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Keeping a Secret, Paying a Price

June 9, 2006

It was either betray her students’ confidence or perhaps let rape go unpunished.

Patricia O’Toole, former dean of students at Notre Dame College, in Ohio, may have thought she was bound to stay tight-lipped about students who confided in her, but the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office didn’t agree.

On Tuesday, a grand jury indicted O’Toole on three counts of failure to report a felony.

According to officials in the prosecutor’s office, two Notre Dame students told O’Toole last October that they had been sexually assaulted by Daniel Carl Wolfe, a 19-year-old student. The officials said the dean then received an internal complaint in which a third woman said Wolfe had assaulted her. That report indicated that Wolfe had a 17-year-old woman in his room who was so drunk she had to be taken to the hospital, according to court filings.

Jamie Dalton, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said that, in December, police were investigating a separate incident involving Wolfe, and came to ask O’Toole a question. O'Toole then told campus police officers that she had knew of two other incidents that the college should include in its filings under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, a federal law that requires colleges to make an annual report of campus crime.

O’Toole had not come forward with the information earlier, however, and declined to give officers the names of the accusers, because she apparently had told the students that she would keep their identities secret. Police had to find the students on their own.

"If she would have reported this immediately, we might not have any other Jane Doe's," Dalton said, referring to other unnamed women who were allegedly assaulted by Wolfe.

"She was concerned about their identities," Dalton said, "but what about the whole rest of the campus? What about other people that could have been victimized?"

According to Ohio law, failure to report a felony is a fourth degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in a jail and a $250 fine.

The law grants exemptions from the reporting requirement in specific circumstances, for members of the clergy, for example, and for counseling services “provided in an informal setting by a person who, by education or experience, is competent to provide those services.”

Peter D. Brown, associate executive director of the American College Personnel Association, said that “every student affairs professional has to balance the confidence of students and helping students, with, of course, legal obligations,” he said. “It’s often a tight line to follow.”  

Brown added that staff members who deal with student conduct are often faced with students saying “Hey this happened to me, I’m just telling you but don’t want you to do anything about it.”

Mary Ann Kovach, a spokeswoman for Notre Dame, said that, when the allegations came to light in December, O’Toole was placed on administrative leave “while we were trying to figure out what was going on,” Kovach said. O’Toole then resigned. Kovach said Notre Dame could not comment further on the matter, because of the pending legal action.

Wolfe was suspended, and, before he could be expelled, transferred to Defiance College in Ohio. Defiance has learned of the allegations, and is currently preparing to expel Wolfe. He is being charged with 22 counts of crimes, ranging from rape and assault, to kidnapping, against six different women. Wolfe could not be reached for comment.

O’Toole could not be reached, either, and officials at the prosecutor’s office said that she may not have a lawyer yet.

 

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