A man accused of raping one University of Montana student and assaulting another earlier this month was contacted repeatedly by UM Dean of Students Charles Couture before fleeing the country.
After Couture informed the man – who was accompanied by his lawyer – that he was being accused of sexual assault under the university’s Student Code of Conduct, the man left the area, UM President Royce Engstrom said Friday.
In fact, the man – a Saudi national studying at UM – has left the country, Missoula Mayor John Engen said police told him earlier Friday.
The campus is safer because of the man’s departure, Engstrom said at a news conference that he called to clarify the sequence of events involved in the incidents. He called the university’s actions “timely” and “appropriate.” Any impression “that we sat around for a week before we did anything” is untrue, he said.
“We can let people know we have dealt with these (alleged assaults) and that particular perpetrator is gone,” Engstrom said.
Both women allegedly were assaulted by the man in separate incidents on Friday, Feb. 10. One woman reported her assault, which Engstrom termed not sexual, to campus police that same day.
Couture received the campus police report on Feb. 14, Engstrom said. He then wrote a letter to the alleged perpetrator, and also requested a written report from the victim, Engstrom said. On Feb. 17, he said, Couture received that victim’s report, and also learned of another assault – this one a rape – by the same perpetrator.
At that point, Couture called the alleged perpetrator and told him about the sexual assault report, Engstrom said. At the end of the day on Feb. 17 – a Friday before a long holiday weekend – the university sent a campus-wide email warning of “Sexual Assault … Possible Threat to Community.”
That was the first Missoula police heard of the incidents, Engstrom confirmed Friday. Missoula police quickly contacted university administrators, he said. However, a week had passed since the alleged attacks.
“Police learned about it at the time we sent out the email,” Engstrom said. “I believe they contacted us.”
Deputy Chief Mike Brady spoke with university administrators that same evening to request that they meet with Chief Mark Muir and Mayor John Engen, he said. That meeting – which Engstrom called “a very healthy discussion” – took place another week later, on Friday morning, Feb. 24.
“One of the things I think we could do better and will do better is be in contact with Missoula police” after allegations of sexual assault and other serious incidents, Engstrom said.
Missoula police detectives did not interview the alleged victims until earlier this week. By that time, the alleged perpetrator apparently was gone.
On Thursday, a student who lives at UM’s International House on Eddy Avenue – where the accused man also lived, and where the alleged assaults occurred – said the man had been gone for a few days.
“From UM’s perspective … he is no longer part of the campus community,” Engstrom said Friday. In fact, the man has fled the country, Engen said, and Missoula police were never able to contact him once they learned of the allegations.
Sexual assault has been a key issue on campus since December, when the university announced an independent investigation into reports that two female students had been drugged and gang-raped by several male students. That report, by former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz, grew to include nine allegations of sexual assault involving UM students between September 2010 and December 2011.
“I think we’re going out of our way to keep the community informed” about such incidents, Engstrom said. He did not express concerns about the week’s delay between the first report to campus police and the email to faculty, students and Missoula police, saying the university had followed its policies and processes.
As a result of Barz’s report, UM has held several forums on campus and in the community on the topic of sexual assault in recent months. One male student has been expelled, another banned from all UM campuses, and a third – UM Grizzly running back Beau Donaldson – was charged in Missoula County District Court of sexual intercourse without consent in connection with incidents listed in Barz’s report.
Other incidents apparently remain under investigation.
Engstrom said Friday that “it’s very depressing, it’s incomprehensible to me that with all the publicity we have had about sexual assault in the last few weeks” that such attacks are still occurring.
But he urged students to watch out for one another, saying “we all need to take reasonable safety precautions.”
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CopsAndCourts.com on Twitter.