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Rape victim sues Utah State, Sigma Chi fraternity

Jason Brian Relopez, 28, appears in 1st District Court for a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, May 31, 2016, in Logan.
Jason Brian Relopez, 28, appears in 1st District Court for a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, May 31, 2016, in Logan.
John Zsiray, Pool photo

SALT LAKE CITY — A woman raped during a fraternity party at Utah State University is suing the school and the Greek organization, saying they knew of five previous allegations against the now-convicted assailant and didn't take action.

Jason Brian Relopez, 28, was sentenced in May to a year in jail for sexually assaulting two women, including then-19-year-old Victoria Hewlett, who was held against her will in Relopez's bedroom at the Sigma Chi chapter fraternity house during a July 2015 party.

Hewlett testified at a preliminary hearing that she and Relopez were kissing in his bedroom when he suddenly slapped her, the beginning of hours of abuse and demoralizing sexual encounters that she couldn't object to without putting herself at risk.

The second victim, a 20-year-old woman, also testified she had been studying with Relopez at her house late one night in October 2014 when they began kissing. Though she said no when Relopez asked if she wanted to "go all the way," Relopez pinned her and raped her, the woman said.

Relopez pleaded guilty in February as part of a deal with prosecutors to attempted rape, a first-degree felony, and attempted forcible sexual abuse, a third-degree felony. He was originally charged with aggravated sexual assault and rape, both first-degree felonies, in the two assaults.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Utah's U.S. District Court, Hewlett claims Utah State was aware of previous assault allegations against Relopez by five other women, but allowed him to remain on campus, enrolled and unsanctioned.

No hearings have been scheduled in the case.

The Gamma Kappa chapter of Sigma Chi was also aware of the allegations against Relopez but permitted him to remain an active member of the organization and a resident in the fraternity house, according to the lawsuit. Members of the fraternity also knew the Kappa Delta sorority had barred Relopez from its activities on reports he had verbally, emotionally and physically abused women in the group.

"It was well-known within the Sigma Chi fraternity that Relopez, though charismatic at times, was hot-tempered, sexually aggressive and a threat to women," the lawsuit states.

The school and Gamma Kappa were also aware "a dangerous environment existed at fraternity houses chartered at Utah State University," the result of excessive, unmonitored drinking at "wet" parties that included underage women with no screening and continued to serve alcohol to visibly impaired partiers, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit names Utah State, the national Sigma Chi fraternity, USU's Gamma Kappa chapter and its alumni association, and USU administrators Eric Olsen, Krystin Deschamps and Kevin Webb.

USU spokesman Tim Vitale declined comment about the lawsuit Monday, saying the school had not yet received a copy.

Michael Church, executive director of the Illinois-based Sigma Chi fraternity, also did not comment, citing the organization's policy against discussing ongoing litigation.

USU's Gamma Kappa chapter could not be reached.

According to the lawsuit, when the 20-year-old woman reported the rape to school officials in late 2014, she was told she was the fifth woman to say Relopez had sexually assaulted her.

Following the report, Olsen, Deschamps and Webb met with Relopez, telling him he was "on USU's radar" and would be expelled if any of the allegations were proven to be true.

However, the three school officials did not take further action, according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Relopez's fraternity brothers elected him as the chapter's risk manager, a role tasked with correcting any school or fraternity rule breaking or law violations, according to the lawsuit. Relopez still held the title at the time Hewlett was raped.

Hewlett's lawsuit also alleges that the school and the Greek system were already aware of the unsafe drinking culture when she was assaulted, in part because of another sexual assault that occurred weeks earlier at the fraternity house next door.

Former Pi Kappa Alpha president Ryan Wray groped a woman while she was unconscious at a March 2015 party. He went on to plead guilty to attempted forcible sexual abuse, a third-degree felony, and was sentenced to six months in jail.

Wray, then 26, had apparently been designated by the fraternity to assist inebriated women. At the time the assault was reported, additional women told police Wray had sexually assaulted them but ultimately chose not to press charges.

USU pledged in a 2011 settlement agreement to combat hazing and drug abuse at Greek parties after an 18-year-old student, Michael Starks, died in 2008 while rushing the now-disbanded chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity.

Starks was bound with cords and forced to drink vodka while rushing the group. His body was later found to contain more than four times the legal limit of alcohol.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero