A San Luis Obispo Police Department investigator should have been more careful with his investigation and arrest of a Cal Poly student over a rape allegation, which has damaged the young man’s reputation, his lawyer told The Tribune in an exclusive interview.
Attorney Gerald Carrasco said the building of a sexual assault case against his client, Joseph Trupiano, should have been handled differently and the arrest avoided.
But Chad Pfarr, the detective who booked Trupiano, told The Tribune he’s convinced the evidence showed a rape had occurred and that he had probable cause to arrest.
After an intensive three-month investigation, prosecutors decided Aug. 26 not to file charges against Trupiano, who was accused of the crime after a May 7 fraternity party.
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Trupiano claimed the sex he had with a college-age woman was consensual, according to court documents.
Despite the fact that no charges were filed, Trupiano remains concerned that news of his arrest and publicity about the incident will affect his personal life and employment, Carrasco said.
“The reality is that this was an allegation, but not much more,” Carrasco said. “If a more thorough investigation had been conducted, his name, image and reputation would have been left undamaged.”
Pfarr said his job is to make arrests based on probable cause and not the higher standard in court of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
“I still believe the victim,” Pfarr said. “(Trupiano’s) reputation is what he made it and the position he put himself in that night.”
Carrasco said his investigator’s interviews with witnesses showed the woman engaged in sexual conduct with another man at the party in public view before she had relations with Trupiano. And the accuser made a sexual solicitation of yet another man at the party as well, the attorney said.
“She initiated those advances,” Carrasco said. “She was very aggressive in her behaviors towards young men.”
In addition, after waking up at the fraternity house on May 8, the woman told witnesses that she was concerned with how her boyfriend would react if he found out about her cheating, giving her a motive to make up the allegation, Carrasco said.
According to a search warrant filed by police, the woman told investigators that she’d blacked out from heavy alcohol consumption, waking up in a fraternity house bedroom with pain that was consistent with rape.
Police used evidence that included the results of a medical examination of the woman, her statements, recorded phone calls between Trupiano and the woman, and other evidence Pfarr declined to disclose.
In a phone call set up by police between Trupiano and the woman, without his knowledge of it being recorded, he said he recalled her leading him into the room and initiating the talk about sex.
Trupiano admitted to her that she passed out in the room, the warrant states. But the timeline of her unconsciousness, whether before or after sex, wasn’t specified.
Carrasco said witnesses observed the woman walking around and talking with people at the party between 1:30 and 3 a.m., which is when she told police she’d blacked out.
Carrasco said he was able to get signed statements from several witnesses detailing observations of some of her behavior, which he turned over to the District Attorney’s Office.
“I understand and appreciate that when a woman makes a point to law enforcement, it should be taken seriously,” Carrasco said. “But an arrest isn’t appropriate if the facts haven’t been developed.”
Pfarr maintains that the evidence pointed him in the direction of making an arrest.
Pfarr said the woman didn’t remember having “any sexual activity” at the party and said she didn’t have a boyfriend. Also, some witnesses Pfarr interviewed who were at the party had trouble distinguishing the accuser from another woman who was there.
“I absolutely believe what she was telling me,” Pfarr said.
Pfarr also said that many of the witnesses refused to give statements and Trupiano also declined to give police a statement after consulting with Carrasco.
The detective said he believes the case wasn’t charged partly because the woman couldn’t remember the incident.
Prosecutors investigated for more than three months, deciding they couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
That investigation included interviews with numerous individuals, examinations of photographs, analysis of physical evidence and scientific testing, as well as a consideration of phone messages.
The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case but issued a statement saying “the decision to reject the case for filing a criminal complaint does not mean that the alleged victim is to be disbelieved or that her description of the events that she can recollect is not credible.”
The sense of relief Trupiano felt when criminal charges weren’t filed hasn’t entirely calmed his anxiety about how the case may affect his future, Carrasco said. Trupiano declined to speak to The Tribune for this story.
Trupiano recently graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in agribusiness; he received numerous letters of recommendation about his character from Cal Poly and high school teachers after his lawyer sought assessments from those who knew him.
But Carrasco said Trupiano has expressed concern about what possible employers and new acquaintances may think if they find out about the arrest.
“I’ve reminded him that he needs to understand that as the law has dictated, through the district attorney’s actions in this case, he has done nothing wrong,” Carrasco said.
Carrasco also said that he is working on a petition for his client to obtain a factual finding of innocence that could purge arrest records from the court and law enforcement databases.
For Pfarr, the case has been “frustrating for me and for the victim.” Even though she was not named in media stories about the case as a victim alleging a sex crime, the public nature has affected her, he said.
“The humiliation of having it out in the public and then not having it go forward, it makes her look bad,” he said. “She has been on trial. She’s suffering and will for a long time.”
During the course of interviews for this story, Carrasco and Pfarr both acknowledged the difficulty of nailing down evidence because of the amount of alcohol consumed at the party and how that affected recollections of those involved.