The DeKalb County state’s attorney has asked state police to investigate the Northern Illinois University police department and its police chief after a judge ruled last week the department hid evidence that could have cleared one of its officers of a felony sexual assault charge.
Officer Andrew Rifkin was charged with criminal sexual assault in November 2011 after he allegedly attacked a NIU student, according to a news release. He was later fired from the job after an investigation, the release stated.
On Monday, DeKalb State’s Attorney Clay Campbell requested the probe into the department and Police Chief Don Grady after a judge found the NIU police department withheld evidence from his office. The information “arguably exonerates” Rifkin of the charges, he said.
”I am appalled,” Campbell said in an interview with the Tribune. “It goes to the fundamental integrity of the legal system if you have a law enforcement agency that is hiding information and evidence from the prosecuting authority.”
Campbell said the case centers around an NIU student reporting in fall 2011 that she was sexually assaulted by a university police officer. Campbell's office approved a felony charge of criminal sexual assault in November 2011.
In court Friday, defense attorneys argued that the case should be dismissed because NIU police had not shared with prosecutors statements from several witnesses saying the woman had told them the sex was consensual. The defense attorneys recently interviewed the women and learned that they had previously spoken to police. Police had not shared the interviews with prosecutors, Campbell said.
“These are potentially exculpatory statements,” Campbell said. “They go directly to the issue of guilt or innocence.”
Campbell said he was already concerned about the investigation before Friday's hearing.
“We had questions when this thing began about whether they should investigate their own officer,” he said. “I was personally assured by Grady that they would conduct the appropriate investigation.”
Campbell said he doesn't know whether he will ask for the charges to be dismissed.
“This is going to take some further reflection. Did this hopelessly compromise the case?” he said.
A NIU police department spokesman declined comment on Monday evening, but said a statement on the matter would be released Tuesday.
In connection with the judge’s ruling, NIU President John Peters on Monday asked state police to help review and complete ongoing university police investigations.
“We want to reassure the public that these inquiries are without conflict of interest,” Peters said in a statement. “Therefore, I have instructed my general counsel and our outside counsel to begin a review of law enforcement protocols, and have requested the assistance of the Illinois State Police in this effort as well.”