A Passaic County grand jury decided not to indict five William Paterson University students arrested on sexual assault charges.
The future of five William Paterson University students remained unclear Friday, days after a grand jury declined to indict the freshmen on charges brought by campus police accusing them of participating in a dorm room gang rape.
All charges were dismissedagainst the five 18-year-olds — Darius Singleton, of Jersey City, Termaine Scott, of Vineland, Garrett Collick, of Paterson, Jahmel Latimer, of Hoboken, and Noah Williams, of Camden — but it was unclear if they would be allowed back at school after officials previously said they were barred from campus.
Lawyers for some of the students were critical of William Paterson University for not turning the case over to experienced sex-crime investigators with the county prosecutor’s office before filing charges and for public statements made by school President Kathleen Waldron.
The University on Friday declined to answer a series of questions about the campus police force’s handling of the case or say if the students would be allowed to resume classes. In a statement Thursday night, the school said it’s own “student conduct process” was continuing, but would not elaborate.
One defense lawyer, Ron Ricci, of Woodland Park, who represented Latimer, said he was considering litigation against the school and its police department. Ricci pointed to public statements from Waldron, which he said portrayed his client as guilty days after the allegations were reported in November.
In a statement after the arrests, Waldron said the men were barred from campus and expressed concern for the “courageous victim.” Waldron said she was “angry and dismayed that this crime was committed on our campus and allegedly by students.”
The defense lawyer questioned why campus police apparently did not immediately alert the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office when the sexual assault allegations were reported. The office maintains a staff specially trained in sex-crime cases available to police around the clock. It was unclear if any policy existed that would require local police departments to call prosecutors in alleged sexual assault cases.
“We have to see why William Paterson police decided to charge [the students] when there was overwhelming evidence that this was not a crime,” Ricci said.
“I know that every other police department in Passaic County would have contacted the prosecutor’s office upon the allegation,” he added. “That’s how it always works.”
Ricci said there was a “ton of evidence” that exonerated his client, but he declined to detail specifics of the case.
“If we’re going to talk about it, it’s going to be in a civil lawsuit,” he said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about it at this time.”
A grand jury opting not to indict on charges after police make an arrest is uncommon, he added. In other cases, the “no bill” comes when no charges have been filed.
“It’s not like this was a not guilty at trial,” Ricci said. “This was a no bill that a group of people from Passaic County found that there wasn’t even probable cause to charge these kids.”
Ricci noted the bail for the accused students was quickly lowered from $200,000 to $50,000 at a hearing in December and the case had not at the time been investigated by prosecutors.
Meanwhile, Ricci described his client as a well-liked student with good grades who was the first in his family to attend college.
“I think he’s doing well, but he has been very depressed. His mother is very concerned with his well being,” Ricci said. “He’s trying to get his life back in order.”
Laura Sutnick, a Hackensack-based lawyer who represented Collick, said her client hoped to continue his college education after the charges were dismissed.
“I think he’s relieved by the grand jury decision, but the damage of an arrest will be lifelong because one day he’s studying for mid-terms and the next he’s inside the Passaic County Jail,” Sutnick said. “Everything was on hold because he had these serious charges over his head.”
Sutnick she her client has not made any decisions about returning to the University and believed he had been suspended, pending a hearing conducted by the school.
“I don’t know whether or not he would feel comfortable or confident going back to William Paterson University knowing that they didn’t support him at all, ever,” she said.
Collick has struggled to find work after being kicked out of school, in part, because of the widespread media coverage of the allegations, she said.
Sutnick also criticized the college president’s written statements issued after her client’s arrest.
“I think those statements were outrageous and without factual support,” she said.
After meeting with Collick, Sutnick said she knew immediately that the allegations required a thorough investigation. She credited the work of Senior Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Squitieri, who she said led an extensive investigation after campus police made the arrests. Sutnick also said campus police should have alerted the specially-trained prosecutor’s office unit responsible for sex crime investigations.
Campus police, however, failed to interview various witnesses and seek evidence that could have cleared the students, she added.
Like other defense lawyers interviewed, Sutnick declined to elaborate on specifics of the case, but said there was a collection of evidence. Grand jury proceedings are held in secret and prosecutors have not offered detailed comment on the case.
Fellow students at William Paterson stood by the accused after the arrests, with about a dozen attending a December court hearing to show their support.
“These are good boys,” Savannah Falzarano, a college junior who met them at a summer program, said at the time. “Go onto campus and ask students. You can ask anyone.”
Judy Fallon, a public defender who represented Williams, said she believed he would continue his studies.
While the men no longer face criminal charges, their lawyers pointed to the likely lasting impacts of the allegations and arrest.
“They all have the experience of jail,” Fallon said. “That will be with them forever.”