SALT LAKE CITY — Three Utah State University officials have been dismissed from a lawsuit filed by a student who was raped at a fraternity party and claims the school should have done more to protect her.
Victoria Hewlett sued her now former university, three of its employees and the schools Sigma Chi Fraternity chapter in November 2016, saying they knew of five previous allegations against her assailant before she was raped but didn't take action.
Utah State University, represented by the Utah Attorney General's Office, had called for the lawsuit to be dismissed.
Jason Brian Relopez, now 29, was sentenced in May 2016 to a year in jail for sexually assaulting two women, including Hewlett, who was 19 at the time. He pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors to attempted rape, a first-degree felony, and attempted forcible sexual abuse, a third-degree felony.
Hewlett testified at a preliminary hearing that she and Relopez had been kissing in his bedroom at the fraternity house in July 2015 when he held her against her will during hours of abuse and demoralizing sexual encounters that she couldn't object to without putting herself at risk.
In a decision handed down Friday, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer found that the three officials — Eric Olsen, associate vice president for student affairs; Krystin Deschamps, director of student conduct and community standards; and Kevin Webb former adviser for the school's Greek system — are immune from legal action as state employees.
Hewlett claimed in her lawsuit that, prior to her assault, Olsen, Deschamps and Webb met with Relopez regarding allegations by other women, telling him he was "on USU's radar" and would be expelled if any of the allegations were proved to be true. They took no further action against Relopez.
The school itself, however, was not dismissed from the lawsuit.
In her lawsuit, Hewlett pointed to Utah State's student contract, which proclaims zero tolerance for sexual assault by its students, both on and off campus, and promises strong disciplinary action if such violence occurs.
By failing to take action against Relopez when allegations were raised by other students, putting her at risk, Hewlett claims the university violated its side of the contract.
In his decision, Nuffer agrees that Hewlett has presented claims that could qualify as a breach of contract. However, he also notes that it is unclear whether that would constitute a violation under Utah laws.
"Absent direction from the Utah Supreme Court, this federal court will not summarily find as a matter of law that a university policy such as the Student Code fails to form a mutually enforceable contract," Nuffer wrote.3 comments on this story
The Gamma Kappa chapter of Sigma Chi has also called for Hewlett's lawsuit to be dismissed. The Greek organization has also filed a counterclaim, asserting that should Hewlett's claims be proved, Relopez is solely responsible.
According to the lawsuit, the fraternity was aware of the allegations against Relopez — including knowing that Kappa Delta sorority had barred Relopez from its activities on reports he had verbally, emotionally and physically abused women in the group — but permitted him to remain an active member of the organization and a resident in the fraternity house.
A jury trial on the remaining claims is currently scheduled for May 2019.