Tuesday, April 20, 2010
There are five written witness statements, counting the two statements by the victim. From the looks of it, the victim made one statement immediately after the event, then fleshed out the details a little once she was sobered up. All five say pretty much the same thing, so I'll just re-word that version of events here:
Sometime between 11:15 and midnight, four girls (Nicole Biancofiore, Ann Marie Lubatti, Victoria Garofolo, the victim and another girl whose name was redacted from her statement for unknown reasons) first went to the Velvet Elvis, a bar across from Georgia State College and University in Milledgeville, Georgia. It was there that they first ran into Roethlisberger, Willie Colon and Roethlisberger's body guards. The group of girls had "casual conversation" with Ben and his group, took some photos together, then moved on to the other various attractions of the Velvet Elvis. Roethlisberger's group left the Velvet Elvis.
About an hour after they arrived, the girls moved bars from the Velvet Elvis to the Brick and discovered that Roethlisberger was in that bar as well. The victim sat down at the bar next to Colon and a few seats down from Roethlisberger. The victim and Garofolo had a conversation, mostly with Colon but with Roethlisberger leaning over and offering comment from time to time. As this was going on, Roethlisberger's body guards formed a perimeter and didn't let any males near the group (which strikes me as a good way of doing business. We should consider instituting this sort of thing at the next Guy's Night Out). The victim had on a nametag she had received earlier in the evening when attending a friend's birthday party that read "D.T.F." Roethlisberger confessed that he did not know what that meant (this, then, is one area where I know more about the college coed than Ben Roethlisberger. It just feels good to know I have something, you know?). They explained that it means "Down To F---." He responded by saying, "I'm not down to f--- (clearly a lie), but I like to f--- girls." After conversing a little more, Ben and his group decided the Brick was too crowded and left.
The group of girls chilled at the Brick a little while longer before heading on to Capital City, where they met Roethlisberger for a third time. According to their statements, this was all by chance. This time, Ben had a private area with just him and several girls. He was buying shots for the girls and was very drunk by this time. After she talked with Ben for a bit and just generally got her party on, one of Ben's body guards came up to the victim and guided her through a door into another room. Lubatti saw all this going down. When she saw Ben go back where her friend had been taken, she went up to one of Ben's bodyguards and said that this isn't right and that her friend was back there alone with Ben. The body guard just said he didn't know what she was talking about. At this time, Biancofiore went to Rocky, the owner of Capitol City, and asked him to unlock the door so that they could get back there to retrieve their friend. Rocky said that Ben wouldn't do anything because he's an NFL quarterback and would not want to do anything to hurt his reputation. Had Roethlisberger possessed a level of reasoning equal to that of Rocky, he would be much better off right now.
After a few minutes, Ben came into the rooom/hallway/area where the victim was with his penis out. Yes, that's right, with his penis out. The victim said that it wasn't okay and that they shouldn't do this. She got up to leave and went through the first door she saw, which happened to be to a bathroom. Ben followed her into that bathroom and shut the door. She said that this was not okay. He then entered here and told her it was okay. He then finished to completion (without protection) and left without saying anything more. She straightened herself up, found her friends, told them what happened, left the bar, found the nearest police officer and told him what had happened.
About the charges being dropped, it appears that's happening in part because the girl doesn't want to deal with the coming media onslaught. From the Smoking Gun:
In a March 17 letter to prosecutor Fred Bright, a lawyer for the woman asked that the rape probe be dropped. "What is obvious in looking forward is that a criminal trial would be a very intrusive personal experience for a complainant in this situation, given the extraordinary media attention that would be inevitable," wrote attorney David Walbert. "The media coverage to date, and the efforts of the media to access our client, have been unnerving, to say the least."
So that certainly opens the door for all of this to be true and Ben still not get charged, though that seems like a flawed system to me.
Over the weekend, more and more documents related to the investigation are coming out and adding new angles to this. There are two main ones here: the allegations of another girl saying Ben acted improperly with her and the brouhaha over the way the police botched the early stages of the investigation.
