An accusation of sexual assault in New Jersey highlights a national dilemma

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JERSEY CITY, N.J.-Katie Brennan has spent more than a year trying to convince the authorities to act against the man who accuses her sexually raped. In the end, he sent an e-mail to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

Ms. Brennan, head of staff at the state housing agency and former volunteer for the governor's campaign, called the police in April 2017, one day, she said, after a campaign staff he would have imposed on her. After months of investigation, the county prosecutor's office refused to file charges against his alleged assailant, saying he did not think a jury would convict him. He turned to the state order forces and high-level members of the Murphy administration. Nothing has changed.

Finally, the 31-year-old resident of Jersey City, who claimed to have refused a $ 15,000 settlement offer from his alleged assailant if he signed a non-disclosure agreement, sent Mr. Murphy directly via e-mail. first lady Tammy Murphy.

He did not explicitly mention the alleged attack in his June 2018 email, but asked to speak with the governor or his wife about a "sensitive issue" that had occurred during the campaign. The governor replied within an hour and said he was going around the staff to arrange a schedule.

"Wait," the governor wrote to Ms. Brennan in the e-mail, which was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. "Here we are."

An encounter with the governor has never been scheduled. And months later, the man, Albert J. Alvarez, was still working for the state as head of staff at the New Jersey School Development Authority. Mr. Alvarez resigned from his position on October 2, the same day the Journal sent him for comment.

"At every turn, I felt so disappointed," Mrs. Brennan said in an interview. "I tried everything, and none of it worked, if I can not get justice, I do not really know who can do it."

Mr. Alvarez's attorney, John Hogan, said that his client "absolutely and positively denies these allegations of sexual violence". He refused to comment further on every aspect of Mrs. Brennan's report. Neither Alvarez nor his lawyer responded to any further attempts to reach them by telephone or e-mail with detailed questions.

After his resignation, Mr. Alvarez was named in the local and national press reports on the accusation. Mrs. Brennan has spoken publicly of the alleged assault for the first time for this article.

Republicans in New Jersey have called for a survey on Mr. Alvarez's assumptions and the Democratic leadership of the state senate has declared in a statement that he is being bothered by the allegations.

On Friday, government spokesman Murphy said his office received a separate charge on Thursday against Mr. Alvarez. The indictment, which was referred to the New Jersey attorney general's office, concerned an incident that would occur in 1999 or 2000, the spokesperson said. Neither Alvarez nor his lawyer responded to a request for comment on the accusation.

Despite all the attention paid to sexual assault charges in recent months, they remain difficult for the criminal justice system. Such crimes often do not produce conclusive evidence, making them difficult to investigate and prosecute. Conflict accounts may be the only material officials to work with. Prosecutors tend to refuse to pursue cases deemed improbable to obtain a conviction.

This can leave the feeling of being denied by justice to the accusers. The accused, meanwhile, can still experience life-altering impacts, including a damaged career and a spotted reputation.

Criminal justice officials are now considering new ideas on how to handle such cases. More than a dozen states have passed laws in the last two years to improve the management and testing of rapeseed kits, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Proposals to broaden the legal definition of sexual crimes and to lengthen or eliminate the prescription of sexual violence limitations have been passed or are in progress in legislatures across the country.

New training programs for policemen and prosecutors working on cases of aggression have also been launched in Alaska and Illinois.

The governor's spokesman said the Murphy had not discovered that Mrs. Brennan had accused Mr. Alvarez of sexual assault until the first week of October, when the Journal contacted the administration for comment. In a joint statement, the Gov. Murphy and Ms. Murphy said they had asked the Director of the Division for Equal Employment Opportunities and affirmative action throughout the state to examine how the state handles allegations of sexual misconduct.

"We are confident that this charge has been appropriately managed by the administration and that the policies and procedures have been followed correctly and promptly, but it is clear that the process during the transition has been inconsistent with our values, and the rental should not have happened, "said Murphys. "Now we have to ask ourselves: how can we maintain a higher standard going forward?"

John L. Molinelli, former Bergen County attorney, N.J., speaking in general, said that cases of sexual crime are notoriously difficult to bring to trial.

John L. Molinelli, former Bergen County attorney, N.J., speaking in general, said that cases of sexual crime are notoriously difficult to bring to trial.

Photo:

Kevin R. Wexler / The Record of Bergen County / Associated Press

John L. Molinelli, former Bergen County attorney, N.J., speaking in general, said that cases of sexual crime are notoriously difficult to bring to trial. To go ahead with the allegations, prosecutors must reasonably believe they can prove the case in court.

"Even if they believe that he did," said Mr. Molinelli, "do they have proof that any reasonable accusation can believe that it would support a trial?"

