DA releases inconsistencies in student report of campus attack at Simon's Rock

Inconsistencies have arisen in the description of last month's attack on the campus of Bard College at Simon's Rock, in which a student told investigators that she was knocked unconscious and dragged into the woods in what some believe was a racially motivated crime. EAGLE FILE PHOTO

GREAT BARRINGTON — The Berkshire District Attorney Office's released preliminary findings Wednesday that show inconsistencies in a student's report that she was attacked last month on the campus of Bard College at Simon's Rock.

Nevertheless, investigators continue to look into the Sept. 27 incident, citing "the unease that the complaint has caused for the community, particularly for Simon's Rock students and faculty."

District Attorney Andrea Harrington's office said in a statement that its investigation ranges "from the nature of the original complaint to potential motivations behind the alleged assault."Forensic tests are incomplete, according to the office.

According to investigators, the student reported being knocked unconscious and dragged about 75 yards into woods, where she woke up with cuts to her torso and clothing.

The student said she was dragged over ground, according to the district attorney's statement. But no dirt or debris was found on the student's "clothing, shoes, hair and body," the office said.

Also, the findings raise questions about the nature of the student's injuries."The superficial wounds on the student's torso did not align with the cuts on the student's clothing," the office said. Further, the student had no defensive wounds. And no evidence of a medical reason for the reported unconsciousness could be found, the district attorney's statement said. 

No evidence was found of a potential attacker being present in the area."None of the witnesses in the area at the time reported seeing any other potentially involved parties in the vicinity," the statement said.

An assailant has not been identified, nor are there any leads. The incident paralyzed the small college community, which already was responding to the discovery of racist graffiti found scrawled on a student union chalkboard. Also, a swastika was discovered etched in a bathroom stall. 

The 18-year-old student of color reported the attack just after 2 p.m. Sept. 27 and was taken to Berkshire Medical Center, then released.

School administrators and police, lacking surveillance cameras on campus, have had to piece together the sequence of events, while also trying to calm students and families. The report raised concerns that an assailant with racist motives was on the loose on or near campus, where people of color make up 40 percent of the student population. 

Classes were canceled the next week, amid what some students and faculty say are underlying racial tensions at the school.

The reported attack prompted a number of students to return home that week.

The school has since hired an independent private investigator.

A week after the incident, reaction intensified after local police said the evidence collected so far did not indicate that the reported attack was racially motivated. One faculty member resigned over what she said was the administration's bungling of its response to the crisis, given escalating concerns of racism on campus.

Campus security and town police said they had stepped up patrols, after initially saying the community was not in danger from an assailant.

On Wednesday, Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh said his department is keeping that same level of alert by continuing the increase in patrols both on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood.  

Susan Lyon, the college's vice provost, said in an email that the college is continuing its own investigation, "independently of any law enforcement findings or updates."

She declined to answer questions about the investigation, or to say when surveillance cameras will be installed on campus after school officials agreed to it as one of a list of demands from the Black Student Union.

The investigation led by the district attorney's staff has required a "significant amount of resources," the statement from Harrington's office said.

That work includes efforts by state police detectives, Great Barrington Police, forensics testing at the State Police Crime Lab and a search of electronic devices, according to the DA's office.Also, the possibility of a racial motive in the reported attack triggered notification of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.