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Evidence handling questioned in rape case

SYCAMORE – Northern Illinois University police clearly withheld information in a case involving a former officer charged with sexual assault, a judge said Friday.

During a hearing at the DeKalb County Courthouse, the attorney for Andrew Rifkin, 24, of the 3500 block of Meadow Street in Northbrook, argued that NIU police didn’t provide the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office with two witness statements or make reports after speaking to those witnesses as is required.

Rifkin pleaded not guilty in January to criminal sexual assault by force. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison. He was indicted on the charge in December 2011.

On Oct. 28, 2011, a woman contacted NIU police to report the alleged incident, which she said took place Oct. 14 in Cortland while Rifkin was off-duty. After a preliminary investigation, Rifkin was fired Oct. 28, 2011, from his job as an NIU police officer.

University police have said NIU officers must adhere to a strict no-fraternization policy with students, faculty and staff.

According to a motion filed last month by Rifkin’s attorney, Bruce Brandwein, two witnesses told NIU police the alleged victim said she and Rifkin had a consensual encounter and he never assaulted her, but their statements never made it to prosecutors.

When Brandwein questioned NIU police Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan as to why the two witness statements were not given to prosecutors along with other evidence in the case, Ramakrishnan said he “made a very, very bad mistake” and put the statements in Rifkin’s internal file, which contained his employment history.

He said he didn’t realize until this past week, after being contacted by the state’s attorney’s office, that the statements had not been given to prosecutors.

No other reports regarding the case were misplaced, Ramakrishnan said.

When Brandwein asked him why a police report wasn’t generated when the women gave their statements, Ramakrishnan said it was an oversight on his part.

After Ramakrishnan started to say he told the witnesses it was possible their statements would be given to prosecutors, Brandwein interrupted to say it wasn’t an option, it was a requirement, and Ramakrishnan agreed.

One of the two women who gave the statements testified that Ramakrishnan told them the situation was serious and could go to court, and he wouldn’t process a report if they didn’t want him to. She said she called him about a week later and told him they didn’t want their statements sent to prosecutors, and he said “OK.”

Ramakrishnan testified that he didn’t recall having such a conversation with the witness, but he remembered the women saying they didn’t want to be part of the investigation, they simply wanted to speak with NIU police Chief Donald Grady.

“I don’t recall ever saying that, sir,” he said when asked whether he told the witness he wouldn’t give the statements to prosecutors.

Grady, who spoke with the women before they gave their witness statements, said he learned a few days ago that Ramakrishnan didn’t make a report when the witnesses gave their statements. Brandwein asked Grady if he suspended or terminated officers involved once he learned of the situation; Grady said he did not.

“I did talk to them,” Grady said. “Some people think that might be as stern as a termination.”

Brandwein argued NIU police violated basic principles of criminal law in withholding the statements, which were favorable to Rifkin. He asked that the case be dismissed and that an external investigation be done.

“You just can’t slap them on the hand and say don’t do this again,” Brandwein said, calling it an egregious violation.

Prosecutor Julie Trevarthen said she wasn’t aware until Ramakrishnan testified that a report had not been generated until earlier this week. She argued against dismissing the case outright.

It would be inappropriate for the state’s attorney’s office to conduct an investigation, Trevarthen said, but one could be handled by the Illinois State Police if the court so decides.

“I’m not going to sit here and argue that nothing should be done, judge,” she said.

Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert sternly said it was clear there was a purposeful hiding of information, and the statements given were obviously exculpatory. She said she has no confidence police have turned over all information regarding the case at this point, and she ordered them to do so.

“In my years on the bench, I’ve never been faced with such a flagrant Brady violation,” Stuckert said, referring to a Supreme Court ruling that requires police turn over all evidence to prosecutors.

Dismissing the case would be an extreme remedy, and there still is an alleged victim, Stuckert said. Citing the need to contemplate an appropriate sanction, she set the ruling for Friday.

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