NEW: SPPD to Handle Serious Felonies on Campus
Eight months after botched campus sex assault investigation, local authorities ink deal putting city police in charge of major crimes on campus
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point Police Department is now the official agency of record when it comes to investigating serious offenses on campus.
The brainchild of Portage Co. District Attorney Louis Molepske in 2016, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) cements an agreed-upon policy between his office, university administration, city officials, SPPD and law enforcement of UW-Stevens Point Protective Services (UWSPPS) when it comes to major crimes occurring on campus property.
Officials from UWSP, SPPD, the city and the DA’s Office held several private meetings to finalize the details. The document was signed by all parties on May 3.
The agreement was approved by the Stevens Point Police and Fire Commission on May 2. President Gary Wescott, who is also an employee of the university — and the former Mayor of Stevens Point — abstained from the discussion and vote.
Several officials from UWSP made an appearance at the public Police and Fire Commission meeting, to include Chancellor Bernie Patterson; Bill Rowe, director of protective services; and Greg Diemer, UWSP vice chancellor of student affairs.
Patterson called the agreement “just a first step” in having a closer working relationship with the city.
“I hope [the agreement] really does gather dust,” Patterson said. “But in the event we have an issue — I think it’s more a matter of time; ‘when’, than ‘if’ — we want to be ready.”
Molepske began to push for the MOU following the investigation of a sexual assault reported in 2013, when a female student contacted protective services in early Dec. to report she had been assaulted sometime on late Nov. 24 or early Nov 25.
According to the criminal complaint, the victim woke sometime during the night to find some of her clothing had been removed and Thill on top of her. The woman told police she did not consent to sexual contact with Thill.
Thill, who wasn’t interviewed by UW Protective Services until Feb. 13 of 2014, told the investigator the woman “did not say no” and alleged she gave him permission to remove her clothing. He also told the officer, according to the complaint, “he believed he had intercourse with [the victim] but was too drunk to remember clearly”.
The case wasn’t filed with the DA’s office until Dec. 1, 2015 — largely because, according to Molepske, Rowe would not sign the criminal complaint.
“Bill [Rowe] refused to sign the criminal complaint. It was his case, it wasn’t a request for charges — Bill didn’t want the case prosecuted,” Molepske said. “We listened to him, we had a meeting, and ultimately he did sign the complaint. [In recent interviews with the media] Bill said he did sign the complaint; that’s true, but it was three months later.”
“It’s unusual and unprecedented in our office that an officer would refuse to sign a criminal complaint,” Molepske said. “That along with the knowledge they have a lot of turnover, and their not showing up at sexual assault and domestic abuse trainings — that’s why we want this agreement in place.”
Thill pleaded no contest on July 26, 2016; Judge Thomas Flugaur sentenced Thill to one year of probation and a $50 fine, plus court costs, for a charge of fourth-degree sexual assault. A second charge, third-degree sexual assault was granted deferred conviction status, meaning the charge will be dismissed if Thill doesn’t violate his probation.
He was also ordered to have no contact with the victim while on probation, with the exception of an apology letter requested by the victim.
Molepske said gaps in the investigation, conducted by university protective services, would have been avoided if city police had been involved from the beginning — but he maintains the goal of the MOU is not to point blame.
“At the end of the day, when law enforcement collaborate, it only benefits the victim and aids in the prosecution of the crime,” he said on May 2.
The MOU will result in SPPD handling sexual assaults, homicides, kidnappings, bodily injury and other serious criminal cases; the agreement also allows UWSP to call in the Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation when university employees are accused of crimes or there is an officer involved shooting.
The agreement also requires campus officer be trained jointly with Stevens Point police, which Molepske said will “lead to better investigations, reduced victimization and solid convictions”.
“Crime knows no boundary and all victims of crime whether on campus or in the city should expect that the best resources are brought to bear to solve their victimization,” Molepske added.