ROME – A Berry College student is accusing the northwest Georgia school of failing to protect her from a student who she says assaulted and raped her repeatedly for more than two years after she reported the attacks to school administrators and campus police, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Atlanta.
Two other women also accused the man of attacking them after the school was alerted to the assaults on the first woman, the lawsuit said. The college did not inform local police and instead treated the attacks as a disciplinary matter, the lawsuit said.
The man, identified in court papers as Marcus Sandelowsky, 21, of East Point, was expelled last April after a Berry judicial board found him guilty of sexually harassing and assaulting the women, according to BerryCollege documents. Sandelowsky, who has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing, later was allowed to withdraw from school without punishment, according to the lawsuit. He transferred to GeorgiaStateUniversity.
Sandelowsky did not return phone calls. His father, William Sandelowsky, said the family has no comment. When confronted with the charges by college officials last spring, Sandelowsky denied them all.
The woman filed the lawsuit Tuesday against the college and Sandelowsky, accusing him of stalking her, assaulting her and raping her repeatedly during a period that began in fall 2001 and ended last February.
The lawsuit also alleges that Sandelowsky raped another student and attacked a third during the same period. In a formal complaint filed with college administrators, the women accused Sandelowsky of seeking to intimidate them from pursuing their cases against him.
Truth ‘twisted around'
Carol Willis, Berry's associate vice president for student affairs, refused to discuss the details of what happened.
“This is one of those times when there is some truth to what is being said, and it's getting twisted around,” said Willis, who resigned for unrelated reasons in September. “The word ‘rape' was never used [when the victims came for help]. I can't talk. You'll have to talk to our attorney.”
The college's attorney, Jo Stegall of Rome, said Wednesday that he had not seen the lawsuit. “I think there are two sides to every story,” he said. “I'm kind of handcuffed as far as what I can say.”
Amanda Farahany, an Atlanta attorney representing the woman who filed the suit, said the college failed in its obligation to protect its students after administrators learned that they were at risk.
“Why didn't they react after receiving complaint after complaint?” Farahany said in an interview. “Why, after multiple girls complained about him, did they not take steps to get him away from their other students or to make the students aware?”
Farahany, who specializes in sexual assault cases involving colleges, said this one stands out. “This is the most egregious of any case I've ever had,” she said. “The deliberate indifference by the school is the worst I've seen. The school turned a blind eye to sexual assault.”
Floyd County police Investigator David Stewart said his department became aware of the complaints in May when a Berry College policewoman asked for advice on how to handle the case. The department is investigating. Floyd County District Attorney Leigh Patterson said she was awaiting the conclusion of the police investigation to determine whether to pursue criminal charges.
In a statement issued through President Scott Colley's office, the college said: “Berry can unequivocally state that it believes it has acted properly in all respects relating to the matters at issue.” The college also said that laws intended to protect student privacy prevent it from discussing the allegations.
The woman, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, said she first contacted the Berry campus police to report the fall 2001 attack. Campus police referred her to Willis, the lawsuit said.
The suit says Berry is at fault for failing to protect the woman. The suit also accuses Berry of violating the woman's federally guaranteed right to equal access to education under Title IX. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from both Berry and Sandelowsky.
According to the suit, the woman's roommates complained repeatedly to college officials that Sandelowsky was continuing to harass her even after she reported the attacks to administrators.
A group of parents met several times with Berry officials to complain about the stalking and assaults, the lawsuit said. At one point Willis officially instructed Sandelowsky to stay away from the women who were accusing him, according to the lawsuit.
The woman who filed the lawsuit said the most recent attack occurred in February, when she said Sandelowsky brutally attacked, battered, tortured and raped her, according to the lawsuit.
Despite the complaints, the college continued to employ Sandelowsky in the school's financial aid office, where he had access to personal information about the women, the lawsuit said.
The three women who say they had been attacked met by chance in April and decided to present a united front, according to the lawsuit.
On April 9, they filed a formal complaint with the college, accusing Sandelowsky of sexual assault and harassment as well as other complaints including “pushing, striking or physically assaulting members of the student body.”
Sandelowsky responded to the college that he was not guilty of the charges, according to college documents provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Farahany.
The women were forced to appear at the hearing with the man they said had attacked and intimidated them, the lawsuit said.
“Despite the students' assertions that they were in fear of Sandelowsky and that he had brutally attacked each of them, Berry held a nine-hour hearing and required that the female students remain in the room and answer Sandelowsky's questions to them directly,” the lawsuit said. “The students were not permitted to have a legal representative to assist them, nor did anyone prohibit Sandelowsky from asking irrelevant and immaterial questions.”
On April 16, Thomas W. Carver, the vice president for student affairs, wrote Sandelowsky a letter informing him that the board had found him guilty of all charges. He was given 52 demerits, far exceeding the number that mandates expulsion.
Consequently, Carver said he had decided to dismiss Sandelowsky from the college. Carver said Sandelowsky could complete his final exams as long as he checked in with security when he was on campus and avoided contact with the women who brought the charges.
However, Sandelowsky appealed and was later allowed to voluntarily withdraw, according to the lawsuit.
Bob Frank, a faculty member who testified on behalf of one of the women, said in an interview that he believes the school mishandled the case.
“It's no doubt in my mind that the process and the charge of harassment was poorly handled,” said Frank, who heads the communications department. “Her case went on for months. She just wanted relief from the harassment by the guy. I think she was more done in by the process than by the sexual harassment.”
Even though federal law requires that colleges and universities inform students of their option to report assaults and rapes to law enforcement authorities, colleges are not legally required to tell police themselves.
S. Daniel Carter, the executive vice president of Security on Campus Inc., a nonprofit safety watchdog organization, said many schools try to dissuade victims from going to police. “They don't want the bad publicity,” he said. “It's hardly a unique situation.”
Story Also Covered in the Following Publications:
Atlanta Journal Constitution (February 9, 2005) Berry College responds to federal rape lawsuit
Rome News-Tribune (November 26, 2004) Berry officials say sexual assault report was handled properly; lawsuit by student maintains it wasn't
ABC News (November 26-27, 2004) College officials say proper procedure was followed
ABC News (November 26-27, 2004) Georgia College Accused in Rape Lawsuit
Washington Post CBS MSNBC Fox News Newsday
Rome News-Tribune (November 27, 2004) Lawsuit asks Berry to change policy
Atlanta Journal Constitution (December 1, 2004) Berry College Memo Addresses Lawsuit
Campus Carrier (December 2, 2004) Student's Lawsuit Targets Berry
Rome News-Tribune (February 8, 2005) Berry: Assault Matter Handled Properly
Atlanta Journal Constitution (February 10, 2005) Gag order unlikely in Berry rape suit
Campus Carrier (February 17, 2005) … The first Doe's lawyer, Amanda Farahany of Atlanta, moved to seal the 86-page document to protect both the identity and the information in this case…
Rome News-Tribune (March 11, 2005) Sexual assault defendant says shield laws unfair in his case Three Jane Does have hidden behind rape shield laws while dragging Former Berry College student Marcus Sandelowskys name through the mud, Sandelowsky alleges in a recently unsealed federal court…
Atlanta Journal Constitution Ex-Berry student counters rape suit
Doe v. Berry College Complaint for Damages Berry's Answer