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3 UCLA Frat Members Accused of Palm Springs Rape : Crime: Sorority woman allegedly was assaulted during weekend of partying. D.A. is investigating.

June 05, 1996|TINA DAUNT and MATEA GOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Three UCLA fraternity members have been accused of raping a sorority woman, who told police that the men took turns sexually assaulting her after an evening of partying at a Palm Springs hotel.

The men, who were taken into custody early Sunday morning, each have been released on $25,000 bail in connection with the alleged attack at the Royal Sun Hotel.

The three suspects were among a large gathering of members of UCLA's Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, which had rented the 66-room hotel for the weekend to celebrate the end of the school year.

At some point, three men allegedly threw the woman--identified as a 19-year-old UCLA freshman--onto a bed in one of the rooms and raped her, police said. Arrested were Joseph Cheyenne Mount, Kristof Hamrick, and Jack Ripsteen, all 22 and all of Los Angeles.

Police said the case is complicated by the fact that the three men and the woman had been drinking together in a hotel room and playing a sexually provocative game similar to Spin the Bottle. The woman also told authorities that she had been smoking marijuana.

"The story goes that [the suspects] were massaging the woman and started to undress her," said Palm Springs Police Lt. Mike McCabe. "When she ends up being disrobed, that's when she tells them to stop."

About three hours later, a friend of the woman's took her to a Palms Springs hospital for treatment. At that point, police were called. McCabe said officers found the woman visibly shaken and crying.

The Riverside County district attorney's office is reviewing the matter and will decide whether to file rape charges. As of Tuesday afternoon, an attorney had not yet been assigned to the case. The men, meanwhile, have been ordered to return to court for a hearing July 1.

As word of the incident spread across the UCLA campus, students found themselves arguing over what legal experts and women's advocates have been debating for years: What exactly constitutes rape.

"I've heard a lot of empathy for the suspects," said student Scott Kaplan, a junior. "I have one friend who said, 'The girl deserved it. What did she expect getting drunk, going to a fraternity party?' There are different ways of looking at it, but rape is rape. If a woman says no, it's no."

Tracey Jensen, staff attorney for the Women's Law Center, said the law is clear in one regard: Rape is sex without consent. What exactly defines consent, however, is another matter.

"When you throw drugs and alcohol into it, it is really difficult to determine what is consent," Jensen said. "If she were going along for a while, and right before she said 'stop,' you might not be able to communicate as well. That's how you get all these weirdo scenarios."

Jensen added: "You are not any less raped if you're drunk."

Representatives from several women's groups on campus said they are planning to hold a rally this week to show support for the woman.

"People are very upset by this issue," said Petty Tsay, co-founder of the Womynist Collective, a campus feminist group. "We hope and pray that UCLA will be accountable for the actions of these three individuals and that they will be adequately punished."

On Tuesday, UCLA officials said the allegations, if true, are 'deplorable."

"UCLA is working with the national [ZBT] fraternity to fully investigate the allegations," college officials said in a statement.

School administrators also said that the fraternity's national office agreed to suspend the local chapter's social activities through July 1, pending a review of the incident.

Until now, the ZBT chapter at UCLA has had an "exemplary" record, said Gary Schwartz, an alumni advisor to the group.

"Since they are not sure of all the details of what is alleged to have happened, it is our desire that the legal system determine the guilt or innocence of the individuals involved," Schwartz said in a written statement.

"We, however, believe that sexual assault of any kind is dead wrong," he said. "We pledge full cooperation with the authorities in their investigation, and we wait with the rest of the community for the conclusion of the investigations."

The rape allegations come at a time when the UCLA Greek system is trying to regain its stature after an episode several years ago in which obscene and anti-women lyrics from a songbook used by fraternity pledges became public.

Fraternity leaders have argued publicly that the songbooks were an aberration. But on Tuesday, students said the alleged gang rape reinforced their feeling that the Greek system is plagued with problems.

"I was disgusted, but it didn't surprise me because when I arrived on this campus, there was the whole controversy of the UCLA frat boys making up racist lyrics," said Karina Moreno, 21, a senior. "They've said, 'We're changing, we're changing. . . . [But] when stuff comes out like this, you have to wonder."

Pat Cross, owner of the Royal Sun Hotel, said fraternity members had reserved the hotel several months ago to host an end-of-the-year pool party.

"My husband and I did a lot of soul-searching before turning our hotel over like that," Cross said.

Accompanied by their dates, the men started arriving Friday afternoon. By Saturday evening, the party was in full swing, with about 150 students dancing, eating burgers and drinking beer around the pool.

Cross said she pulled the plug on the music about 1 a.m. Saturday, and the students went to their rooms. Police said the alleged incident occurred shortly after midnight.

*

Times correspondent Diana Marcum contributed to this story.

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