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No report filed in Niagara University rape accusation

Lewiston police and other authorities in Niagara County said Tuesday that they have not received a report of a rape or sexual assault on campus involving a basketball player.

“There was nothing of that nature reported to us,” said Lewiston Police Chief Frank J. Previte III. “We didn’t initiate any investigation because there was nothing reported to us.”

The unconfirmed allegation that a Niagara University basketball player raped a female student on campus surfaced Friday in an online petition and has helped feed a student revolt against a university administrator.

In the petition, student Sarah Joslin called for the removal of Marjean C. “Carrie” McLaughlin, Niagara’s dean of students. Joslin especially criticized McLaughlin’s handling of an unnamed woman who Joslin said had been raped on campus by an unnamed basketball player. But so far, no one at the university or in law enforcement has confirmed that a student accused a basketball player of rape.

The petition has since generated 1,400 digital signatures and dozens of complaints against McLaughlin from students and former students.

The university put McLaughlin on paid administrative leave and hired a Buffalo law firm to investigate whether the complaints against her are accurate.

Citing student confidentiality, university officials have declined to comment on whether a basketball player was accused of rape.

Executive Vice President Debra A. Colley would only say that when the university receives sexual assault complaints, it investigates them promptly.

The campus falls within the jurisdiction of Lewiston Police Department, so it would be the most likely investigating agency if a victim sought to pursue criminal charges against a perpetrator. But Previte said his agency had not had such a report, nor had the State Police, Niagara County Sheriff’s Office or Town of Niagara police.

“We need a complaint for any crime, someone who’s a victim who’s going to report it. If there’s no crime reported, we can’t investigate it,” said Previte.

Previte said university officials can always call Lewiston police if they receive a sexual assault complaint. Investigators then would contact the victim to try and launch an investigation.

The university has not reported an alleged rape or sexual assault to police recently, he added.

According to federal data, Niagara had two rapes on campus in 2014, although it’s not clear from the data if those cases were prosecuted by local police or handled through the on-campus student disciplinary system. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights currently is investigating 185 cases of sexual violence at 152 colleges and universities across the country; Niagara is not among them.

Joslin’s petition prompted at least two responses from women who wrote on the website that they had been sexually assaulted while at Niagara. However, many other responders criticized McLaughlin’s treatment of students more generally. University officials have asked Joslin to take down the petition, but she has declined.

The Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria law firm is trying to contact people who made the online complaints.

“The school has hired me to investigate the claims made in the comments to the petition,” said attorney Barry N. Covert.