District attorney won't take gang rape case

The alleged victim, witnesses and the local sheriff are outraged.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published June 2, 2007 2:53AM (UTC)
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A couple of readers sent us links today to a story about an alleged gang rape in Northern California. A handful of witnesses have detailed their disturbing account of what went down that night, but the county's district attorney has decided against prosecuting the case. In response, national women's rights groups have staged fiery protests, and Santa Clara County sheriff Laurie Smith has announced that she believes a rape did indeed occur. This led one of our tipsters to write: "What does a girl have to do for a rape prosecution?" It's a controversial question to ask in the wake of the high-profile Duke lacrosse case, which carries some basic similarities -- the event took place at a house party and the alleged attackers are college athletes.

The details are as follows: In early March, three 20-year-old women were on their way out of a college house party when a girl told them there were eight guys alone in a room with a 17-year-old girl. They decided to knock on the French doors to the room, which were draped with a sheet and being held closed from inside. They say a baseball player from De Anza College -- one of several students inside -- opened the door and said, "You girls don't know what the fuck is going on. Get the fuck out of here." One of the women, Lauren Chief Elk, noticed the sheet didn't quite cover the entire door and was able to peek in. "When I looked in, I saw about ten pairs of legs surrounding a girl, lying on the mattress on the floor and a guy on top of her with his pants down and his hips thrusting on top of her," she told KTVU Channel 2. "And when I saw that I knew immediately something wasn't right. It just didn't look right."

Another witness, April Grolle, said, "I saw that this young girl did not want to be in there, and that's when we just went 'We're getting this girl out of there.'" They managed to break down the door and found the girl lying on the bed with "vomit dribbling down her face." Chief Elk said, "We had to scoop vomit out of her mouth [and] lift her up. Her pants were completely off her body." She continued, "She had her one shoe on, her jeans were wrapped around one of her ankles and her underwear was left around her ankles. To the left of the bed there was some condom thrown on the ground." The women then dressed the alleged victim and drove her to a local hospital.

D.A. Dolores Carr said what happened that night was "abhorrent" and that the women displayed "honor and courage," but that there simply isn't enough evidence to go to trial. "The credibility and memories of witnesses are easier to attack," she wrote in an editorial. "Having more witnesses is not always an advantage if their recollections differ." She added that while it is considered sexual assault when a victim is too intoxicated to consent, "we must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was so impaired that she could not understand what she was doing." And oddly, forensic tests showed the vomit did not actually belong to the alleged victim. Still, according to one protester, the girl's blood alcohol level was 0.27 following the alleged incident -- which is within the range for a potential loss of consciousness and memory blackout.

The case -- namely the D.A.'s decision against taking it to trial -- seems to be gaining critical attention locally and now nationally. All of which we hope will help combat the message that, in certain cases, reporting rape just isn't worth it. Carr's decision "makes us think that no girl is ever going to want to come forward and say they were violated as this girl was, because they're going to think it doesn't even matter," said Chief Elk. "But it does."

Tracy Clark-Flory

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