Handle on the situation…

A suspect in the sexual assault case of a Sam Houston State University student was caught and arrested last Thursday following an investigation by the University Police Department and the local Texas Rangers.

According to a press release from UPD, Marcus Howard, 30, was arrested in correlation with the incident. Howard, who is not a student at the university, was charged with aggravated sexual assault and has been booked into the Walker County Jail.

On Wednesday, Oct. 15, a female student reported that she had been abducted from outside of Estill Hall on campus and sexually assaulted at an off-campus location before driven back to the main campus area.

In light of the recent incident, some students had questions about campus security and UPD’s response and on-campus services.

“With the information we were given that night and the description, we were able to positively identify [the suspect] within a fairly short amount of time,” Lt. Weber R. Holloway of the University Police Department said.

Some students were concerned that the new KatSafe alert program was not implemented to inform the student body about the situation. The new system has been heavily publicized with several campaigns to encourage students, faculty and staff to sign up for the free service.

However, UPD officials said the decision not to activate the KatSafe alerts stemmed from the isolated nature of the incident and their conclusion that the situation did not pose an immediate danger to the university community as a whole.

“The Kat Safe program is designed for something that affects the entire university community or that we feel is an immediate threat for the entire community,” Holloway said. “We used everything to determine if it was a danger and didn’t see that the entire community or a large portion of the community would be in danger.”

University police are also tied by university protocol and an Emergency Response Plan that outlines what is to be done in the event of emergency situations.

“It was pretty much an isolated incident,” Holloway said. “I can’t give out all the details because it is an active investigation, but the information that the victim gave us and [given] the totality of the circumstances of the information, we were able to determine exactly who it was, and where to look.”

Yet some students disagreed, saying they think students should be immediately notified concerning incidents of kidnapping and assault on campus.

“I think we should have been warned,” Preston Andrews, freshman, said. “I found out from a post, but nothing from the police. We should know what is going on.”

Still other students said they felt the situation was handled correctly and that no direct notification is necessary so long as there is not immediate danger to students or the community.

“If it is an isolated incident, no, I think they did okay,” Dr. Tracy Bilsing of the English department said. “If he was out and about then yes, [we should have been alerted]. They apprehended the guy pretty quickly and that was a good thing.”

Kevin Morris, Chief of the University Police Department, says no changes have been made and that none are needed in campus security because of the incident.

“I have to make the best decisions that are the most efficient and also in the manner that is most effective, so that the right services can be provided to the campus community,” Morris said. “With an incident that’s only isolated to one student, I have to examine the situation very carefully before any major decisions are made in affecting how things will shift around.”

Morris said that if an incident affects the entire campus community, then a decision concerning KatSafe or another type of campus-wide notification will be made.

“You have to vary it from incident to incident before a decision can be made,” Morris said. “We provided the best services to clear a crime and also to help the victim.”

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