Fayette County

UK rejected Lexington police request to alert students about assault near campus

This sketch is of a man being sought in a recent sexual assault in Lexington near the University of Kentucky.
This sketch is of a man being sought in a recent sexual assault in Lexington near the University of Kentucky. Lexington Police Department

As Lexington police worked earlier this month to solve an attempted sexual assault that occurred near the University of Kentucky’s campus, they asked the university to share information about what happened with their students in a campus alert. The university said no.

In a Sept. 2 email, Lexington police spokeswoman Brenna Angel asked UK officials to put out an alert about the assault, which occurred a few weeks prior in a neighborhood near campus.

In an email, a UK spokesperson told Lexington police that she had consulted with UK Police Chief Joe Monroe, and the university “will not be sending out a communication to campus about this.” The UK spokeswoman, Kathy Johnson, also said in the email that UK would prefer that any mention of UK’s campus or UK police be removed from a news release prepared by Lexington police.

“Under our guidelines for alerts, we distribute alerts if an event occurs on our campus or if we determine that there is an immediate threat,” UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Friday. “In this case, neither of those conditions were met as the incident had occurred off campus and ... the incident had happened days or weeks earlier, so there was not an immediate or ongoing threat to the campus community.”

At about 12:30 a.m. on Aug. 26 a man threw a woman to the ground in the area of Arlington Avenue and Grosvenor Avenue and attempted to sexually assault her, according to police. The woman was able to make enough noise that she caught the attention of two men who then chased the attacker away. The attempted assault took place about a block from the University of Kentucky sign at the corner of Rose and Maxwell streets.

After requesting UK to send out the alert about the attack, Lexington police sent out their own release to media on Sept. 2; mentions of UK and UK police were removed.

The request for mentions of UK to be removed from the Lexington police news release was made because the attack did not occur on campus, UK police were not investigating the case and UK police were not distributing the information as an alert, Blanton said.

Though the attack occurred near campus in a neighborhood where students are known to live, an alert would not have been sent out because of the lack of immediacy. Alerts are sent out as a “call to take action in the wake of a current or unfolding event,” Blanton said.

“An immediate threat via alert means asking people on our campus to do something immediately,” Blanton said. “We want them to take immediate action. So, we are telling them by text, email or phone call to take cover in, say, the event of a tornado, or to go to a certain place if there is a shooter or to avoid a specific area, for example, in the event of a gas leak, where there may be the potential of an explosion.”

Blanton said the Lexington and UK police departments keep in contact on matters that would affect each other. In some cases, that is not possible.

“For example, there may be an incident in the community involving a student and Lexington police don’t know that it is a student, or don’t find out right away, so the communication can, understandably, be delayed,” Blanton said. “In this instance, we were aware of the event several days after it occurred. But there was no reason to suspect a student was involved.”

A second release about the case, which included a composite sketch of the suspect, was sent to media by Lexington police on Sept. 14.

Lt. Matt Brotherton with the Lexington police special victims section said the department has used as many methods as possible to get information out about the suspect.

“I don’t care if someone is a student or not, if you are in Fayette County, I want you to be safe,” Brotherton said. For that reason, the department will get safety information out any way it can in hopes of preventing further assaults.

Investigators worked with the victim of the attempted assault and with a sketch artist from Kentucky State Police to produce the composite of the attacker, Brotherton said.

The composite was shared with the public in hopes of identifying the attacker, but investigators also hope to find the two men who stopped to help the woman, Brotherton said. It’s possible the two men may have information that could help in the investigation of the case.

The attack on Aug. 26 was an unusual one, Brotherton said. More often than not, victims in a sexual assault case know the attacker.

But in the case on Arlington Avenue, the woman was attacked on the street by someone she didn’t know, Brotherton said. There had been prior cases with similar circumstances in the neighborhoods around campus in the past several years.

When multiple cases have similar elements that are so rare, the department has to investigate the possibility that they may be related, Brotherton said. The prior cases were mentioned in the second release by police. Those cases remain unsolved.

Although the university declined to send out a campus alert about the Aug. 26 attack, UK police did send out a campus-wide safety message this week to contradict a text message that had gone viral on social media stating that there was a “serial rapist on campus.”

UK police sent out that message to students about “misinformation being circulated among University of Kentucky students, parents and employees about a recent attempted sexual assault in Lexington.” It was signed by UK Police Chief Joe Monroe.

“I want to provide accurate information to our UK family,” the letter read. “Safety is of the utmost importance to UK Police and the entire university, and we would not sacrifice that.”

The letter went on to address the release made by Lexington police earlier in the week.

“No incidents related to the recent report from Lexington police about possible sexual assaults has occurred on UK’s campus,” according to the letter. “All incidents were off campus. UK Police are assisting Lexington Police in their investigation. The university is also looking at additional measures to enhance security on the edges of campus.”

Blanton said the campus-wide communication was sent because of the number of questions the university was receiving through emails, phone calls and social media.

“So, the most expeditious and efficient way to communicate with the most people involved sending a broader communication on a number of platforms,” Blanton said. “We felt that was appropriate given what appeared to be the number of questions and inaccurate information that was circulating.”

Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact police at (859) 258-3600. Anonymous tips, including photos and videos, can be submitted by texting LEXPD plus the tip to CRIMES (274637). Information can also be sent anonymously through Bluegrass Crime Stoppers at (859) 253-2020 or www.bluegrasscrimestoppers.com.