Provo served with lawsuit for July 2020 rape; police reopen case
Receiving the honor of being the nation’s top recreation center has placed Provo’s facilities in the limelight. Being No. 1, though, does not always mean being perfect. In the eyes of a former employee now suing the city, there was much that went wrong the night of July 30, 2020.
It was at 10 p.m. that Thursday in July that a lifeguard at the pool alleges she was harassed, shoved in her car, forced in the back seat and sexually assaulted and raped.
After both criminal and civil investigations by the Provo Police Department, the incident has not been disputed. However, a lawsuit filed Dec. 27, and served Wednesday, asks the question of who is liable.
According to the victim, it is the city and Rec Center at fault for not better protecting from the perpetrator.
It is the policy of the Daily Herald not to disclose the name of victims in sexual assault cases.
The victim was just a few weeks from turning 21 at the time of the assault and was hoping to further her career in working with children. They are her joy, she says.
“I never had depression or anxiety before this. I used to be a happy person,” she told the Daily Herald in a telephone interview. “Children make me so happy.”
Since the incident, her life has been radically changed.
“I don’t date any more. I have cut a lot of people from my life. I’m just with my family,” she said.
She also reported she has continual fear that she will run into her perpetrator again. “One time I was on my job and I thought I saw him. It completely shut me down,” she said.
According to Erika Larsen, the victim’s attorney, the ideal outcome is that this victim’s story will make it so a similar situation doesn’t happen again to someone else.
“Through this, we would like Provo to develop better policies and procedures,” Larsen said. “This is about what the Rec Center failed to do.”
According to documents submitted by Larsen and the victim, the following occurred:
“The victim, a Provo City employee … was lifeguarding at the Rec Center pool. While sitting on the stand, she noticed a Rec Center patron in the water was staring at her. She looked away, scanning the other swimmers, but each time she looked to the section of the pool where he was swimming, the man still had his eyes locked on the victim. He tried to engage her in conversation, but she politely declined and stayed focused on her lifeguarding duties.
“After multiple attempts to elicit a response from the victim, she finally replied that she was ‘tired’ and wanted to go home, hoping such a disinterested response might quell his uncomfortable interest. Yet, to her dismay, the man’s unrelenting gaze continued throughout the evening.”
When the time arrived for lifeguards to rotate stations, a co-worker approached the victim at the stand. In an effort to protect both herself and her co-worker, the victim told her co-worker about the man in the pool. She said he was staring at her constantly and making her feel uncomfortable, according to the statement.
The victim told her co-worker that if the man bothered her as well that they would report it. During the next rotation, the two met, and the victim’s co-worker reported that the man was asking about the victim — private questions about her name, age, where she went to school and, concerningly, about her work schedule.
The victim walked to her next station and then immediately blew a double-whistle to get her supervisor’s attention. The supervisor approached the victim and listened as she told her about the man in the pool and explained how he was making both herself and her co-worker feel uncomfortable.
“Surprisingly, and unfortunately, (the supervisor) responded that she did not know what to do, and asked the victim for her suggestion. Shocked that her supervisor was not trained on how to handle such a situation, the victim simply replied that she would ‘let [her] know’ if the man continued making her uncomfortable,” according to Larsen’s document.
It is Provo City’s policy that all full-time, part-time and seasonal employees receive training regarding safety and sexual harassment issues and how to report them to supervisors. Supervisors also receive training on how to respond.
In the police reports and interviews of the victim, by her own admission, she said she declined the solution of moving stations.
After the supervisor left, the man began to act as if he were drowning — while still maintaining his fixed stare on the victim. “Obviously baiting her to join him in the pool,” Larsen said.
“When this tactic did not work, he emerged from the pool and walked directly toward the victim. Standing uncomfortably close to her, the man told her he was “fantasizing about [her] and then walked over to the hot tub, got in, and continued his lustful staring,” reads the statement.
Yet again, supervisors listened as the victim related these new developments. They offered to stay with the victim, but shortly after the last rotation they all had their own closing duties. During cleanup procedures, the victim saw the man staring at her from behind a glass wall in the family locker room, Larsen said.
When she was done, and the pool closed at 10 p.m., the victim exited the building with two of her co-workers, which follows a safety procedure outlined by city regulations for employees.
“She realized that she left her water bottle in the facility, she said goodbye to her co-workers, ran back inside and grabbed her bottle, and then exited the building a second time. As she walked toward her car, she noticed a man walking towards her in the parking lot,” the statement continues.
According to statements given to the police, the victim never mentioned going back for a water bottle.
“Instead, she admits that while she knew it was contrary to instructions given by Recreation Center management, she nonetheless elected to leave the building by herself that night,” according to Provo police.
Because the facility had just closed, and the man was wearing a blue Provo Rec Center shirt, the victim assumed he was just another city employee leaving the facility. When the man got close enough that she could see his face, she says she was nearly paralyzed with fear to learn he was not a co-worker, but was the same man in the pool whom she had complained about to her supervisor.
“The man said the victim’s name several times, and asked how her night was. She tersely replied that her night was fine and she needed to get home. As she tried to move past him and toward her car, the man reached out, touched her shoulder and then tried to remove her jacket. She pulled away from the man’s grasp and said firmly that she was leaving. She grabbed the door handle of her car, sat down in the driver’s seat, and quickly closed the door behind her. Before she could even insert the keys into the ignition, the passenger door suddenly opened and the man jumped into her car and closed the door behind him,” the statement said.
It was shortly after this that he forced her into the back seat of the car and sexually assaulted her.
It wasn’t until Sept. 9, 2020, six weeks later, that the victim reported the incident to the police. By then, surveillance tapes of the parking lot had been erased.
The retention and space on the server for the surveillance cameras is finite, the police noted.
It was Sept. 14, 2020, when the victim had her first interview with police detectives. They were unable to find the perpetrator and the case was closed in October.
“The police closed the case, but my client was interested in still pursuing it,” Larsen said. “I wish they had left the case open.”
The victim filed claims against the city on Feb. 8, 2021, seeking $300,000 in compensation. But because of the conflicting statements, the city denied the claims on April 22, 2021.
Since the latest court filing in December, Provo Police Chief Fred Ross has looked back into the matter.
“I reviewed the case and recommended that it be reopened,” he said. “We reopened the case Jan. 6. We are taking this case seriously.”
Ross was named chief of police for Provo in November 2021. Before being named to the new position, he was with the Utah Transit Authority Police Department. Ross added that he hoped the current attention to the incident would loosen the case and that someone might come forward with new information.
“I want to hold Provo accountable, and what the Rec Center failed to do. This could have been easily prevented,” the victim said. “It has changed me and messed me up.”
City attorney Brian Jones said this is a civil case against the city. At some point prior to the trial, there may be discussion offered on settling out of court, as is standard he said.
The city has not said whether they would negotiate or settle out of court.
Ross said he would like to see this case find closure for the victim and is encouraging anyone who may have information concerning this case to contact the Provo Police department.