SYCAMORE – A former police officer at Northern Illinois University has been charged in an alleged off-campus sexual assault of an NIU student while he was employed by the university.
Andrew Rifkin, 23, of the 100 block of East Warbler Avenue in Cortland, was charged with criminal sexual assault by force, a Class 1 felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, according to court documents.
NIU Police Sgt. Alan Smith said a female student contacted the department Friday to report the alleged incident, which she said took place Oct. 14.
According to court documents, Rifkin “by the use of force and without consent” committed an act of sexual penetration with the victim.
Smith said the reported incident happened in Cortland while Rifkin was not on duty.
NIU Police spoke with Rifkin and went through a step-by-step investigative process, Smith said.
After a preliminary investigation, Rifkin was fired Friday from his position as a sworn officer, Smith said.
As a sworn officer, Rifkin would have performed duties such as dorm building checks, taken reports or responded to complaints. Rifkin was hired June 17 and graduated from the police academy Sept. 23, Smith said.
Smith said NIU officers must adhere to a strict no-fraternization policy with students, faculty and staff, and everyone on staff is aware of that rule.
“Just based on everything that was brought out, that led to the termination,” Smith said of the interviews conducted with the victim and the officer Friday.
A warrant was issued Tuesday, according to court documents. Rifkin turned himself in Tuesday and was taken to the county jail, Smith said. His bond was set at $150,000 and he posted $15,000 bail Tuesday night and was released. The warrant ordered that Rifkin have no direct or indirect contact with the victim.
“The NIU police department takes these things seriously,” Smith said. “We take our job seriously in providing the best service to this campus and the community. This type of behavior is not indicative of the behavior of members of this department.”
NIU spokesman Paul Palian said the reported victim was referred to the appropriate support services on campus.
NIU has broad jurisdiction
The NIU Police Department has jurisdiction in the county and statewide where the university has property, Smith said when asked why NIU was handling a case in which the alleged incident happened off campus while Rifkin was not on duty and why the department was investigating a case involving one of its former employees.
The victim contacted an NIU police officer Friday morning and made arrangements to come to the department that afternoon, Smith said. Shortly after 2 p.m., she began telling officers what occurred; Cortland police and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office were contacted at that time, Smith said.
The victim requested NIU police handle the case after she began telling them about the incident, Smith said. She was offered the opportunity to talk to other agencies but “she was adamant about us taking the case,” he said.
“To keep from victimizing her again” and making her repeat her comments, he said NIU chose to take on the case.
“We were just being accommodating,” Smith said.
A few hours later on Friday, Rifkin was interviewed and fired. Smith said he wasn’t sure of exact times when interviews took place Friday.
“Everyone was made aware when it became apparent that a crime may have been committed,” Smith said.
Smith said that the sheriff’s office declined to take part in the investigation and could not elaborate.
“That’s just the information I was given,” Smith said. “The only thing I have is that they’re not doing it.”
Cortland Police Chief Dennis Medema said NIU Police informed his department Friday about the alleged incident. Medema said he contacted the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, which handles investigations of major crimes for Cortland, to request that its investigators work with NIU on the case.
However, Medema said that he learned Monday that NIU conducted interviews for the case in which sheriff’s office investigators were not present.
“We respectfully just backed out of it and said we can’t investigate,” Medema said. “We withdrew from the investigation because we weren’t involved with it the whole time.”
Sheriff Roger Scott confirmed that NIU Police contacted his office late Friday morning with “very basic information that this investigation may be happening.” Medema also called his office, Scott said.
Scott said the understanding Friday was that NIU Police “were looking at it at an administrative level and, perhaps, they would want us to look at it on a criminal level. We would have more discussions on Monday.”
Scott said NIU called back about 3 p.m. Friday to inform his office that the university planned to fire the officer. A message left about 4:15 p.m. Friday for a sheriff’s office sergeant said NIU authorities had more information, but did not elaborate. That sergeant didn’t get that message until Monday morning, Scott said.
When NIU Police and the sheriff’s office spoke about 10:10 a.m. Monday, Scott said his office was informed university police began an interview with the victim at 10 a.m. and had a 1 p.m. appointment set up with the suspect. When asked which agency would file charges, NIU Police said its department would, Scott said.
“They had already talked to the victim, which we were not a part of or told about,” Scott said.
NIU authorities invited sheriff’s deputies to the 1 p.m. interview, as well as to review the notes from the interview with the victim, but Scott said “that’s not normal procedure” for his office.
“We declined to come over at 1 p.m. because they had already done a substantial part of the investigation and there really was no point in us coming in that late in the investigation,” Scott said. “... They were well along on the investigation, and did not need our assistance.”
Smith said that, with the conversations that occurred and based on the totality of the situation, it was determined NIU police would handle the case. Smith noted that other departments have internal affairs divisions and have investigated their own officers.
“We’re going to handle it thoroughly, professionally and fairly,” Smith said.
Eddie Williams, NIU’s executive vice president for Business and Finance and chief of operations, declined to comment Wednesday when asked if it was appropriate for NIU Police to be conducting the investigation. Williams, who oversees the police department, said all comments were to go through the assigned point person at the university.
NIU President John Peters was on his way to Springfield on Wednesday, according to an announcement made during a University Council meeting, and not available for comment.
Palian, who is director of NIU’s Media and Public Relations office, referred requests for comment about the incident and whether it was appropriate for the university police to handle the case to the NIU Police Department.
Scott and DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell declined to comment on whether NIU should be handling the criminal aspect of the case.
Rifkin is next due in court at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
• Daily Chronicle reporter Nicole Weskerna contributed to this report.