So the Milledgeville Police Department has this Youth Explorer Program, and as they were looking into this case, one of the members of that program (his name is Linc Boyer) came forward and said that one of his friend's sisters had two bad experiences with Ben. The sister is 21 or 22 and works at the Great Waters golf course near Ben's lake house in Georgia. She had been at a party with Ben, and Ben was too drunk to drive himself home. She acted as Ben's designated driver. She took him home and helped him to his bedroom. Once they were in there, Ben would not let her leave. She made it out to the front door, but Ben slammed it shut before she could leave. He then pulled down his pants and told her she could do whatever she wanted.
About a week later, Roethlisberger sent this girl a text inviting her to a party he was having at his house. She attended, and while there, he took her to show her a new bed he had purchased. He encouraged her to lie down on the bed. Roethlisberger then became forceful and put his hand up her skirt. She was eventually able to push him away and leave, which made Ben angry. The girl went home and told her father, who declined to pursue charges. This case is interesting because, though it is sketchy with the whole 'my friend's sister said this happened' aspect, this girl really stands nothing to gain from making this up, since she didn't pursue charges. I guess Ben or his people still could have paid her off, but it strikes me as unlikely, since the idea is usually to pay someone to dissuade them from filing a suit. If this girl and her family at no point showed interest in pursuing a suit, why pay her off? And if she's not looking for money, why lie about what happened? That combined with the volume of complaints (four complaints by three girls) suggests there's a good chance that all this (or something like it) definitely happened.
ANYWAYS, on to the business about the poor work by the police. From what I understand, the protocol followed here was for the police to receive the rape complaint, conduct interviews to asses the truth/severity of the claim, then if things are serious enough, the police turn things over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) who really kicks things up with the gathering of evidence/interviewing of parties/whatnot. In this case, the route from "receive complaint" to "call GBI' went astoundingly poorly.
Initially, the victim expressed to her friends that she was on the fence about reporting the incident. She didn't want the story getting out, and she was embarrassed about what had happened. One of her friends, Nicole Biancofiore, had a friend who is a member of the Sheriff's office or a neighboring country, and she called him to ask advice. This deputy, Shawn Tapley, advised them to report the incident to the nearest officer, and the victim consented. The group told Sgt. Willie Goddard what had happened, and he turned it over to his shift supervisor, Jerry Balsh. Balsh is the one that messed this all up and subesquently resigned last Friday when all of these documents were released.
Balsh had been with Roethlisberger earlier in the evening. He had been part of a police escort for Ben from the Brick to Capitol City. Balsh had posed with Ben for a picture by this point. When the girls approached Balsh, he alleges, they were clearly drunk. They told him what had happened, and he questioned them about parts of the story. He claims that at this point, when he asked if Ben had raped her, the victim said she wasn't sure and that she hadn't known what was going on. It's worth noting that this is the only time in the documents that have been released that the girl is painted as not being sure about this. In both her statements, and in the statements of all her friends, she is pictured as being pretty clear about the fact Ben had raped her. At one point in the victim reporting the crime, she got into an argument in raised voices with Balsh about wether or not he was willing to take the report. She felt he wasn't taking it seriously. Blash eventually did take the report.
When they finished talking, Blash sent the victim to the police department and huddled up with some of the other officers. As the bars were emptying, Blash got the manager at Capitol City on the phone. After talking with him, Blash came back to the other officers and said, "We've got a big problem. We've got a big problem. We've got a big problem." The police headed out to Capitol City, and when they got there, members of Ben's entourage were already on the phone with lawyers. Though Ben's friends initially refused to give their names to police, documents reveal that Ben's entourage consisted of the following: off-duty off-duty Coraopolis, PA police Officer Anthony J. Barravecchio, off-duty Pennsylvania State Trooper Edward J. Joyner, and Nima Zarrabi, marketing director for the California firm of the quarterback's agent, Ryan Tollner. When told about the victim's allegations, Barravecchio said, "Not this again." Another member of the entourage said he gets sick of this kind of BS. Just more evidence that this is a pattern of behavior for Ben, that he does not recognize boundaries.
Blash was at Capitol City to interview the members of the entourage, which he did, but the reports are that he kept the conversation light and casual and spoke ill of the accuser to Ben's people. The two key statements attributed to him by people there are: "This bitch is drunk off her ass accusing Ben of assaulting her." and "I know, I know, it's bulls---. I don't believe a word this girl was saying. She could barely stand up as she's telling me this, but she's making a serious claim we have to look in to." I feel it should be pointed out to Mr. Blash that one can certainly be drunk when being raped. Alcohol isn't a rape repellant. I promise.
