A federal judge ruled that three Utah State University officials named in a lawsuit by a former student aren’t culpable for another student raping her.
Victoria Hewlett filed the suit against the university after she was raped by then-Sigma Chi fraternity member Jason Relopez in July 2015. The lawsuit says five other women had reported to the school that Relopez sexually assaulted them before Hewlett’s attack.
Relopez, who was suspended from the university, pleaded guilty to first-degree-felony attempted rape and third-degree-felony forcible sexual abuse, admitting that he sexually assaulted two women in two years. He remained on campus until his arrest after the attack on Hewlett.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Hewlett has agreed to the use of her name.
Thursday’s decision comes six months after the Utah attorney general’s office asked that the complaint against school officials be dismissed. The complaint lists the university, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Eric Olsen, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards Krystin Deschamps, and then-adviser for the school’s Greek system Kevin Webb.
Though District Judge David Nuffer didn’t dismiss the case, he did rule that the administrators couldn’t be sued in the case because of “qualified immunity,” which protects government officials from lawsuits “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established” laws.
Nuffer said there is no “clear law” that the officials are liable for Hewlett’s attack “for underreacting to a known potential threat of sexual harassment or assault by a third party.”
He went on to say: “Perhaps this may be clearly established law someday, but no precedent presently establishes a claim on these facts.”
The attorney general’s motion also challenged Hewlett’s argument that the school could be liable for a breach of contract — in this case the student code — by not removing Relopez from campus after the initial reports of sexual assault.
Nuffer upheld that argument.