The death of an LSU student raped before being fatally struck by a car sent shockwaves through campus Tuesday while state regulators suspended a popular bar’s liquor license, four suspects appeared for bond hearings and sexual assault activists called for her death to serve as a wakeup call about rape culture.
The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control issued an emergency suspension for Reggie’s bar Tuesday due to “the seriousness of the allegations and the potential threat to public safety” laid bare by the case, said Ernest Legier, the agency’s commissioner. Legier said the suspension would remain in place pending a hearing next month.
The bar is cooperating with investigators and will continue doing so, Reggies’ attorney, Kris Perret, said in a statement.
The focus on the role of underage drinking in the case of 19-year-old Madison Brooks, of Madisonville — a point of emphasis made by LSU President William Tate — also drew criticism as the campus reels from her death. Advocates say that message distracts from the bigger threat of sexual violence — a perennial problem at a university that has met massive scrutiny in recent years over sexual assault and alcohol-related deaths alike.
“Alcohol did not cause her rape or her death,” said Morgan Lamandre, the president and CEO of the advocacy group STAR. “The perpetrators caused her rape, which led to her being in a place that ultimately led to her death.”
Tate in a statement Monday called Brooks’ death “evil” and pledged that the university would respond by cracking down on local businesses that serve minors alcohol.
Brooks had been drinking at Reggies’ on the evening of Saturday, Jan. 14, when she met a 17-year-old and left the bar with him and three other males, sheriff’s deputies wrote in an affidavit. The group pulled over after leaving the bar, while two of the males — the 17-year-old and and Kaivon Washington, 18 — raped her in the back of the car, arrest documents say.
Arrest papers say Brooks had a blood-alcohol level of .319 — nearly four times the legal limit to drive, enough to give someone alcohol poisoning and render them unconscious and one reason police say she was unable to consent to sex. She was unable to say where she lived, and the four dropped her off in a subdivision, the documents say.
She was hit by a car and killed on Burbank Drive shortly before 2:50 a.m. The driver who struck her called emergency personnel immediately, waited on the scene, was tested and was found not to be impaired, an East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said.
Police announced Monday they had arrested all four suspects accused of leaving the bar with Brooks: Washington and the 17-year-old, who is not being named because he is a juvenile, on a count each of third-degree rape; and Casen Carver, 18, and Everette Lee, 28, on a count each of principal to third-degree rape.
None of those arrested are students at LSU, a university spokesperson said Tuesday.
Brooks’ death has had ripple effects at the university and beyond as the case made national and international headlines. Mikal Lee, a freshman at the university, said Tuesday it spurred him to have a talk with his mother about how to better treat women and conduct himself at parties.
And some advocates on campus called the university’s response lacking and urged administrators to do more. “We are glad you are outraged,” LSU Democrats and Feminists in Action said in a joint statement. “But we insist that you direct this energy to fix the sexual violence our community faces instead of using alcohol as a scapegoat.”
Myrissa Eisworth, a junior at the university and the president of feminists in action, said Tate’s statement seemed to blame Brooks for the events of that night.
“By making it about alcohol, in a way, he also blames her for the situation because she was drinking and underage,” she said. “You should never blame victims in those situations. It was really hard to read.”
The three adult suspects made their initial appearances before a judge Tuesday afternoon through a video feed from the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. District Judge Brad Myers set Carver’s and Lee’s bonds at $50,000 and $75,000, respectively. Washington got a $150,000 bail.
Prosecutors will pursue upgrading the charges to first-degree and principal to first-degree rape, said Stuart Theriot, an assistant district attorney. Louisiana’s first-degree rape statute carries a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors allege Carver was driving the car and Lee was riding shotgun while Washington and the underaged suspect raped Brooks in the backseat.
All three suspects must report to the parish’s drug lab after being released and undergo random drug testing for 180 days. Myers also ordered them to remain under house arrest with a GPS monitoring device strapped to their ankle if they post bond and barred them from posting about the incident on social media.
Washington used his cell phone to record footage inside the car as the group dropped Brooks off after the assault, according to court testimony Tuesday.
Carver’s and Lee’s attorneys tried to convince Myers there was no evidence to show the two aided or abetted in Brooks’ rape and no probable cause existed for their charges. Carver’s attorney, Joe Long, said the teen’s only involvement was driving her to where she said her home was.
Dale Glover, who represented Washington in Tuesday’s hearing, told Myers the victim was not too drunk to consent to sex, arguing that threshold is not clearly defined under Louisiana law. The statute defines third-degree rape as an act committed when the victim is incapable of resisting because of an intoxicant and when “the offender knew or should have known of the victim’s incapacity.”
Brooks’ level of intoxication would have made her incapable of giving consent, prosecutors say.
Carver, the driver, told deputies he felt uncomfortable with what was happening in the car and even told the two to stop. When asked if Brooks was too impaired to consent to sex, Carver responded, “I guess.”
Trying to convince Myers that Washington is not a flight risk, Glover said, “he’s being tried right now in the media. His reputation is ruined. If anything, he’s going to come to court to prove he didn’t do this and clear his name.”
Myers countered that state law doesn’t require the victim be in such a condition to be unable to consent. He stressed the fact that she was seen on surveillance video inside and outside the bar staggering, she stumbled to the floor twice and had to be helped to the suspects’ car.