The Alabama State University Department of Public Safety is going on the record about an alleged gang rape at Card Hall – a dorm on campus. A former student was allegedly forced by five men to engage in sexual activities against her will on Nov. 1. WSFA 12 News broke the story at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Within minutes of the story airing, Alabama State officials called WSFA 12 News for an on-camera interview to reveal more of the university's side of the story. It was the first time the Department of Public Safety agreed to go on camera following weeks of requests and denial of public records.
Director Henry Davis said Thursday night that at least five suspects were involved in the alleged incident, but said he doesn't know how many will go before a Montgomery County grand jury and being indicted.
Davis now says the suspects were taken into custody, but they weren't formally charged. The incident reports provided to WSFA 12 News by family of the victim showed arrests, but we found no formal record in the state's court system.
"It caries a heavy penalty. We wanted to make sure in our investigation that we did everything we could to give them an opportunity to have due process without being judged whether it was in the public or by the campus," Davis said.
Davis said that decision is made on a case-by-case basis, and he said he believes the call to withhold public documents is also in his hands.
"As soon as we got to a point where we felt comfortable in releasing that information where it would not compromise the investigation then that report was released," Davis said.
Davis cited at Attorney General Opinion used to protect an investigation and the victims and suspects involved – not to keep the investigation out of the public light. It's an opinion that many say lacks clarity and specific parameters.
The front page of the report, which is a public document, only confirmed a rape investigation that was cleared by arrest. According to legal experts, it's unclear why this specific information would have compromised the investigation.
"At no time did the university take any action to try to cover up the story. Our not releasing the report immediately was done because the investigation was still going on," Davis said.
When asked why students weren't notified immediately following the report, Davis said: "It was not put out to the students at that time because it was an after the matter fact. When the victim reported the incident, the incident had already transpired -- there was no danger.
Davis stands by the investigation, citing swift and thorough work of ASU investigators and their global contribution to public safety.
The future of the case and at least five suspects is now in the hands of a Montgomery County grand jury.
The above is an update to a developing story. An earlier version is below.
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - After months of investigating and weeks of legal wrangling, WSFA 12 News can confirm Alabama State University campus police are investigating an alleged gang rape at a dormitory on campus.
A woman was reportedly forced by five men to engage in sexual activity against her will on Nov. 1.
It's a crime that allegedly drove a scholarship student off campus.
The alleged victim, a former Alabama State University student, says it has been the longest two months of her life. The 18-year-old enrolled at ASU with honors -- a recipient of the Dean's scholarship. But she left campus before the end the fall semester and says she was the victim of a violent crime.
The incident report shared by the victim's family paints a graphic picture – an 18-year-old female was overpowered and forced into various sexual acts by five men between the ages of 19 and 21 years old.
The woman says she called police promptly, filed an incident report and underwent a full medical rape examination. To avoid the alleged assailants, she withdrew from the university and returned home.
That's when the victim's family says the lines of communication with the university's police department became strained, and the family reached out to WSFA 12 News for help.
That initiated an uphill struggle to confirm the incident and obtain public records connected to the case.
WSFA first attempted to verify the victim's account in late November. The request: information, an interview and at minimum a copy of the police report.
The university stonewalled. Members of the news team went to the police station at least three times throughout the six weeks to get a copy of the public record, which is customarily kept in a binder at the police department's front desk. But this specific record was missing for at least five weeks.
WSFA also has documentation of more than 10 written, verbal and personal attempts to gain access to a public document and information regarding the case.
University public information officer Ken Mullinax said to the WSFA news director on the phone "I have been told there's no record."
WSFA 12 News enlisted the help of Attorney Jeffery Kosseff with Covington & Burling in Washington D.C. Kosseff approached university council with WSFA's request and subsequently followed up five times in writing.
On Dec. 20, Kosseff was notified by email the public document was now included in the binder of incident reports at the police department. It was the first official indication that ASU police were investigating this case.
Only the first page was made public. It confirmed a rape investigation that was cleared by arrest.
Alabama State University's General Counsel's office contends the remaining pages in the report are exempt from the state's public records law because disclosing them would compromise a pending criminal investigation.
After weeks of requesting some acknowledgement of this case, the executive director of ASU's Department of Public Safety, Henry Davis Jr., released the following statement just after 2 p.m. Thursday:
"On Nov. 1, 2013, the ASU Department of Public Safety received a report of an alleged sexual assault on the University campus. The Department of Public Safety conducted a thorough investigation of the allegations and presented the results of its investigation to the Montgomery County District Attorney on Dec. 19, 2013 for appropriate action."
The district attorney can't comment on the case due to the secrecy of grand jury laws.
The victim's family says no other students were notified after the crime and that's their main concern.
According to state court documents, formal arrests haven't been made in this case.
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