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.”
Tall grass perpetuates rape culture!
Yes it is.
Can you put yourself in her shoes for a second? Its not about the ‘tall grass’ it’s about your worst nightmare coming true on a campus you love and felt safe in and the world told you you’re a fucking idiot for ever trusting any one or anything
Clearly, because someone was raped in a bush, we should ban bushes from this campus!
Just cause the article says its about trees doesn’t mean its right. Its about gang rape and a trauma happening to a fellow student. Trust me, she couldn’t care less about the trees, what she wants most is those guys found and put in jail .
I hope this frivolous suit gets tossed out. Classic catch 22 – take out trees and foliage, then the tree huggers will cry foul!
Don’t make jokes about people who are traumatized and have emotional life scars. Let me guess, you’re a guy who has never been sexually oppressed. Or if you’re a girl, you have never been traumatized by someone beating you and disfiguring you until you couldn’t look yourself in the mirror without wanting to die.
I’m so sorry that this horrible incident happened on our campus, but I’m not sure this is a fair lawsuit. Is UCSB really responsible for removing trees anywhere a rape might occur? I don’t think so. The true perpetrators of the rape were the pieces of shit who committed it. Let’s take a page from the feminist handbook and blame the men, not the shrubbery.
Are you entirely without critical faculties? If indeed the school was lax in overseeing an area known for criminal activity and deficient in response, then a lawsuit is entirely justified. Transparently simplifying the case in order to crack a few poor jokes leads one to wonder what motivation underlies your inane comment.
This is an institution. Do you know how much money they have saved for lawsuits? So what if this girl gets one good nights rest out of the many nightmares she has. She won one thing in her life, after everything was stolen from her.
Some parts of the lawsuit may have merit, but I hate to see the campus deforested due to three evil people taking advantage of the beautiful greenery.
They already started deforesting the place to conserve water.
do you ever wonder what your god thinks of you spending your free time obsessively criticizing women online and mocking rape victims? Ever wonder if you might try to show some evidence of basic humanity or sense? #unintelligentdesign
I doubt this lawsuit will survive the first demurrer or motion for summary judgement. Case law is now very specific that California public universities enjoy virtual immunity against being sued. The rape kit being incomplete? That’s not UCSB’s fault; blame Cottage Hospital. Collecting material from the victim for a rape kit is the responsibility of medical personnel not police. The perps not caught yet? The majority of stranger rapes are never solved. UCPD appears to have done everything they could to solve this case. Bottom line: some ambulance chasing lawyer is looking for quick application of cash to assuage what… Read more »
I totally disagree with you. By the way, judgment is spelled incorrectly in your post. She agreed to settling out of court. They have a duty to make the campus as safe as possible for students and the duty was breached. I hope she gets a good sized settlement. She’s going to need health care and therapy for the rest of her life.
This unfortunate case reminds me of an earlier travesty of justice involving USC. A woman was assaulted and raped on campus in an area surrounded by high shrubs and low light. After winning a large jury verdict, an appeals court took away her verdict noting, “But where, as here, we are presented with an open area which could be fully protected, if at all, only by a Berlin Wall, we do not believe a landowner is the cause of a physical assault it could not reasonably have prevented. (Noble v. Los Angeles Dodgers, Inc., supra, 168 Cal.App.3d at p. 918… Read more »