St. Louis Community College under fire for how it handled attack at Meramec

2013-04-26T05:15:00Z 2013-08-01T08:03:00Z St. Louis Community College under fire for how it handled attack at MeramecBy Kevin McDermott kmcdermott@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8268 and Steven Perlberg sperlberg@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8349 stltoday.com

KIRKWOOD • A week after a student was attacked in a restroom at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, her family and others are still raising questions about how campus police handled the case.

Why, they ask, was the suspect initially turned loose, without so much as a court appearance — only a verbal warning that he not return to campus? And why wasn’t there any sort of campus alert about the attack?

“I’m dumbfounded,” said Robert Grupe of Chesterfield, father of the victim. “There are a lot of things they could have done. But their attitude seemed to be, ‘We don’t want it out there in the media.’ ”

On Thursday night, the chancellor of St. Louis Community College issued an apology for the way the attack was handled.

Speaking at a crowded Board of Trustees meeting, Chancellor Myrtle Dorsey said she had sent a letter to all students and faculty.

“We value and we will protect our students,” she said.

Grupe said the story about the attack on his daughter eventually got into the media because of him and his daughter, Blythe Grupe, 19. They contacted reporters this week after the accused attacker, Jevon Mallory, was released and after getting no new information from the campus about the case.

Media inquiries to the school started filtering in Monday. The next day, Mallory, 18, of St. John, who is also a student, was re-arrested and charged with assault on school property, a felony.

Mallory remains in custody at the St. Louis County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail.

Blythe Grupe said her attacker staked her out in a women’s restroom, put her in a headlock and tried to silence her, before a campus instructor heard her screams and summoned police. Grupe said she'd never seen the man before.

The campus police chief this week publicly concurred with that account. On Thursday, a campus spokesman acknowledged that police didn’t initially view the attack as serious.

“There were no aggravating circumstances or injuries and no weapons involved,” said campus spokesman DeLancey Smith. “When more details came out about the case via statements the victim made, that upped the ante, so to speak.”

He defended the initial decision to release Mallory, saying it was “based upon the circumstances at the time.”

But Smith acknowledged that officials should have informed the campus sooner — an email went out only after Mallory was arrested the second time — about what happened. “Yes, in retrospect, that would have been the right thing to do,” he said.

George Wasson, president of Meramec, said at the board meeting that one reason an alert didn’t go out immediately was that the suspect had been arrested on the scene and was in custody and no longer a threat to the campus. However, the suspect was released at the behest of the campus within hours.

Campus police Chief Paul Banta didn’t respond to numerous phone calls seeking comment on Thursday.

In an interview with the Post-Dispatch earlier this week, Blythe Grupe said she was attacked shortly after 8 a.m. April 18 inside a second-floor restroom in the Communications North building on the Meramec campus, in Kirkwood.

She said the attacker grabbed her from behind as she was washing her hands, put her in a headlock and tried to cover her mouth. An instructor heard Grupe’s screams, ran to the restroom to intervene and called campus police. Grupe declined medical treatment but later had doctors look at neck bruises and a scratch on her face

Mallory was arrested by campus police at the scene of the attack, booked at the Kirkwood Police Department and then released.

Kirkwood police spokesman Detective Dave Smith said the decision to release Mallory had been made by campus police.

“We were just the booking agency. They just utilized our jail and our computer,” said Smith. “How they chose to handle it was completely up to them.”

Asked whether it’s usual practice to release suspects under those circumstances, without even awaiting an appearance before a judge, Smith said: “Normally, I would say no. But each case has its own circumstances.”

Campus officials Thursday continued to maintain they didn’t have solid legal footing to hold Mallory until he could appear before a judge.

They also said their decisions were made in conjunction with the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. However, a spokesman for that office says it wasn’t contacted by the school until Monday.

Mallory was re-arrested at the campus on Tuesday. Smith, the campus spokesman, said that Mallory was summoned for a meeting regarding his expulsion over the alleged incident, and that he was arrested at the meeting.

A Mallory family member contacted by phone Thursday declined to comment.

On the day of Mallory’s second arrest, the college put out an email to students and staff addressing the issue.

“Local media have reported on an assault of a female student,” stated the email. It went on to detail the allegations.

“The woman was not seriously hurt and declined medical attention at that time. The suspect was arrested, processed, barred from campus and released, pending application for warrants,” the email said. It specified that “anyone who feels uncomfortable walking alone on campus may request a police escort.”

Robert Grupe said his daughter was having nightmares about the incident but otherwise was doing “remarkably well.”

“She’s been brave enough to go back to school,” he said. “I don’t know if she’s strong enough to go into the bathrooms.”

He remains angry at the campus’ handling of the incident. He said that after not getting the updates the school had promised about the case, he learned of the suspect’s re-arrest only through the media.

“We are the victims and we have no idea what’s going on here,” he said. “They keep minimizing this.”

Students and others at the campus have voiced similar concerns.

“We have a right to know when things happen,” said Debbie Koenig, a secretary at a campus office that handles services for students with disabilities. “The news got wind of it, and that’s how all the employees and students got wind of it.”

Kavahn Mansouri, editor of the the campus newspaper, said the paper received numerous letters to the editor from students angry that the university waited so long to alert the community.

Students also expressed their concerns via social media.

“Kind of frightens me since all of my classes are at night one building over from said event,” wrote one student on the school’s Facebook page.

In her letter to students and faculty, Dorsey wrote: “... the college has been criticized, and rightly so, for failing to notify students and staff on the Meramec campus in a timely manner. On behalf of the college, I apologize for not sending an immediate campus notification. As we attempted to get a more complete picture of what happened, we delayed sending information. This will not happen again.”

Margaret Gillerman of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Follow Kevin McDermott on Twitter @kevinmcdermott

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