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Police: 10 Day Delay on Rape Info Protected Victim, Investigation

Though community members are outraged that cops let them live in fear.

Suffolk County Police are defending their decision to delay alerting the Three Village community about a vicious rape for 10 days despite outcry from locals who feared an alleged rapist was on the loose in their neighborhoods after the attack.

Det. Lt. William Burke said releasing any info about the Nov. 20 sexual assault and armed robbery may have identified the victim and likely compromised their ability to track down the alleged rapist, 20-year-old East Moriches resident Patrick O'Sullivan, who police arrested on Dec. 1.

"We knew a lot more than [the residents] and I didn’t believe there was a threat," he said. "I never learned anything that would make me think this was a random act. I can’t get into the details of the investigation. It hasn’t even gone to jury yet."

O'Sullivan is due back later this week after a Sunday arraignment, and remains held on $1 million cash bail – Burke said that his hands are still tied in regards to what he can release about the case.

While authorities were quiet, the community took the matter into their own hands, circulating emails meant to alert the community that contained chilling unconfirmed details about the attack. While Three Village Patch won't comment on the details in these emails to protect the identity of the victim, we can attest to the panic and concern in the messages.

A Suffolk County detective on Monday acknowledged the police were aware of an email that was quickly making its way through the community.

Sonja Bellem, a Stony Brook resident who said she lives one block away from the incident, said that despite what police believe, she and her family have a right to know that a violent crime was committed a street away from where children play. Or in the case of families living closer, on their actual street.

Many commenters online, and community members we spoke to who asked not to be quoted agreed.

"Why in God's name is this only being reported NOW [in] December when this happened on November 20th? You are not doing the poor victim any justice if this animal isn't caught!" Karen Harrigan wrote in a comment on this article.

Another commenter, S. Smith, wrote: "Shame and a travesty that, since the occurrence on Nov 20th, Jr. High school girls and boys have been walking home less than three blocks away from where the rape occurred without any information being made available to parents!"

With crimes other than sexual assault and domestic violence, Suffolk police typically will issue a statement to the media containing details of the case such as the location and the specifics of the crime.

"My main concern, and the reason I was reluctant to release anything, was the right to privacy of the victim," Burke said. "Learning the things I did about that community, I felt that to identify the exact location or the normal things that we put in a press release would certainly have identified her to a substantial portion of the community up there."

In cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, victims are not identified because there is often backlash against them, according to this New York Press column, which says: "These types of crimes are traumatizing and often embarrassing for the victim, and society doesn’t make it any easier with all the victim blaming."

At a meeting of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook on Monday night, Sixth Precinct Commanding Officer Bob Oswald acknowledged that "there were some rumblings that people didn’t know what was going on."

However, he said, "the investigation at its onset revealed almost to a certainty that the location was targeted as opposed to some madman running through the neighborhood." Oswald said the defendant robbed a home whose owners were on vacation and assaulted the woman who was taking care of the dogs, but he still did not release the exact location.

"It was a rather serious thing that we took very seriously," he said. "We pulled out all the stops. Plenty of guys worked on Thanksgiving. The detective squad was just about to take other detectives out of their regular jobs when the break came at 2:30 a.m. the night before."

Oswald emphasized that the police said there was no imminent threat to the community.

"You have a good, safe community," he said.

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knowitall December 05, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Do some homework. It's against the law to identify the victim of a sex crime. Period.
Susan Camenzuli December 06, 2012 at 10:52 AM
The location of the home would have been able to identify the victim. Lt. Burke did the right thing. Although I know many people will not agree with me.
Raissa December 06, 2012 at 12:46 PM
You don't know someone else's job until you do it.
ALOCALOPINION December 06, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Although I would want to know where the crime was committed, I think this would create more chaos and paranoia, does it make a difference if it was in setauket, east setauket or stonybrook, the geographical area is so small.
S Smith December 06, 2012 at 03:08 PM
They could have issued a statement without listing the road name or exact address!!!!! That is what should have been done!!!!!
CMarie December 06, 2012 at 04:14 PM
I can't imagine that people wanted to know the victim's identity or the exact location of the crime, but the police didn't even acknowledge that there was an attack in the area and that sent locals into a frenzy. Why not let the community know there was an attack that is under investigation and say that there is no immediate threat to the community? This happened in a very residential area with schools and children. People had the right to know that a crime occurred around the corner from them rather than have to have local residents send emails to notify people. It caused such unnecessary panic. Why not at least acknowledge a crime occurred and that pending further investigation there can be no more details. The speculation and fear is what made people so nervous.
Tom G December 06, 2012 at 06:50 PM
I agree with CMarie. I do not think anyone is saying the victims name or address should be published however the incident should have been reported to the public in a more reasonable timeframe with a more general indications of where the crime occurred. We should all make every effort to better protect the women in our community and providing crime details (not explicit details) helps to accomplish this goal.

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