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Crime & Courts

Judge: Jurors will hear NIU police hid info

SYCAMORE – Jurors in a rape case will hear how Northern Illinois University police officers initially withheld statements beneficial to the defendant – who is one of their former officers.

Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert declined to dismiss the rape charge against Andrew Rifkin, who NIU police fired the same day an NIU student made the allegations against him. She stressed the importance of pursuing justice for the victim, as well as for the defendant.

But Stuckert said the trial could include details about how NIU police Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan placed two witness statements in Rifkin’s personnel file, rather than giving them to prosecutors as required by law. Those witness statements show the victim told other NIU students that she had an ongoing consensual sexual relationship with Rifkin.

“It certainly goes to the credibility of the witnesses,” Stuckert said of the evidence mishandling.

Stuckert’s decision came just hours before the university announced a management shuffle that placed Bill Nicklas, associate vice president of institutional planning and sustainability, in charge of the NIU Police Department.

NIU Police Chief Don Grady and his department will report directly to Nicklas, who reports directly to NIU President John Peters, according to a news release. Eddie Williams, chief of operations and executive vice president of finance and facilities, suggested this temporary arrangement “to provide a more direct and concerted management focus,” according to the statement.

On Monday, Peters asked state police to review and help with all of the NIU police’s pending investigations as state police saw fit. He also asked university attorneys and state police to review law enforcement protocols.

State’s Attorney Clay Campbell said Monday that he had requested state police investigate NIU Police Chief Don Grady and the department over the mishandled evidence. Campbell did not win re-election Tuesday.

By Thursday afternoon, state police had received Peters’ request but had not received Campbell’s, Illinois State Police spokesman Monique Bond said.

In Rifkin’s case, NIU police also failed to generate a police report indicating Ramakrishnan and Grady talked with the two witnesses and told the victim not to talk with anyone but them about the case, defense attorney Bruce Brandwein said. Brandwein declined to reveal how he discovered the two withheld witness statements existed.

Brandwein pushed Stuckert to order an outside investigation of the NIU police department and to order prosecutors to make the victim available to him for an interview. Stuckert denied both of those requests, but she did order NIU police officers to sign sworn affidavits indicating they had now turned over all the required information.

Stuckert also received all NIU police materials in the case and intends to compare that with what prosecutors have given defense attorneys to ensure defense attorneys have all the appropriate information. Part of the file she received included text and phone message information, as well as a police report, that defense attorneys might not have, Stuckert said.

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