By: HEATHER BRADY and JESSICA MASULLI
A former UMW student, who was sexually assaulted in 2008, is suing the university for $10 million, alleging negligence in providing a secure environment for students.
On Oct. 3, 2008 at 2 a.m., the former student, who was then a sophomore, was threatened, abducted, falsely imprisoned, raped, sodomized, sexually assaulted and battered while walking to her car in the UMW parking deck, according to the lawsuit.
It is the Bullet’s policy not to name victims of sexual assault.
The victim, who is represented by Attorney Lewis Lowery, is suing the University of Mary Washington, but the defendant is listed as the Commonwealth of Virginia since UMW is a state school.
The lawsuit has been in the works for around two years, according to Lowery. UMW received a notice of claim at that time, a formal written notification of the lawsuit, which was dated Sept. 28, 2009.
Lowery said that he had been in contact with the state attorney general’s office before that date, however.
“There isn’t anybody in the attorney general’s office that can say they were surprised to get this,” he said, adding that the victim’s first choice of action wasn’t to file a lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that UMW is liable for the harm the victim suffered as a result of UMW’s failure to use “reasonable care” in fulfilling its duties to offer a secure environment.
According to the lawsuit, UMW did not provide an escort service at the UMW parking deck, and in the early morning hours security personnel did not patrol the UMW parking deck.
Lowery said that patrols stop when the UMW parking deck closes.
“There isn’t anything closed about it,” he said. “There’s no gate that comes down. There wasn’t even any monitoring of it. When they say that it’s closed, it’s the same time they could have a police patrol there.”
The assailant entered the UMW parking deck through unsecured entrances, and was able to attack the victim and then leave without being detained, examined, interrogated, stopped, observed, filmed, photographed or identified, the lawsuit stated.
“They can get very accurate pictures of the people who are at the parking garage,” Lowery said, pointing to the video of Hample’s Safety Walk blue light test in September 2009 as an example. “They don’t have the videotape of the guy who did this, but [they] could have.”
The passageways inside the UMW parking deck are dangerous, invite opportunities for assaults and are unguarded, according to the lawsuit. It said the passageways, which are accessible by pedestrians and motor vehicles, are not effective security devices, and UMW knows this.
The lawsuit alleged that unauthorized people have free access to those areas, and that the assailant was able to detain the victim, attack her, and then flee as a direct result of the unsecured UMW parking deck entrance.
“They could and should have done a better job of making the parking deck secure,” Lowery said.
Former President Judy Hample’s description of her fictitious situation and attacker during the September 2009 UMW Safety Walk is strikingly similar to that of the victim, the lawsuit stated. Hample’s actions have interfered with the investigation, arrest and prosecution of the assailant, and have served to humiliate the victim, it said.
“That is an assertion based on our view of what she’s done,” Lowery said.
Lowery said that Hample, as well as other people for whom the state are responsible, “have done things that have made it more difficult to catch the person who did this.”
According to George Farrar, the associate vice president of University Relations and director of communications, Hample’s blue light call did not interfere or relate to the victim’s investigation.
The Bullet attempted to reach Hample, but she was unavailable for comment.
The lawsuit blamed the university for:
- negligent security measures employed, the negligent installation and maintenance of security devices, and the negligent hiring and training of security personnel
- failure to properly monitor, inspect and maintain a location that UMW should have known to be dangerous
- failure to warn and protect authorized UMW parking deck users of the dangers of the area that UMW should have known about
When asked about safety procedures since the incident, Farrar said, “Safety procedures throughout the campus are continually being reviewed and updated.”
After the assault, the student immediately drove to Stafford County, where she said she felt “very comfortable,” according to the original Bullet article about the incident.
She reported the incident to the Stafford sheriff’s office and was taken to the hospital. The case was then referred to the Fredericksburg Police Department, who then notified UMW.
The Fredericksburg police assisted with gathering evidence from the victim’s car, but they were not directly involved in the investigation process, according to Natatia Bledsoe, public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.
The UMW Police Department released a sketch and description of the assailant. An anonymous donor offered a $10,000 reward for any information that would lead to a successful arrest and conviction of the assailant.
UMW Police Chief Eddie Perry deferred comment to Farrar. Farrar confirmed that the investigation is still open.
The Office of the Attorney General does not comment regarding ongoing litigations.