YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University student Jessyca Riggleman said she was betrayed by her university.
In December, an EMU student was raped and murdered in Hill Residence Hall, where Riggleman lives.
The way the EMU administration handled the incident frightened her, Riggleman said at a forum Wednesday to address the concerns of students and faculty about the death of EMU student Laura Dickinson Dec. 15. Administrators at the school are facing a growing chorus of criticism over their handling of the crime.
After Dickinson’s body was found on the floor of her dorm room three days after she died, the administration issued release said foul play was not suspected.
Administrators didn’t tell students and faculty that Dickinson could have been murdered until another EMU student, Orange Taylor III, was arrested and charged with the crime on Feb. 23.
But Bader Cassin, the Washtenaw County medical examiner, told The Ann Arbor News that investigators found the scene suspicious from the beginning. Dickinson was found naked from the waist down with a pillowcase over her face. Her keys were missing.
At the forum, Riggleman and several others in a crowd of about 300 asked questions of EMU President John Fallon among other administrators and criticized the management of the case.
Fallon opened the forum by recounting the controversy that took hold of the EMU campus after Taylor was arrested.
Ken McKanders, EMU’s general counsel, explained the Cleary Act, which requires federally-funded institutions to warn community members when a crime poses a continuing threat.
An external investigation will be conducted to assess whether EMU complied with the Cleary Act, Fallon said.
Steve Hiller, Washtenaw County’s deputy chief assistant prosecutor, said the university and local police tried to keep the details of the crime and investigation under wraps to avoid creating prejudices in the jury pool that could affect the trial. Fallon said some were also concerned that a suspect would flee before an arrest could be made if it got out that the case was being investigated as a potential homicide.
“There is a great deal the public does not know and should not know at this point,” he said.
Audience members asked why Jim Vick, EMU’s vice president of student affairs, was given paid leave in the aftermath of Dickinson’s death.
Fallon said it is standard procedure to place the head of a department on leave while his or her department is under investigation.
Several audience members said the event made them question their safety on campus.
Riggleman asked why EMU didn’t change the locks of Hill’s outside doors if a murderer may have taken her keys.
“Shouldn’t we have been told there might still be a danger?” asked Jaclyn Armstrong, an EMU student who also lives in Hill Residence Hall.
She said Dickinson’s death seemed like a suicide.
“You should not jump to conclusions,” Hiller replied. “The facts of the case will be disclosed during the course of the court proceedings.”
EMU history Prof. Mark Higbee questioned why EMU administration decided to say that no foul play was suspected in the first release it issued after Dickinson’s death.
“Is it normal to describe the investigation in terms that deceive the public to which the investment really is?” he asked.
“I’d have to say it is not,” Hiller replied.