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Crime & Courts

Campbell defends decision to drop charge in NIU rape case

SYCAMORE – Clay Campbell said he never would have charged a former Northern Illinois University police officer in the rape of an NIU student had he known how police had mishandled the investigation.

Campbell, the former DeKalb County State’s Attorney, made the decision to drop a single charge of sexual assault against Andrew Rifkin in November 2012, days after he was defeated in his bid for re-election. This came after court testimony revealed that NIU police had withheld evidence that would have been favorable to Rifkin – an error that ultimately led to the firing of NIU police Chief Donald Grady.

“I have to have confidence in the information I’m receiving from law enforcement agencies,” Campbell testified in DeKalb County Court on Tuesday.

“I’m making decisions that could cause people to lose their freedoms. I took it very seriously that NIU was not an honest broker in the process.”

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, who defeated Campbell in the election, decided to reinstate the charges against Rifkin, 26, of Northbrook because Campbell did not consult with the victim before making his decision.

Rifkin’s lawyer, Bruce Brandwein, argues that because Campbell decided to drop the charge, Schmack should not be able to reinstate it. DeKalb County Associate Judge John McAdams will rule on the question July 25.

Rifkin is accused of forcing a sex act on an NIU student in his Cortland apartment in October 2011. Rifkin, who had joined the NIU police force in June 2011, was off duty at the time. He was fired when the victim came forward with the allegations.

NIU police handled the investigation internally rather than seeking help from an outside agency, which caused problems, Brandwein said.

Video and audio recordings of police interviews with Rifkin did not match, and what police characterized as a confession from him did not read like one when looking at all the evidence, Campbell said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Jessica Finley said Campbell had not talked to the victim in the case before dropping the charge, and argued Rifkin’s request to drop the charge was not timely because it has been more than a year since he was re-indicted.

Brandwein cited a legal concept called judicial estoppel, which states a party cannot assume a contrary legal position when they were already successful in maintaining a different position. Campbell was successful in making an argument to drop the charge in front of Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert, and so Schmack should not be able to reverse course, he said.

Finley emphasized that Campbell’s opinion has no bearing on whether the charge should be dropped.

“Campbell specifically stated this was his opinion,” Finley said.

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