Just over two years ago, Yale students celebrated Halloween night like they would any other year. Undergraduates put on costumes and met friends at parties. And, as midnight approached, those lucky enough to have acquired tickets to the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s annual Halloween show strode toward Woolsey Hall to experience a cherished University tradition.
But what happened at Yale on the night of Oct. 31, 2015 — and in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2015 — will also decide the outcome of a sexual assault case pending trial in the New Haven court system. Saifullah Khan ’16, a native of Afghanistan who studied cognitive science at Yale, has been charged with sexual assault in the first, second, third and fourth degrees for allegedly forcing himself onto an unidentified victim in the early hours of Nov. 1 in a Trumbull College dorm room. The News last reported on a Yale student going to court on sexual assault charges in 2006.
The trial was originally slated to begin in October. But the judge presiding over the case declared a mistrial because the Yale Police Department had not given the defense notes from interviews it conducted with witnesses. A new date has not been set. Typically, major felonies in Connecticut take at least a year to come to trial. Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Pepper, the prosecutor in the case, declined to comment on the case or the timing of the trial.
It remains unclear whether Yale ever investigated the incident. Stephanie Spangler, Yale Title IX coordinator, said she could not comment on individual cases or confirm or deny whether the University has received specific allegations of sexual misconduct.
In a phone interview, Khan told the News that “I know that I am innocent” and “that I will win.”
During his college years, Khan split his time between Afghanistan and New Haven, according to an op-ed he wrote for the News in 2013. He attended the Hotchkiss School, a prestigious boarding school in Lakeville, Connecticut, before coming to Yale, according to his LinkedIn page.
Daniel Erwin — an attorney from the Pattis & Smith Law Firm, which is representing Khan — said he and his client are “eager for vindication at trial.” But neither Khan nor his attorneys would comment on the state of the case or an affidavit, undersigned by Yale Police Department detective Paul Sires, that provides a police account of the night’s events.
According to the affidavit, Carole Goldberg of the Yale Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education center contacted the YPD on Nov. 2, 2015 to inform the police that a victim alleging sexual assault was in her office seeking help. The YPD subsequently interviewed the student the next day and opened an investigation.
Goldberg did not respond to requests for comment on how SHARE decides whether to inform the police when students report cases of sexual misconduct. But according to SHARE’s website, the center does not share information it receives with others, including the police, without explicit student permission, “except in rare circumstances where your or another person’s health and safety is at imminent risk.”
SHARE itself does not investigate cases of sexual misconduct. Yale Police Department report information shared with them by alleged victims to the University Title IX coordinator, who can open a separate internal investigation managed by Yale. The YPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the past two weeks.
The affidavit’s account of the alleged sexual assault begins on the night of Oct. 31, 2015 at 5:45 p.m., with the alleged victim, referred to in court documents as Jane Doe, and Khan eating dinner together in the Trumbull dining hall.
According to the affidavit, Khan asked to come to the alleged victim’s room after dinner, but she denied his request. The victim told police she had never dated Khan, and only considered him an acquaintance.
At 10 p.m. that evening, Doe and two friends arrived at a costume party held at Shabtai, a Jewish society at Yale located on Orange Street. Khan was at the door checking people into the party.
Doe had two rum and cokes, one shot of unknown liquor and two cups of white wine at Shabtai. Rabbi Shmully Hecht, one of the founders of Shabtai, was pouring shots for Doe and others at the party and “appeared drunk,” according to Doe’s testimony to police.
Hecht told the News that students consumed wine at the Shabtai party as part of Havdalah, a Jewish ritual in which community members smell cloves and drink a glass of wine to say goodbye to the Sabbath. Hecht said there was a licensed bartender at the event who carded all students and alumni. He declined to comment on any other matters in the case.
Doe left the party with four other students around midnight to attend the YSO Halloween Show in Woolsey Hall, according to the affidavit. At Woolsey, Doe had trouble producing her ticket because she was intoxicated. She eventually went with Khan to the second-floor balcony, where Hecht and another student from the Shabtai party were also seated. Not long after, she vomited.
Doe told police she remembers Khan walking her away from her seat before she vomited again, either inside or outside Woolsey. The pair attempted to re-enter the YSO show but was turned away because of Doe’s intoxication, according to the affidavit.
The pair then returned to Doe’s suite in Trumbull. Once inside, Doe vomited again. While Khan cleaned the vomit up, Doe lay in bed, fully clothed.
At some point in the night, the victim “remembers struggling with and being overpowered by Khan while trying to push him off her.” Doe says she saw used condoms on the floor during the struggle. Because of her intoxicated state, Doe was unable to say anything to Khan and remembers seeing him standing naked next to her bed.
At 5 a.m. on Nov. 1, Doe woke up with a headache and realized she was naked. She felt as though she’d recently had vaginal sex. She then took a shower and noticed bruises on the inside of her left knee and lower inner thigh, as well the outside of her right thigh and kneecap. When she returned from the shower, she saw the same condoms on the floor and Khan sleeping on her couch.
After confronting Khan about the previous night, he claimed she told him she wanted to have sex with him. Doe then asked Khan to leave several times, but he insisted they should get breakfast, establish a time line and not tell anyone about the sexual encounter. To get Khan to leave, Doe told Khan she would not tell.
A card access swipe audit showed that Khan swiped into Doe’s entryway at 1:10 a.m., and swiped into his entryway at 6:10 a.m. Video evidence retrieved by police also shows Khan and the student returning from Woolsey Hall to the Trumbull gate.
At 8 a.m., she texted Khan to ask whether he used a condom, and he wrote back that he had. After consulting with a friend later in the day, Doe scheduled an appointment with Goldberg at the SHARE Center.
The next day, police searched the victim’s suite, where she lived alone, and turned up two used condoms, linens and the alleged victim’s Halloween costume.
The affidavit also includes accounts from witnesses who saw Doe at various points in the night. A student who saw Doe and Khan at Shabtai said Khan told him, “I have been trying to get with [Doe] for two days.”
Khan declined to speak with the police in an interview, but did provide them with DNA swabs. At the time of his arrest in early November, he was 22 years old. His bail was set at $100,000.
In the previous Yale sexual assault case that made its way to the court system, Gregory Korb ’09 was arrested in August 2005 on charges of sexual assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree and unlawful restraint in the first degree.
As part of a compromise resolution reached at New Haven Superior Court in late October 2006, Korb pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of assault in the third degree and threatening in the second degree. He was sentenced to six months of suspended imprisonment for each charge, to be served concurrently, and 18 months of probation. Had Korb been found guilty of sexual assault, he could have faced a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and would have been considered a sex offender.
Khan would also face time in prison if convicted. For convictions of sexual assault in the first degree, Connecticut requires mandatory minimum sentencing of two, five or 10 years, depending on the victim’s age and offense.
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org