SYCAMORE – Sexual assault charges against former Northern Illinois University police officer Andrew Rifkin were dropped Tuesday after more testimony raised questions about the NIU Police department withholding information.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell called the NIU police’s mishandling of information “egregious” and said he had little confidence all the information in the case had been brought forth by the department. His comments came after hearing of a late-night meeting that took place between NIU police Chief Donald Grady and an information technology specialist to remove personal files from the chief’s laptop.
Campbell said he could not put Rifkin’s liberty in jeopardy any longer.
“I do not see how I can allow this prosecution to go forward,” Campbell said. “My highest duty as state’s attorney is to assure justice is done.”
Rifkin, 24, of Northbrook, was fired from the NIU force Oct. 28, 2011, the same day his accuser came forward with the allegations. She alleged Rifkin had assaulted her at his apartment in Cortland while he was off-duty.
Campbell’s decision to drop the charges came moments after listening to sworn testimony from Haider Thahab, a computer forensic expert with NIU who said Grady called him the night of Nov. 9 and asked to meet him at the police department. Thahab said he removed files from Grady’s laptop, and transferred them to a flash drive that night and gave it to Grady.
Grady was placed on administrative leave Nov. 10, along with Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan for failing to report two witness statements that would have aided Rifkin’s defense. Friends of Rifkin’s accuser told officers the victim had an ongoing consensual sexual relationship with Rifkin, and that he had not assaulted her.
Despite being banned from the police department, Ramakrishnan also called Thahab on the morning of Nov. 11 and asked to meet with him at the office and remove personal files from his computer. Thahab said Ramakrishnan’s computer access had been blocked at that point, so he could not follow through with the request.
Thahab said he did not know what files he removed from Grady’s computer other than documents related to Grady’s book, “The Injustice of Justice.”
Jim Fatz, director of NIU information security and operations, also testified Tuesday that he met with Thahab along with Acting Director of Public Safety Bill Nicklas on Nov. 12 after learning about the meeting. Nicklas requested the computers be turned over immediately. The equipment is now with the Illinois State Police as part of its investigation into the NIU police.
Because Thahab cut and pasted the files and did not overwrite anything, he said the information should be recoverable with forensic tools. NIU plans to pursue the information for internal disciplinary purposes.
Rifkin’s attorney Bruce Brandwein applauded Campbell’s decision and said justice was done now that Rifkin no longer faces the possibility of 15 years in prison for a crime he never committed.
And although he did not know if the files removed from Grady’s computer were related to the case, he said he found it strange that chief met with Thahab the same day the court ordered an affidavit saying all evidence had been turned over.
“I believe the prosecutor did the right thing,” Brandwein said. “It was a good day for Mr. Rifkin.”
Brandwein said results of the state police’s investigation would determine whether Grady and the NIU police face any legal ramifications. Steve Rifkin, Andrew Rifkin’s father, said he hopes there is legal action against the department.
“I hope there is justice against the chief ... and they put him on the stand like they did my son,” Steve Rifkin said.