Wrestler charged with rape, university takes action

MSUM wrestler  rapes unconscious student, films it after asking other students to watch, say police.

By Josie Gereszek

Angel Mario Vega was charged Wednesday in Clay County District Court with one count of felony third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a helpless victim and one count of providing alcohol to someone under 21, a gross misdemeanor.

The Olivehurst, Calif. native is a senior on the MSUM wrestling team. He is facing the charges after reportedly raping a semi-unconscious 18-year-old woman in his Grantham dorm room and recording the assault on his cellphone.

According to the criminal complaint, Moorhead police and an ambulance were dispatched about 11:15 p.m. Monday to Grantham on a report of intoxicated people. When officers arrived at Vega’s third-floor room in the hall’s men’s wing, they noticed a strong odor of alcohol and vomit. There they found Vega, his roommate, and two women — one, lying in bed and vomiting into a trashcan, the other, lying on the floor unconscious and partially undressed, having vomited on herself.

Officers tried to wake the unconscious woman and she began to mumble incoherently. Vega then allegedly crouched and grabbed the woman, instructing her to be quiet because police were there. The woman fell back into unconsciousness before being transported to the hospital by ambulance.

Vega’s roommate told police that he and Vega had met the women a few days earlier and invited them over for drinks. They had become intoxicated after playing and losing drinking games with Vega and himself. He said at one point Vega said he was going to take the victim to the bathroom, but when the roommate checked a few minutes later, Vega and the woman were not there.

Four other students on the floor said to police that at that time Vega had approached them and told them they could “see something crazy” in the lounge area and showed them the barely conscious and topless victim after she’d been positioned on a lounge couch. The students told police that shortly after, they saw Vega dragging her back to his room, saying he was going to “get laid.” Concerned, they called floor security.

During Vega’s arrest, he denied assaulting the victim, saying they had only been in the lounge “making out,” the criminal complaint read.

Police found most of the victim’s clothing in Vega’s room, along with her cellphone, keys, and student ID. A search warrant executed

on his dorm room also turned up his cellphone, on which a detective found a photo of the partially undressed woman on the lounge couch, as well as a video showing Vega straddling the semi-unconscious victim’s chest and forcing her to have oral sex and later intercourse while she denies consent, clearly saying she “doesn’t want to do this,” according to court documents. Vega denied to police that he recorded any of the assault.

Upon Vega’s arrest, he was taken to Clay County Jail. There, he claimed to authorities that he had only brought the victim back to his room so she could sleep, and allegedly could not explain how her underwear had turned up in his room. He also denied telling the four other students he was going “to get laid.” According to the police report, he denies raping the victim, but admits providing alcohol and carrying her back to the room because she was too intoxicated.

Seven hours later at the hospital, the victim was able to speak to a detective, court documents state. She recalled nothing of the events beyond the drinking games, and a vague recollection of being in the ambulance. She was not in a relationship with Vega, and never drank alcohol with him before Monday night, she told a detective. Her blood alcohol content was 0.235 percent when she arrived at the hospital, three times the legal limit for driving.

In the following days, students living on campus received rape whistles in their mailboxes — an event that many took as an expression of apathy from school administration. It was later clarified that administration had intended to distribute the whistles to students well before the assault, and the timing was merely an unfortunate coincidence.

The Wednesday after the assault, students received a vague email regarding an “incident” that a group of students allegedly reported to Housing and Residential Life staff. When it became apparent that the “incident” mentioned was in a fact the rape of a fellow student, many felt intentionally misinformed, and further, that the assault was not being taken seriously.

12:30 p.m. Friday saw a meeting in MSUM’s Center for Women, organized by director of women’s and gender studies Kandace Creel Falcón. About 25 students gathered to discuss their thoughts, concerns, and questions for school administration regarding the assault and to be informed of the steps that have been taken to address this act of violence. Vice President for Student Affairs Yvette Underdue Murph and interim Provost Michelle Mallott conversed with students until President Anne Blackhurst arrived around 1:30 p.m.

Students made a point to express to administration that this was not an isolated occurrence — that sexual assault happens on a regular basis on most every college campus, and voiced their belief that MSUM can be a leader in confronting the pervasive issue of sexual assault in campus settings. Two female students present at the meeting informed the administrators of their personal experiences with sexual violence.

As a result, Blackhurst sent an email to all students and staff, describing her plans to create a campus-wide task force to confront the issue of sexual assault in her commitment to a safer campus community.

She mentioned her personal struggle to be transparent about university actions without jeopardizing current investigations or violating the privacy of students, as well as the steps that will be taken to address the larger issue of campus culture often being unsafe for women.

The email went on to emphasize that the safety and security of MSUM’s campus community is her number one priority, that violence will not be tolerated on MSUM’s campus and that within legal and policy boundaries, she would make every effort to communicate with the campus community in situations that threaten its safety and security.

She discussed a need for sustained, constructive and coordinated action to prevent campus sexual violence, and mentioned her intent to form a campus-wide task force composed of faculty, staff, and students to lead efforts to reduce sexual violence on our campus.

In 2013, Vega qualified for the NCAA Division II national wrestling tournament after attending Sacramento City College for a year. The assault occurred just days after the NCAA announced it was stepping up efforts to fight sexual assault and interpersonal violence at college campuses around the country. Only a few weeks ago, the organization released a new handbook enforcing the importance athletic departments have in confronting the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. It includes the statistics that show one in every five women is the victim of a sexual assault while in college.

“It is imperative that all athletics department staff and all student-athletes understand the issues and how to respond as bystanders, find help and work with campus authorities,” NCAA President Mark Emmert wrote.

Director for Communications and Marketing David Wahlberg told the Star Tribune that MSUM has wide latitude in addressing “these types of cases,” which can impose short or long-term suspensions or expel a student. He added that “immediate action” can be taken if campus safety is at imminent risk.

When asked for comment, Vega’s defense attorney, Ken Kohler of Vogel Law Firm, said that he and Vega are withholding comment on the allegations until they receive police reports and other records connected to the case against his client.

Vega was arrested and posted bond; his bail was set at $60,000. His next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 12. Vega faces up to 16 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. Although he has been suspended from the wrestling team pending the outcome of the legal and university investigation, Vega remains enrolled as a student.

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