SYCAMORE – Sexual assault charges against former Northern Illinois University police officer Andrew Rifkin were dropped Tuesday after 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 that all of the information in the case had been brought forth by the department. Campbell's 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 allegations that Rifkin 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, an NIU computer forensics expert 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, transferred them to a flash drive that night and gave the drive 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 she 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 and said he met with Thahab and Acting Director of Public Safety Bill Nicklas on Nov. 12 after learning about the meeting. Nicklas requested the computers be turned over immediately and the equipment is now with 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. NIU plans to pursue the information for internal disciplinary purposes.
Rifkin's attorney, Bruce Brandwein, applauded Campbell's decision to drop the charges and said justice was done now that Rifkin no longer faces the possibility of 15 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
Although he said he did not know whether the files removed from Grady's computer were related to the case, Brandwein said he found it strange that the chief met with Thahab on the same day the court ordered an affidavit stating that 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 investigation would determine whether there are legal ramifications for Grady and NIU police.
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.