Once again, the Berkshire District Attorney office’s handling of sexual assault cases at Williams College has emerged as a flashpoint in the campaign for DA.
Tuesday morning, Berkshire DA Paul Caccaviello’s office sent out a press release about criticism over its response to sexual assault cases at the private college in northern Berkshire County.
Caccaviello is mounting a write-in campaign after narrowly losing September’s Democratic primary to Andrea Harrington.
Caccaviello, a 30-year veteran of the office who became DA this year, made the following statement at a candidate forum in July: “I would tell you that from my experiences in cases actually even at Williams College, there is- that is an obstacle to these cases — is that, can we get the institution to work with the police department and law enforcement and to do so on behalf of the victim.”
The question was about a Massachusetts law intended to facilitate reporting of sexual assault on college campuses. Caccaviello’s answer would begin a back and forth that has continued ever since.
Meg Bossong, the director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Williams College, wrote a letter to The Berkshire Eagle in early August calling Caccaviello’s statement “patently and categorically false.” She went on to say that “The DA's office makes the final choice about whether to pursue prosecution in cases of sexual violence that occur in Berkshire County. This includes cases affecting students of the four colleges located here. Mr. Caccaviello needs to tell the voters of our county how many cases of peer-to-peer, alcohol-involved sexual assault and rape his office has chosen to bring to trial, and how many cases they have pleaded out to lesser, non-sexual offenses or agreed to continue without a finding.”
Bossong’s letter was followed that same month by one from John Pucci, who claimed the Berkshire DA’s office had only prosecuted one of 47 sexual assault cases at Williams between 2014 and 2016. The information was gathered from the college’s Clery Act Reports. The federal law requires higher ed institutions to report on-campus crime statistics to the U.S. Department of Education. Pucci, a lawyer based in Hampshire County, said that the gap in the ratio between reported crimes and prosecuted cases “[demanded] an explanation” since Caccaviello was the First Assistant to then-DA David Capeless during that time and the office would have received the reports.
Pucci is an outspoken supporter of Andrea Harrington and made two $500 contributions to her campaign. Harrington told WAMC she had spoken to Pucci about the issue.
“The person who wrote the letter was interested in supporting my campaign due to his experience of working with the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office in a particular case that has to do with sexual assault at Williams College, but in regards to other matters as well,” said Harrington.
The letter from Caccaviello said Pucci’s claims “were not only without merit, but misleading, ill-informed, and insensitive to victims.”
“Mister Pucci’s letter was a direct attack on the DA and law enforcement, and that’s why I wanted to clear that up,” Caccaviello told WAMC.
The press release includes a claim that Williamstown Police Chief Kyle Johnson discovered an additional 18 cases of sexual assault that Williams hadn’t reported to police. The DA’s release also says two-thirds of the reported incidents failed to identify either the victim or the alleged assailant.
“What these reports do is that they require the college to simply report every allegation whether it’s on the record or anonymous, whether there are details or not," said independent journalist Eoin Higgins. He's covered aspects of the DA race for publications like The Intercept and The Appeal. He says regardless of the detail in the reports, the nature of the Clery Act would have put the reported assaults on the DA’s desk.
“If you have in this case over 40 incidents of reported rape at Williams College, you could have 35 of them be anonymous with not a lot of detail and five of them actually had detail," Higgins told WAMC. "But the point is that all of these would have been reported, and that the DA’s office would have had to in some form or another follow up on these or at least be aware of them.”
Pucci could not be reached for comment on this story. Williams College did not respond to a request for comment from WAMC.
Election Day is Nov. 6th.
Here is Caccaviello's letter in full:
Berkshire District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello is refuting facts contained in a letter to the editor of the Berkshire Eagle in August of this year. The letter claimed that the Berkshire District Attorney failed to investigate or prosecute over 40 cases of sexual assault reported by Williams College between 2014 and 2016.
“The allegations in this letter were extremely disturbing as they are completely contrary to the mission of the office and goal of protecting victims” Caccaviello said. “I contacted both Williams College and the Williamstown Police Department to begin an inquiry into the matter and found that Mr. Pucci’s claims were not only without merit, but misleading, ill-informed, and insensitive to victims.”
Caccaviello said his inquiry showed that the majority of the information provided by Williams College to the Williamstown Police Department did not contain sufficient data to permit a thorough investigation by law enforcement. It found that although Mr. Pucci claimed that “all the data about this sexual violence was reported [by the college] to the Williamstown Police Department,” in fact, two-thirds of the incidents reported to the police failed to identify either the victim or the alleged perpetrator of the crime. Caccaviello added “Williamstown Police Chief Kyle Johnson discovered an additional 18 cases of sexual assault were never even reported to his department and, therefore, could not be referred to the District Attorney’s Office for further investigation or prosecution. Mr. Pucci’s claim that “all the data” about these crimes was shared with the local police and the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is simply not true.”
Chief Johnson indicated that when his department timely requested the names of the parties involved in these cases to further their own investigation, Williams College did not provide the names and protected the confidentiality of the victims and alleged perpetrators. The College was well-within its discretion not to reveal the names of the parties to these incidents. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 does not require colleges and universities to report allegations of sexual violence to law enforcement, it only requires schools to investigate and address sexual violence on campus. Title IX also permits, and even encourages, schools to maintain students’ confidentiality. The College is not required to provide to the public or to the District Attorney any additional information about these incidents. In fact, the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report informs students that “all reported crimes will be investigated by the College and may become a matter of public record only if subpoenaed by law enforcement.”
“We fully respect the rights of victims who chose to remain anonymous and not move forward with an investigation and we understand that the College also has an obligation to provide a safe atmosphere for its students to speak freely. What is disappointing, and irresponsible, is that Mr. Pucci, an experienced criminal law attorney, chose to blame the Berkshire District At torney’s Office for the nature of Williams College’s public disclosures of sexual violence.
Caccaviello vowed to continue to work with Williams College and Williamstown Police Department to assist in investigations and support all victims of sexual assault. “This is an issue that colleges across the country are facing and we are committed to providing all of the necessary resources to not just Williams College but all college campuses in Berkshire County to address the problem.”