A former graduate student who was repeatedly assaulted and raped during her time on campus a decade ago is suing the University for negligence in its security and sexual misconduct response.
The plaintiff, Natasa Mateljevic GRD ’07, lived on campus, including for a period at the Hall of Graduate Studies, when she had an ongoing abusive relationship with Rafael Crespo Jr. between 2002 and December 2004. In the suit, Mateljevic alleges that she notified University members, including faculty and peers, of being stalked, harassed and assaulted by Crespo but was not provided adequate protection from harm and was not effectively educated on possible crime reporting mechanisms.
Crespo, who is a former East Windsor, Conn., police officer, was convicted on two counts of sexual assault in the first degree and one count of assault in the third degree — a ruling upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court in January 2012. Mateljevic previously filed an anonymous civil suit of negligence against the University in 2006, which was dismissed in March 2012 because the “plaintiff did not follow the procedure,” according to the motion of dismissal. Michael Luzzi ’85, Mateljevic’s attorney for the most recent civil suit, said the plaintiff decided to file a second suit without using a pseudonym because she was ready to come forward with her name attached.
“We think that we will prove that they did not have the appropriate protocol at the time, that they did not protect the student as they should have, that they had knowledge of the specific threat to the student at the time,” Luzzi said.
University spokesman Tom Conroy said the suit does not have a legal basis in a Tuesday email to the News.
“As soon as Ms. Mateljevic sought help from the University, the Yale Police acted to protect her,” Conroy said. “Her lawsuit has already been dismissed once, and Yale does not believe that there is a legal basis to revive it.”
According to the suit, the plaintiff notified the University of the danger Crespo posed on multiple occasions — Mateljevic raised her concerns with campus housing and was moved into a different dormitory. Mateljevic’s professors and peers were aware of Crespo’s ongoing abuse, Luzzi said, and one professor even gave her financial assistance to help her temporarily move into a hotel room off campus to remove herself from the situation. Another student notified the Yale Police with concerns about the threat Crespo posed to Mateljevic, Luzzi added.
In one instance, a Yale Police officer noticed an abusive interaction between Crespo and Mateljevic in a vehicle parked near the Hall of Graduate Studies, Luzzi said. But, he said, Crespo showed his police badge when the officer knocked on the window and the officer did not pursue the situation despite seeing Mateljevic look “disheveled.” After Crespo’s later arrest, the same Yale Police officer was able to identify Crespo and remember the situation, Luzzi added.
According to Connecticut court records, Mateljevic sought treatment from University health services on multiple occasions but declined to report Crespo’s actions to the police until December 2004, soon after which Crespo was arrested.
The current suit is an inadequate security case that does not specifically allege Title IX violations, Luzzi said. A case of Title IX and Title VII violations — meaning that after she reported the sexual assault she was not afforded the same opportunities as other students or treated equally by students and faculty — is currently being drafted.
In order to advance a negligent security case, a plaintiff must prove that he or she “put the University on notice,” said Stuart Plotnick, a lawyer who has worked on negligent security cases. The plaintiff must show that the University was made aware of the intensity of danger posed to the complainant in time to prevent it, Plotnick added, which depends on when and how he or she notified the University and what preventative measures she took herself.
Spencer Aronfeld, a lawyer with experience in negligent security cases, said Mateljevic has a “far stronger case” than is typical in negligent security suits because the instances of abuse occurred multiple times and because the University was aware of prior instances.
Crespo was sentenced to 14 years in jail in the initial criminal case.