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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