Useful information includes the victim who trusts in a third party immediately after the alleged assault, other victims coming forward, inconsistent statements of the defendant or physical confirmations such as bruises or scratches, said Molinelli.

Ms. Brennan reported on her assault on the authorities, went to the hospital for a sexual assault examination and immediately told friends and family about the alleged attack.

Last fall, Ms. Brennan said she felt sure that the Hudson County attorney's office would arrest Mr. Alvarez. The #MeToo movement had just taken off, prompting many women to come forward with previously untold stories of sexual violence and harassment, some dating back decades ago.

He said he was crushed when he discovered at the beginning of December that the county prosecutors would not go ahead. "I closed the door of my office and I just screamed," he said. "I felt like I was not heard."

Ms. Brennan said that Assistant Attorney Jane Weiner told her that a sexual assault conducted two days after the alleged attack found saliva and DNA, but was not considered strong enough. Ms. Brennan said prosecutors also said that the alleged assailant claimed that the meeting was consensual.

A spokesman for the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office stated that the office does not comment on its investigations.

The unit for special victims in the Hudson County Attorney's Office investigated 365 cases in the past year, including sexual crimes for adults, child sexual abuse, physical abuse and others, according to a spokesman. Of these, prosecutors accused 81 defendants, which led to 11 defendants immediately declared guilty and 65 indictments. It is not clear how the 65 charges were resolved. The spokesman said those statistics were not readily available.

The capital of New Jersey in Trenton.

The capital of New Jersey in Trenton.

Photo:

Seth Wenig / Associated Press

Traumas, fear of physical or occupational retribution, and concerns that are not believed to prevent many people from reporting their attacks on the forces of order, experts say.

There are no national statistics on the number of sexual violence cases ending with arrests, court cases or convictions, said Cassia Spohn, director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. Federal statistics collected by local police departments do not specify how many cases are brought to prosecutors, he said.

The advent of DNA testing has made it harder for the defendants to declare that sexual encounters have never happened. Now, the most common defense in cases of sexual violence is saying that the meeting was consensual, said Patti Powers, who has served as deputy solicitor in the state of Washington for 27 years and now works for AEquitas, a & # 39. a non-profit organization that offers effective training in judicial proceedings for cases of sexual crime.

The legislature of Oklahoma rewrote the status of state rape in 2016 after a court ruled that a drunken and unconscious teenage victim could not be forced to have oral sex, said Ben Fu, former director of special units for the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office. According to the previous law, the execution of certain sexual acts on drunken persons did not constitute forcing them to perform such acts.

"We would like the jurors to step out of courtrooms for nothing by disputing what happened, but arguing that they met their personal definition of strength," Mr. Fu said, referring to cases of sexual violence.

In the wake of sexual assault charges against former Michigan sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar, Michigan state legislators came forward with a series of sexual assault proposals, including one that would have allowed prosecutors to use allegations of other victims as corroborating evidence in court. The provision approved the House of Representatives of the State and is awaiting the final vote in the Senate.

The Baltimore city attorney, Marilyn J. Mosby, said she and other defenders spent five years lobbying for new legislation before the #MeToo movement helped get it approved.

The Baltimore city attorney, Marilyn J. Mosby, said she and other defenders spent five years lobbying for new legislation before the #MeToo movement helped get it approved.

Photo:

Jerry Jackson / TNS / ZUMA PRESS

In Maryland, a similar law came into effect in July. This allows prosecutors under certain circumstances to use the previous charges to counter the statement of a defendant that a meeting was consensual. Marilyn J. Mosby, a state attorney in Baltimore City, said she and other defenders spent five years lobbying for legislation before the #MeToo movement helped get it approved. Mrs. Mosby said her office is already planning to use the provisions of the new law in four pending cases.

In Illinois, a law requires police officers to undergo at least 40 hours of compulsory sensitivity training every five years to help them investigate and interview victims of sexual violence.

Mrs. Brennan said she had made cases of sexual violence difficult to win. "But I wanted to try anyway," he said. "I wanted to have my day in court".

In April 2017, after a meeting of members of the Murphy campaign in a bar in Jersey City, Mr. Alvarez, who was the director of the campaign for the Muslim and Latin communities, offered to bring Mrs. Brennan home and then he asked to use the toilet and drink some water before continuing the journey to his house, he said.

Once inside her apartment, Mrs. Brennan said, pushed her onto a sofa and forced herself over her. He said he had pulled down his white V-neck shirt to put his mouth on her breast before extending his hand behind her and putting his hand along his pants and sticking his fingers into her vagina.

"I say, 'Stop, why are you doing this? & # 39;" Mrs. Brennan said. "And then I said right away:" This is not consensual ".

