provided documents related to the July 2008 incident, including her signed statement to the UM Dean of Students; the medical exam conducted by First STEP, the sexual assault response program of St. Patrick Hospital; the police report, which contained sexually explicit details, but did not result in charges; and temporary restraining orders approved by then-Municipal Judge Donald Louden.
In 2008, Schwaderer offered to be the designated driver for Williams on her 21st birthday after another friend decided she didn’t want to drive, according to her statement to UM and two friends interviewed about the evening. Williams said that months earlier, she told Schwaderer their friendship had become too emotionally intimate, and she didn’t want to date him; he was offended, she said.
The night of her birthday, Williams drank at least 13 drinks from 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., and she became “extremely drunk,” according to her statement, her account in the police report, and interviews with the two girlfriends who attended her birthday party.
Her girlfriends helped her into Schwaderer’s car, so he could take her home to her dorm room, said Williams and her friends. When she first woke up around 6:30 a.m., she was drunk and groggy and injured on parts of her body, including her upper inner thighs and face, according to Williams’ account; friends confirmed her injuries.
She later confronted Schwaderer, according to her statement: “He claimed he ‘didn’t know’ I was drunk, that it had been five hours, and that he ‘wanted to make my birthday special.’ ”
In statements, Schwaderer’s attorney offered a different account and denied Schwaderer made the above statements: “Mr. Schwaderer did not believe that Ms. Williams was ‘highly intoxicated,’ ” wrote Jasper, quoting a portion of the question. “He maintains, as he has all along, that the sexual encounter that they had was fully consensual and that Ms. Williams was, in fact, the instigator of all sexual contact. It should be pointed out that no sexual intercourse occurred and Ms. Williams is fully aware of this fact.”
In an email, Williams countered: “He admitted to the police that he stuck things inside of me (that constitutes rape)!”
Jasper also said that Williams invited Schwaderer to her dorm room and asked him to stay, and he explained one of her injuries, her facial injury: “While kissing in the dark, Ms. Williams’ and Mr. Schwaderer’s heads bumped. This gave her a bloody nose, which Mr. Schwaderer helped her treat. After the bleeding stopped, Ms. Williams re-initiated sexual activity with Mr. Schwaderer.”
Williams herself is not able to clearly recollect the events that took place in the early morning hours of July 7 in her dorm room.
Because of her bruises, fear and reclusive behavior following her birthday, friends and a cousin convinced Williams to go to the Student Assault Resource Center, or SARC, at the University of Montana. A Curry Health Center nurse encouraged her to go to First STEP, Williams said, and she provided the Missoulian a copy of the July 10 medical exam, which documented her injuries.
Williams met with a police detective and wanted to move ahead with prosecution, but charges were never filed: “Because I was unconscious when it happened, nobody could confirm it was non-consensual,” Williams said in the interview. “The prosecutor ... decided to drop it and not pursue it any further because he felt it wasn’t a strong case.”
Two friends interviewed for this story noted Williams was in no state of mind to consent to sex on the night of her birthday: “In my mind, what it comes down to is how drunk she was,” said Emily Tutvedt, who was at the party and said in hindsight the group was “naive” to think anyone should drink so much. “You could ask probably everybody who was there that night whether they thought she was capable of consenting. I think it would be unanimous. She couldn’t even stand up. It took two of us to get her into his car, one under each arm.”
The Missoulian requested an assessment of Williams’ blood alcohol concentration from the Society of Toxicologists. Based on her height, weight and a list of drinks and food she consumed that evening, Jim Klaunig, a professor at the University of Indiana, offered the following rough estimates via a Society spokeswoman:
• 2 a.m., around .22 to .27, “considerably intoxicated”;
• 6 a.m., around .16 to .21, “still intoxicated”;
• Noon, .07 to .13, still intoxicated.
At 0.21 BAC, impairments include blackouts and loss of consciousness, according to information posted online from the University of Rochester’s health promotion office.
After her visit to SARC, Williams took action in Missoula Municipal Court. On July 14, 2008, she requested a temporary order of protection because of “sexual intercourse without consent,” again outlining events on the night of her birthday, according to a court document.
Municipal Judge Donald Louden granted it: “The court finds from the petition that the Petitioner is in danger of harm,” reads the rote statement.
The judge later ordered a subsequent order of protection through the remainder of the school year to “continue in full force and effect until Tuesday, July 14, 2009, at 12:00 noon.” Both parties stipulated Schwaderer would remain off campus with the exception of specific football games named in the court document.
“Respondent shall not enter any other buildings on the University of Montana campus without prior arrangements through legal counsel and Respondent will leave the campus promptly after the game is over,” reads the court document signed by Judge Louden.
Schwaderer voluntarily agreed to the order, wrote his lawyer. Joint stipulations are a common way to resolve contested issues, he said, and “it is in no way to be construed as an admission of guilt on Mr. Schwaderer’s part.”
Williams also filed a complaint against Schwaderer with the UM Dean of Students, then Charles Couture, who investigated allegations of misconduct. Subsequently, Williams said Couture “felt very strongly” there was enough evidence to warrant an expulsion, and he started that process.
In her statement, Williams said Couture had promised to help her: “He kept telling me how brave I was. I don’t feel very brave. I feel frightened of everything. Nick was someone I trusted, someone I had confided in. ... No one deserves to ever go through this, even if they are drunk.”
Former Dean Couture declined to comment on the case. He said alleged misconduct records are educational records protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
In an email to Williams, UM’s Lucy France in the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office shared the outcome of the case: “It appears from the records that the Dean of Students placed a hold on the individual’s future registration at UM in August 2008,” France wrote in an August 2012 email; in a follow-up note, she told Williams the hold is “permanent.”
When Williams asked for further information, France wrote the following: “The Dean of Students sent the student his letter that he was being investigated under the student conduct code in July 2008. The student sent a response in July. He registered for Fall 2008, but at some point he withdrew before the semester began. The Dean of Students never heard from him again, so the Dean of Students placed the permanent hold on his registration.”
Current Dean of Students Rhondie Voorhees handles disciplinary holds but could not comment on the particulars of this case. However, Voorhees, who started in July, said a hold flags a student’s file if the individual attempts to re-register in the future. UM would either choose to not readmit an individual with a permanent disciplinary hold or it would allow the person to apply and make arrangements to settle any misconduct procedures.
Voorhees is new as dean but does not know of UM having lifted such holds: “I’m not aware of that occurring.”
According to his lawyer and his campaign Facebook page, Schwaderer successfully completed a law degree from Plymouth University in England in May 2012. When reached in the telephone call, Marlys Schwaderer denied her son left UM because he faced expulsion proceedings.
In the subsequent written interview, Jasper said Schwaderer’s main motivation for leaving UM was the lack of financial aid due to his academic performance and also the “false allegations made by Ms. Williams.” Plus, he said, Schwaderer always wanted to study abroad, so he worked, saved money and began his studies at Plymouth in fall 2009.