Mom says daughter killed herself after NJ university failed to investigate frat rape
WAYNE — The mother of a 21-year-old college student who took her own life after reporting being raped at a fraternity house is suing William Paterson University and its police department for failing to investigate the rape or to even confront the accused rapist.
Cherelle Jovanna Locklear hung herself with a tie in her dormitory bathroom Nov. 22, 2015, nearly a month after she reported her rape to a campus official.
The student from Jackson told the official and campus police that she had been raped by another student, who was a Sigma Pi fraternity member, on Sept. 25, 2015. A month after the rape, and days before she first told authorities what happened, she was hospitalized for five days after trying to kill herself by overdosing on pills, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit, filed last week in federal district court by Locklear’s mother, Marquesa C. Jackson-Locklear, claims the university failed to “take the steps required of them to protect Cherelle from sexual assault and to act immediately to investigate and protect Cherelle” after she reported the rape. It claims police “did not engage in even a modicum of the investigation required by law.”
The nine-count lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages alleging a violation of Title IX, which prevents sexual discrimination in schools, citing that the university’s “deliberate indifference to the safety and security of its female students encouraged sexual assault and sex-based violence.”
The litigation is among a flurry of cases across the country stemming from universities trying to address sexual assault on campus.
Elsewhere in New Jersey, Rider University is facing its own federal lawsuit filed by a male student expelled after being accused of rape. The student, who was never prosecuted, says the university's internal disciplinary hearing violated his rights to due process.
Jackson-Locklear's complaint describes her daughter as a “promising, loving bright, young African-American woman and popular student at William Paterson University.”
Because the student she accused was never arrested, “Charelle remained in constant fear that the rapist would be in her classes, or could be just around any corner," the lawsuit says.
Authorities have not named the student Locklear accused. The mother obtained police reports from the university under the state's Open Public Records Act, but officials redacted the accused student's name.
A university spokeswoman on Tuesday said officials do not comment on pending legal cases.
"We are, of course, saddened by the loss of a student under any circumstances, and particularly when the loss comes about by suicide," Mary Beth Zeman said. "The University will continue to focus on the safety and well-being of all of its members and offers a variety of counseling resources for students who seek help with personal challenges."
The lawsuit also seeks to hold the fraternity liable for unsafe premises.
Jackson-Locklear is represented by Peter W. Till of Springfield.
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are the fraternity, university President Kathleen M. Waldron, Director of Public Safety Robert Fulleman, Det. Sgt. Ellen DeSimone, Det. Sgt. Michael Jon Arp, and Victim Services Coordinator Theresa A. Bivaletz.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.