At that point, Ms. Brennan said that Alvarez took off his pants and underwear and took off some of his clothes before pushing her onto her in a way that made her believe she was trying to force sexual relations. He said he was able to kick him and run through the apartment to lock himself in the bathroom.

He said that Mr. Alvarez went away and immediately called her husband, who at the time was in Sweden with a three-month Fulbright scholarship. He said that he called his best friend, who came to his apartment and stayed with her for several days.

Both her husband, Travis Miles, and her friend, Katy Baldwin, confirmed that Mrs. Brennan said she had been attacked. Her friend said that Mrs. Brennan was still shaking in the evening after the assault. "She was exhibiting so many signs of shock," Mrs. Baldwin said. "He's a very strong person, it was horrible to see her go through this, keep going through this."

Mrs. Brennan in Jersey City. When he found out that prosecutors would not bring charges in his case, "I closed the door of my office and I just screamed," he said. "I felt like I was not heard."

Mrs. Brennan in Jersey City. When he found out that prosecutors would not bring charges in his case, "I closed the door of my office and I just screamed," he said. "I felt like I was not heard."

Photo:

Yana Paskova for The Wall Street Journal

The next day, Mrs. Brennan called the police. The next day, she went to the emergency department of the Jersey City Medical Center to be tested for sexual assault, hospital and police records.

He published a short letter to Mr. Alvarez on April 17, which was reviewed by the Journal, stating that he had sexually assaulted and asked him never to contact her again. On the advice of a therapist, he wrote a detailed account of the events.

Ms. Brennan talked to Hudson County attorneys and waited for months, inviting me to check the investigation from time to time.

During the summer of 2017, Ms. Brennan joined the Murphy campaign as a consultant for voluntary policies. He said he did not want to let the assault hinder his goal of working for Murphy's campaign and administration, if the Democrat won. He said he was not in the office every day but he feared to run into his alleged assailant, and he did so occasionally.

Toward the end of November, Mrs. Brennan believed that the prosecutor, who had said that she had been close to a decision, was close to charging Mr. Alvarez. At this point, Murphy had been elected New Governor of New Jersey and Mrs. Brennan and Mr. Alvarez were both working on his transition committee.

Mrs. Brennan believed that the arrest of Mr. Alvarez would have generated journalistic coverage and allowed a friend who worked on the team to warn transitional counselors that Mr. Alvarez could be indicted.

A senior administration official said that members of the transition, including the head of the governor's staff, Pete Cammarano, were aware of an assault on sexual assault against Alvarez. They did not know that the alleged victim was Mrs. Brennan, the official said.

Transition officials have learned that the order forces have investigated the allegation against Alvarez and have not brought any charges, said the governor's spokesman. "Following a clear background check, Mr. Alvarez has received a job offer in the state government," he said.

At the beginning of this year, in March, Mrs. Brennan told Mr. Murphy's chief adviser, Matt Platkin, who was sexually assaulted, presumably by Mr. Alvarez. A senior administration official said that Mr. Platkin referred the matter to the chief ethics officer of the governor's office and withdrew from the investigation because he knew both Mrs. Brennan and the Mr. Alvarez. The ethics officer then referred the matter to the attorney general's office, the official said. "We can confirm that the governor's office has forwarded information to the attorney general's office regarding Mr. Alvarez," a spokeswoman at the attorney general's office said.

Mr. Platkin appointed Mr. Alvarez, Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey School Development Authority, Charlie McKenna, in April to tell Mr. Alvarez that it would be a good idea. for him "to separate" from the state occupation, the official said.

Alvarez told Mr. McKenna that he would start looking for work, but a timetable for his departure was not specified, Mr. McKenna said. "He was not fired, he was not ordered to leave," he said. "It was just a conversation where I said:" I was told it would be a good idea ".

One of the administration officials said that advising Mr. Alvarez to leave was legally the maximum they could do against an employee of a state authority.

Nobody told Mrs. Brennan that Mr. Alvarez had been asked to leave, and on June 1 he sent an email to the governor and the first lady. Jonathan Berkon, partner of the law firm Perkins Coie LLP, who worked as a campaign lawyer, called and told her that Mr. Alvarez would quit his job.

Three months later, Mr. Alvarez was still working at the development authority. Mrs. Brennan said that learning this prompted her to speak publicly about the alleged assault.

Mrs. Brennan said she wants to see changes in the way sexual assault charges are being handled in New Jersey. He said it should be easier for prosecutors to prosecute these cases in court, and the statute of civil limitations should be longer than two years. "People have to do better, society needs to do better," he said.

Write to Kate King at Kate.King@wsj.com

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