Trees were removed from the site within months of the February 2014 assault, increasing visibility of the area from the road and bike paths
A UC Santa Barbara student who was raped on campus in 2014 is claiming the university failed to adequately maintain an “overgrown foliage area” despite previous reports of criminal activity in the area, ultimately leading to the student’s rape, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The lawsuit says that at the time of the attack, “it was impossible for anyone to see or hear what was happening within the space” because of foliage that stretched for about a block. Satellite images from Google Earth show that a significant number of trees and shrubbery were removed within six months of the attack, making the location more visible from bordering bike paths and the corner of El Colegio Road and Stadium Road.
Attorneys Tyrone Maho and Joshua Lynn are representing the female victim, whom the lawsuit refers to as Jane Doe, against the University of California Regents. Maho said the university made significant changes to the area shortly after the assault.
“[The university] added lighting on that bike path, they’ve cleared all that [foliage] out, you can see onto campus where you couldn’t see before,” Maho said. “This was not a small project by any means.”
Shortly before midnight on Feb. 22, 2014, three men took the female student, who was 19 at the time, from Isla Vista and raped and beat her at the northwest end of the UCSB track until approximately 4 o’clock the next morning, when she escaped. She then ran to her residence in I.V. where her roommate called for police and medical assistance.
The student suffered a broken nose; blunt trauma to her knees, hands and abdomen; and her eyes were swollen shut, according to the lawsuit. The student also contracted herpes during the assault.
The lawsuit says the attack was “the worst case of sexual assault” on UCSB’s campus, and also alleges that the university had “previously received several complaints that crimes had occurred in this area.”
The Santa Barbara Independent reported shortly after the attack that the victim was taken from near Embarcadero del Mar and Segovia Road in I.V.
Because of the direct route the assailants took from I.V. to the location by the track, the victim “suspects that her rapists were extremely familiar with the foliage area at UCSB,” the lawsuit says.
“Despite being on notice, the area was not illuminated or patrolled, the foliage was allowed to continue to be overgrown, and no other reasonable precautions had been taken” to keep students out of harm, according to the lawsuit.
Maho said the victim was “absolutely” open to settling outside of court and hoped that the lawsuit would also reinvigorate the police investigation.
“Our hope with this whole thing is not only to draw attention to what the university did to basically allow this activity to take place … but also to help with the appeal to find the perpetrators because it has been two years and UC police have not found the suspects,” Maho said.
Kelly Hoover, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office, said “The Sheriff’s Office initially investigated the case along with UCPD” until it was determined that the crime occurred on campus, under the jurisdiction of UCPD.
“The crime scene was located on UCSB property,” Hoover said. “At that point, UCPD became the lead.”
Shortly after the attack, UCPD released a sketch of two of the three men, but none of the assailants have been found.
Maho said DNA and physical evidence were present at the scene, adding to his frustration that the perpetrators are still on the loose. The lawsuit alleges that the UCSB Police Department was “understaffed and insufficiently trained” to investigate the attack.
“We are dismayed that [UCPD has] not been able to find the suspects and the longer this goes on, the more difficult this is going to be,” Maho said. “Bringing this to the public’s attention by the way of the lawsuit, this will hopefully bring some witnesses forward who have some sort of information.”
The lawsuit says a rape kit was performed shortly after the assault, but that it is “missing significant documentation” and does not include photos of the student’s injuries.
The victim is requesting damages from the university but has not specified an amount. When a number is known, the lawsuit states, the plaintiff will “amend this Complaint and allege said amounts.”
Maho and Lynn are representing the victim on a contingency basis, meaning they will not be paid for their time unless the victim is rewarded.
UCSB released a statement Wednesday in response to the lawsuit, saying the safety of students is the university’s highest priority and that student cases are treated with “survivor-centered” support.
“While we cannot pretend to comprehend the depth of pain and anguish our student has endured, we continue to offer our heartfelt sympathy and unwaveringly and persistently provide as much support as we possibly can,” the statement reads. “While this remains an active and ongoing criminal investigation, our campus would like to again ask the community to report any information related to this incident.”
A representative from attorney Jonathan Miller’s office, based in Santa Barbara, confirmed that Miller is defending the university in this lawsuit, but offered no additional comment.
The UCSB Police Department, UC Office of the President and UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang did not respond to requests for comment.
An initial conference between lawyers is scheduled for May 27 in front of Judge Donna Geck.
Anyone with information is encouraged to call the UCSB Police Department at 805-893-3446.
Supriya Yelimeli and Leon Freyermuth contributed research.
A version of this story appeared on p. 1 of the Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, edition of the Daily Nexus with the headline, “Lawsuit: Foliage Concealed Rape.”