The 14- and 10-year-old boys charged in a sexual assault at Fawnbrook Apartments have been released from juvenile custody, and federal prosecutors are urging the community to stay calm, stop spreading falsehoods about the case and let investigators and court officials do their jobs.
“The United States Attorney’s Office extends its support to the 5-year-old victim of assault, and her family,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement released Friday. “The United States Attorney’s Office further encourages community members in Twin Falls and throughout Idaho to remain calm and supportive, to pay close attention to the facts that have been released by law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney, and to avoid spreading false rumors and inaccuracies.”
Though the boys have been released, they still face juvenile charges that remain sealed under court order. Sealing cases is typical in juvenile cases, especially those involving allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I don’t know of any unsealed cases that involve (juvenile) sex crimes,” Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said. “Although a judge has that option, it’s almost unheard of.”
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That the alleged perpetrators of the crime are juveniles “in no way lessens the harm to or impact on the victim and her family,” U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said in a statement. But she echoed Loebs in explaining the rights of juvenile defendants.
“The criminal justice system, whether at the state or federal level, requires that juveniles be afforded a specific process with significant restrictions on the information that can be released,” Olson said.
Because of the seal, few details about the assault have been made public, but Loebs and Police Chief Craig Kingsbury took the unusual step Monday to speak out by denying stories circulating on conspiracy websites and anti-refugee blogs claiming Syrian refugees gang-raped a girl at knife-point.
The case has reignited new opposition to refugee resettlement in Twin Falls and led to a raucous City Council meeting Monday where residents renewed calls to close the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center, accused police and prosecutors of a cover-up and blasted Council members for allowing radical Muslim extremists to infiltrate Twin Falls.
Officials have largely dismissed those accusations — Loebs said anti-refugee groups were using the incident to further their agenda — and have tried to quell the outrage by clearing up disputed facts about the Fawnbrook incident.
“There were no Syrians involved, there was no knife involved, there was no gang-rape,” Loebs said.
What is known about the case is this: prosecutors allege a 5-year-old girl was sexually assaulted June 2 at the Fawnbrook Apartments. After an investigation, two boys ages 14 and 10 were detained and charged. A third boy involved in the incident, age 7, was not charged. The boys are from Iraqi and Sudanese families, but it’s unclear if they are refugees or how long they’ve been in the community.
Olson said the prosecutor and police chief are “moving fairly and thoughtfully in this case” and urged “citizens and residents to allow Mr. Loebs and Chief Kingsbury and their teams to do their jobs.” She also warned against spreading fake stories circulating online.
“We have seen time and again that the spread of falsehoods about refugees divides our communities,” Olson said. “The spread of false information or inflammatory or threatening statements about the perpetrators or the crime itself reduces public safety and may violate federal law.”
Olson told the Idaho Statesmen she decided to speak out Friday after seeing so much false information spreading “throughout the nation.”
Loebs said the misinformation that has spread on the internet has made investigating the case more difficult.
“Facts are now harder to find and the credibility of witnesses will be much more difficult to determine because of all the misinformation,” Loebs said Friday. “It doesn’t change the way we will handle it — the case will go on just like any other case and won’t be treated any differently — but the misinformation makes it more difficult to adjudicate and investigate.”
When misinformation becomes prevalent in a case, it becomes difficult for witnesses to separate “what they actually know and actually saw from what they read on the internet,” Loebs said.
The prosecutor also acknowledged it was an unusual step for Idaho’s U.S. Attorney to comment on the case but said it’s “important thing for the public to realize is law enforcement, prosecutors and the court are all handling this appropriately and handling it the way these cases are handled.”
Meanwhile, in Facebook postings this week and in the false stories that broke last weekend, there were claims that both the victim’s family had been threatened by “Middle Eastern men” and that the families of the defendants were receiving threats.
“I’ve heard rumors of threats, but I have not received a report from police outlining specific threats,” Loebs said Friday. “I made it clear to the (victim’s) family that they should report anything because those threats would be criminal.”
But Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar confirmed Friday he has received threats over the city’s perceived mishandling of the case.
Meanwhile, Fawnbrook Apartment managers said this week the complex is taking steps to evict the families of the boys involved.
“With the police investigation now largely complete, acting in our capacity as property managers, we have served the legally required notifications to terminate the tenancy of those households who the police have identified as responsible for the criminal acts,” Jeffrey Passadore, president of Cambridge Real Estate Services, wrote in a letter to the complex’s tenants.
Passadore wrote that “events of recent days have focused our collective attention on the complexities of living in a culturally diverse society. When management was first notified in broad terms of the truly horrific events of earlier this month, we immediately offered our full support and cooperation to local law enforcement.”
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