September 27, 2020

Tort notices filed by students cleared of WPU gang rape

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Lobbying-Reports-MaukBy Mary Pat Gallagher, From New Jersey Law Journal
Two of the five William Paterson University students who were accused of an on-campus gang rape last fall, but were cleared of the charges when a grand jury refused to indict them, have filed notices indicating their intent to sue the school, which is public, as well as its president, director of public safety and others.
The tort claim notices were mailed out Feb. 4 on behalf of students Garrett Collick, of Paterson, N.J., and Noah Williams, of Camden, N.J., as well as Williams’ mother, Nancy Williams.
All three are represented by Michael Epstein of the Epstein Law Firm in Rochelle Park, N.J.
The would-be university defendants failed to provide Collick and Noah Williams with due process when they issued warrants for their arrest and failed to properly investigate, the notices say. They lacked the training and experience to handle a sexual-assault case and should have contacted the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office immediately so that those with greater expertise could have handled things properly, the notices also say.
Instead, they issued arrest warrants without probable cause, engaged in improper searches and seizures, resulting in false arrest and imprisonment, and made public statements defaming the students, according to the notices.
The consequences for Collick and Williams include emotional injuries, damaged reputations and economic losses, the notices say. But the notices provide no dollar figure because “the full amount of this claim is unknown.”
Listed as potential claims are slander, libel, invasion of privacy, false light, negligence, breach of contract, tortious interference with contract and prospective economic advantage, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, among other causes of action.
Nancy Williams’ notice says she has suffered emotional harm from witnessing the emotional injuries and deprivation of constitutional rights inflicted on her son.
The notices contain a demand that all audio and visual recordings and documents be preserved and turned over.
Like the other three students who were accused—Jahmel Latimer, Termaine Scott and Darius Singleton—Collick and Noah Williams were 18-year-old freshmen at the Wayne, N.J., university when the alleged rape occurred Nov. 25.
It was two days before Thanksgiving, when the campus was largely deserted.
The female accuser, who has not been publicly identified, reportedly told university police and a campus counselor that she was restrained and sexually assaulted.
According to media reports, university police Sgt. Ellen DeSimone brought a criminal complaint Nov. 28, which was signed by a judge, resulting in the arrests the next day of the five accused students.
The warrants referred to the alleged victim as being held in a state of “‘involuntary servitude’” by her attackers who, she claimed, turned off the lights, blocked the door and used physical force or coercion to assault her, news reports said.
Collick, Williams and the others were charged with multiple offenses, the most serious of which were first-degree crimes of kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault, for which they faced a combined maximum sentence of 50 years in prison on each charge, plus registration under Megan’s Law as a sex offender and parole supervision for life.
Although none of the accused had criminal records, bail was originally set at $200,000 but later reduced to $50,000.
The criminal case ended after a grand jury declined to indict Jan. 26.
Collick’s criminal defense lawyer, Laura Sutnick of Sutnick & Sutnick in Hackensack, N.J., attributed the outcome regarding her client to the investigation conducted by her and Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Squitieri.
“We subpoenaed documents, we interviewed witnesses, all of which we turned over to the prosecutor,” Sutnick said, declining to elaborate on what she uncovered.
While the charges were pending, it was reported that university President Kathleen Waldron stated publicly that she was “angry and dismayed that this crime was committed on our campus and allegedly by students.”
Following the grand jury’s “no bill” decision, Waldron issued a statement saying that school officials respected the decision but also that William Paterson “has its own student conduct process that is independent of the state’s legal proceedings,” which “will continue.”
Epstein said that before making bail, Collick and Williams spent nine or 10 days incarcerated at the Passaic County Jail, half of it in maximum security.
He referred to his clients as soft-spoken young men, who went to college under New Jersey’s Educational Opportunity Fund program, which subsidizes low-income students.
They have lost their first year of college and are still barred from campus and indefinitely suspended or expelled, Epstein said.
They are not willing to go through a school hearing process because they know little about it and don’t expect it to be fair, according to Epstein.
Epstein said the charges have also impeded his clients’ ability to find jobs.
The New Jersey Tort Claims Act bars suits against public entities or officials unless a notice is provided within 90 days of the incident that caused the harm.
Potential plaintiffs must wait six months to sue once notice is filed.
Notice is not required for statutory claims such as those made under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and Civil Rights Act, or constitutional claims, though the notices list those, too.
The university, Waldron, university Director of Public Safety Robert Fulleman and DeSimone are named as possible defendants with additional John and Jane Doe police officers and John and Jane Smith spokespersons.
The notices were sent to all of them and to Acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman.
William Paterson declined to comment through spokeswoman Mary Beth Zeman, who said the “university does not comment on legal matters.”

Photo: Silvia Jansen/iStockphoto.com

For more on this story go to: http://www.njlawjournal.com/id=1202717267895/Tort-Notices-Filed-by-Students-Cleared-of-WPU-Gang-Rape#ixzz3RG1fDAwB

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