I feel like it's overkill, but it was also reported that Blash used profanity and spoke ill of the accuser. Besides those two statements attributed to Blash, I feel like there's a lot of soft edges on just how bad Blash's actions were. Making sure that a drunk person is sure about what they're saying on a matter such as this seems like a morally acceptable act. So does keeping a friendly tone when speaking to the associates of someone accused of committing a crime. The real key for me in determining what end of the spectrum Blash ends up in is the reaction of his superiors. They had all of the facts with significantly fewer of the soft edges we're dealing with, and their reaction wasn't a reprimand or even a suspension. They pretty much fired him. 'Resigned' feels like the same thing, I'm sure.
The other big element of the police's mess up is their failure to secure the crime scene. Eight hours after the girl reported that she was raped and still four hours before the Milledgeville police would even call the GBI concerning this case, a worker at Capitol City cleaned the bathroom, scrubbing it with Clorox and Pine Sol before anyone could collect evidence. No one from the police told him not to. That strikes me as a pretty huge mistake.
Other assorted details:
The investigators did administer a rape kit and collect the accuser's underpanties. They did find male DNA from the rape kit, but it wasn't enough to determine whose DNA it was. Teddy Staples, the GBI's manager of forensic biology, explains how small a sample is too small: "Normally what we're looking for is about a nanogram of DNA, which is a billionth of a gram. A raisin weighs about a gram, so if you could cut a raisin into a billion pieces, we need one of those. So this particular result was far less than even a nanogram. There was something there. It just wasn't enough." This is the most compelling evidence in support of the notion that Ben didn't do it. I am very concerned about the logistics of engaging in unprotected sex without leaving behind a billionth of a raisin's worth of DNA. Then again, maybe he left more and it was cleaned up with pine sol.
The victim was underage (20) and, obviously, drinking despite this.
That victim told the GBI that she received calls from reporters on her cell phone within two hours of filing a report (however, I still haven't seen her name in the press anywhere. Someone has to know it, just by knowing the names of her friends. I guess I don't really care though. It wouldn't add much to the story.)
Willie Colon's statement has been released. He answers the big question I've had throughout: Why choose to live in rural Georgia? He says Bruce Arians has a house there and that Bruce suggested the area to Ben. Plus, Ben likes golf and the area has good golf. It's about 90 minutes from Augusta.
I've heard speculation from folks that the accuser dropped her case because she was paid off. Is that legal? I've heard of out-of-court settlements, but that sounds like blackmail. I thought out-of-court settlements are more like if someone did work for me, and I don't want to pay them, and they sue me, but I work out an agreement to pay them before it goes to court; not like if Ben rapes someone then pays them to shut up about it. Surely that's not okay. Seems like a circuitous version of prostitution.
So if we believe she wasn't paid, and we believe the bit about her not wanting to report this because she didn't want to sully her good name, and we believe she dropped the charges for the same reason, then what reason does she have to make this up? Would she sacrifice her name just to sully Ben's? Was she trying to get money out of it only to realize it would be more difficult than she anticipated? If that's the case, she gave up pretty easy, didn't she? It certainly doesn't look good for Ben from my view.
And even if this girl or any of the others are being liberal about the details of their encounters, the overall picture is disturbing. A startling number of indicators all point to a general attitude by Ben that when girls say 'no,' it doesn't mean much to him, and that's just messed up. Also consider that he's continued this behavior despite coming pretty close to suffering real consequences from it with the Andrea "Jimmy" McNulty incident. So is there another incident coming? One where he ends up with a conviction, maybe some jail time? Further, I know locker rooms are depicted as havens of poor morals, but surely there are members of the Steelers--especially the Steelers--that can't tolerate someone who would treat someone's daughter/sister/etc like this. Especially considering that we've always heard that a segment of his teammates weren't in love with him even before this (back when I read pro football talk.com every day, I remember Florio always looking to point out evidence of this. The example I can remember of this was the team voting James Harrison team MVP in Harrison's first year starting, a year in which Ben threw 32 touchdown passes and made the Pro Bowl). It's just a bad deal.
Posted by TC Fleming at 2:47 PM