York College. Photo Credit: Parsram Stanley
By Angel Adegbesan
Police arrested a local teenager and charged him with sexually abusing three female York College students in a single day in September, two of whom were Student Government senators.
An eyewitness to the alleged attacks told Pandora’s Box that the suspect grabbed the shoulder and the buttocks of the three young women within a span of three hours on Sept. 5 after they verbally rejected his advances.
Campus Security Director Rufus Massiah confirmed the account and defended the administration’s decision not to alert the campus community about the arrest, saying federal law only requires a campus-wide alert for an ongoing threat.
Massiah took the position that students who were aware of the first incident could have prevented the subsequent two alleged assaults.
“Students knew that this person was on campus and never reported it to us,” Massiah said. “And they were familiar with what he was doing the first time, before it got to the other students – student number two and student number three. They already had information that he had done something to the first student and that first student did talk with her colleague or friends and no one called public safety.”
The suspect, Mohammed Riad, whose age and address were not provided by officials, is not a York student and entered the campus by showing a state I.D., Massiah said. He was taken into custody by Public Safety officers and turned over to the NYPD.
He was charged with three counts each of forcible touching and sexual abuse, both misdemeanors, and harrassment, a violation. The top count carries a penalty of up to a year in prison.
Riad was released on bail the following day with a Temporary Restraining Order. He pled not-guilty to the charges against him, according to his defense attorney Claudia Romano.
When asked whether the campus security director’s comments sounded like victim-blaming, Ebony Jackson, the director of the Women’s Center at York, seemed to have mixed feelings.
“I don’t know all the facts of the case and I’m not even sure about the context in which the director of public safety would have made such a statement because he obviously knows more about the details than I do,” Jackson said. “What I would like to think is that he is saying that this type of behavior thrives on silence and shame. I understand that point, however, there are tons of reasons why anyone who is a victim of a crime may not feel comfortable coming forward especially right out of the gate and I do think that we have to understand that.”
Jackson added that because perpetrators often victimize more than one person, that it would be helpful to people to help others be aware in advance.
“I do think it would be helpful to know ‘hey, there is somebody dangerous here, this is what the person looks like and here’s what happened. So, community, please be vigilant.’ So I get that,” she said. “But you certainly cannot blame people for not wanting to come forward.”
Massiah said that the victims were under the impression that Riad was a student. They were later able to confirm that he was not a student but rather, a resident of the area.
Wayne Dawkins, a student government senator, told Pandora’s Box that he had been in the SGA office the day of the incidents and was suspicious of Riad as he walked into the Student Senators office.
“As soon as I saw him, I brought him to my office,” Dawkins said. “I talked to him and I wrote down his information but, I could tell that something was wrong with him.”
Other students who were aware of the incidents spoke to Pandora’s Box but asked that their names not be published after they were contacted by lawyers and told that litigation is pending against the college.
Massiah maintained that the matter could have been dealt with better if students had reported it to Public Safety. “So, the moral of this story is that when something happens, call us,” Massiah said.
“Wherever you go, things happen, but that’s why we’re here,” Massiah said. “We’re here to help protect people from these things but we need the college’s help. We need the public’s help. Call us. We will respond.”
The Public Safety Office can be contacted at (718)-262-2222 or in person at the Public Safety Office located in room 1M02 of the Academic Core building. Public Safety escorts are available upon requests.
Riad is due back in court on Dec. 12.