Hallway rape went unreported by neighbors

  • Article by: Anthony Lonetree and Pat Pheifer
  • Star Tribune
  • August 24, 2007 - 8:37 AM

The video shows what most witnesses in a St. Paul apartment building apparently didn't tell.

A man beat a woman, removed his pants and sexually assaulted her in a hall, and five to 10 people saw at least part of the attack but did nothing to intervene or help, according to investigators and court documents.

It was only after police were summoned on a report of two drunk people lying in the hall that they learned there had been a rape. Rage Ibrahim, 25, of St. Paul, was charged Thursday with first-degree and third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is in Ramsey County jail.

The criminal complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court said the surveillance video showed the woman lying in the hall as early as 1:20 a.m. Tuesday. Police weren't dispatched until almost 90 minutes later.

Residents on the second floor of Afton View Apartments weren't talking much Thursday afternoon. One man wouldn't come to his door. A young woman, with children surrounding her, said: "I don't know anything."

Though the building's resident manager wouldn't provide demographic breakdowns, the tenant list in the entryway is dominated by Somali surnames -- a segment of St. Paul's population that police say is often reluctant to report crimes.

That reluctance is of such concern to police officials that Chief John Harrington has been meeting monthly with Somali elders to encourage community cooperation in criminal matters, police spokesman Tom Walsh said Thursday.

Through Wednesday night, the building in the 300 block of Winthrop Street had generated 63 police incident reports this year, with 19 involving various types of disturbances and 11 being 911 hangup calls.

Tuesday's rape was the first such offense at the building this year, reports show.

According to the complaint, officers found Ibrahim and the woman lying in the hall. Her clothes had been pushed above her waist. He wasn't wearing pants or underwear.

The woman told officers that she didn't know Ibrahim and that he had drugged her and raped her. She was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

Officers overheard the woman say she "just wanted to die," the complaint said.

Ibrahim told officers that he and the woman, whom he said was his girlfriend, were drunk and messed up. He maintains that the incident was a misunderstanding, according to Omar Jamal, the executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center who spoke Thursday on Ibrahim's behalf.

"He did not rape her," Jamal said.

According to a search warrant affidavit, investigators talked to one resident in the building who said that a woman had knocked on his door in the middle of the night yelling "call the police!" The man said he didn't open the door or look out. He said he called police, but police said there is no record of that call.

The affidavit also said the surveillance video shows an unknown man approaching Ibrahim and the woman. Ibrahim, who wasn't wearing pants, confronts the man and chases him down the hall.

Differing accounts

According to the complaint, the victim said she had gone to a friend's apartment Monday night and that a man she knew as "Gomay" was there. The three drank together, and when she tried to leave, "Gomay" came after her and assaulted her in the hall.

Ibrahim told police he had gone to the woman's house and taken her to a friend's apartment. After drinking, she wanted to leave and had taken his keys, Ibrahim said. He said they fought but he said he didn't rape her.

The lack of intervention in the St. Paul case calls to mind the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death outside an apartment building in New York City. Although as many as a dozen people saw parts of the attack, no one stepped in or immediately called for help.

Trying to raise awareness

In the main office of the Afton View Apartments on Thursday, manager Abdullahi Anshoor said he has made a point of encouraging new tenants to report all crimes to police. It's a message that is repeated at National Night Out events, too, he said.

Walsh, the police spokesman, said that the 911 dispatch staff currently has no Somali telecommunicators, but that efforts are underway to hire Somali-language speakers. Until that happens, he said, dispatchers can call translators for three-way communications.

Police make clear, too, Walsh said, that anyone wishing to report crimes can ask English-language speakers to relay the information to police.

The question of why so many people who must have been aware of the disturbance would not call Tuesday morning has yet to be easily answered.

Anshoor recognized a man on the video who was walking toward the man and woman and then turned around. Anshoor said he asked the man Tuesday why he did not report what he saw. The man replied: "I thought they were drunk. And I left." 651-298-1545 651-298-1551

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