Geneva police chief defends investigation, outlines HWS case

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 10:16 am | Updated: 3:07 pm, Mon Jul 21, 2014.

By MIKE HIBBARD mhibbard@fltimes.com

GENEVA - City police are standing by their efforts in the wake of Sunday’s article in The New York Timesabout a William Smith College student who said she was sexually assaulted in September 2013.

“I knew this story was coming ... and I was never worried,” Geneva Police Chief Jeff Trickler said Monday. “I was confident the whole time that a thorough investigation was done.”

Trickler and Geneva PD Lt. Eric Heieck discussed the story, which was critical of the Colleges and police department, during a meeting with a Finger Lakes Times reporter at the public safety building. Here is a timeline of police involvement in the case:

  • Sept. 8, 2013 - Police responded to Hobart and William Smith Colleges about 3 a.m. after getting a call from campus security about a possible sexual assault approximately 90 minutes earlier. Heieck said officers spoke to potential suspects and witnesses, but the victim had been taken to Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua for a medical exam.

  • Sept. 10 - Heieck said he and Detective Brian Choffin met with the student, a William Smith freshman identified in The New York Times as Anna, along with the Colleges’ Title IX coordinator.

    “We basically laid out the whole process and how to handle it, should she choose criminal prosecution,” Heieck said. “We gave her our work phone numbers, personal cell phone numbers, emails and business cards. At that time she was very reluctant to speak with us. We laid out our process and what we could do for her, and she said she wanted to wait and talk with her mother. We certainly respected that.”

    Heieck said he and Choffin also urged the student to contact Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, which provides services for people who have experienced sexual assault.

    “We realize this can be a life-altering experience, a life-changing experience,” he said. “We urge them to contact Safe Harbors immediately, and we want the victim to realize we will be their advocate and be there for her.”

    Heieck said in the days after that meeting he and Choffin left messages for the student and coordinator but didn’t hear back from either.

    “At that point, we said, ‘We stand ready to talk to you and file a criminal complaint,’” he said.

  • Sept. 17 - Heieck said police were contacted by a male attorney, whose name he couldn’t recall, saying the student would be contacting the Geneva PD. In the meantime, police talked to HWS officials about the incident and learned the Colleges would be holding a hearing.

    “Our aim is to be an advocate for the victim, and if there is a sexual assault on campus our goal is to solve it,” Trickler said.

  • Oct. 7 - Heieck said police were contacted by the student’s current attorney, Inga Parsons, and were told a sexual assault kit had been done at the hospital but wasn’t being turned over to police because of possible use for civil needs.

  • November - Heieck said in a letter sent to the student and her attorney, police reiterated their position about filing a criminal complaint to initiate an investigation.

    “The victim was still reluctant at that time to file a criminal complaint, but we wanted to keep this moving,” Heieck said.

    “We told the victim, ‘We will cooperate with you. We will work with you. We will not force you [to make a statement],’” Trickler added. “We take sexual assaults very seriously, but it’s up to the victim to make a decision. They didn’t want police involved at that point.”

  • Feb. 27, 2014 - Police met with the student and her attorney and talked about having access to the sexual assault kit, but it was never turned over to police.

  • “We once again urged her to pursue criminal charges,” Heieck said.

  • March 11 - In a meeting at the public safety building with the student and attorney, police took a formal statement and complaint, then started an active investigation.

Heieck and Trickler said over the winter months, police - to the extent they could - stayed abreast of the situation.

“We continued to work on this case. We wanted to be prepared in the event that a criminal complaint was made,” Trickler said. “We stood ready to start the formal investigation.”

Heieck said he and Choffin spoke with the student, suspects and potential witnesses. They also subpoenaed hundreds of documents from the Colleges.

“We talked to anyone the victim in the matter had knowledge about,” Heieck said, adding that some of the suspects had attorneys. “Very little was obtained from those interviews.”

Police took their information to Ontario County District Attorney R. Michael Tantillo, who declined to prosecute. Tantillo said Monday in an e-mail he was out of the area until later this week and unavailable for comment.

“We contacted the DA’s office to let him know where we stood and the challenges we had ... and we still had no sexual assault kit,” Heieck said. “Based on the totality of the circumstances ... he advised us against going any further. We completely trust his decision.”

Heieck noted that throughout the process, police communicated openly with the attorney and student.

“We always maintained a positive relationship with the victim and her attorney,” he said. “We worked hard to protect the victim in this matter.”

“We still consider her a victim,” Trickler added. “Just because there was no prosecution doesn’t negate the status of her being a victim. I can tell you that Detective Choffin and Lt. Heieck worked tirelessly on this from start to finish.”



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