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Thursday, May 6, 2021

How We Reported This Story

A records request to University Police that returned the police report about Lagow.
A records request to University Police that returned the police report about Lagow.

By Erasmus Baxter and Asia Fields

The Western Front first reported on issues with Western’s handling of sexual assault cases in fall 2016. As part of its investigation, the Front requested copies of disciplinary reports related to sexual misconduct.

These records were part of what we relied on as Western Front news editors last spring to report on the readmission of a student convicted of sexual assault, Connor Patrick Griesemer. However, the records were largely unused until this summer, when a group of reporters began combing through them to better understand the sanctions imposed on students found by the university to have sexually assaulted other students.

Western’s practice of redacting students’ names from records meant there was no way to check if other suspended students had been readmitted like Griesemer had.

But one case seemed to especially parallel the Griesemer readmission. The disciplinary file also contained a court document, meaning there might be records elsewhere that could identify the student, as we had been able to do with police and court records in some other cases.

Although Western had redacted the case number on the file, it listed the name of the detective who made the statement of probable cause. Erasmus’ records request to the department in question returned the police report several months later, but still no name, as it was a juvenile case.

On a second or third reading, something caught Erasmus’ eye: “the Logow residence.” This could be a location, or it could more likely be the name of the family. But why wasn’t it redacted?

His theory was that it was a typo. That the detective had misspelled the name, and when the records officer searched the document for the names to redact, they had missed it because of that.

The most common last name with a similar spelling Erasmus could think of was “Lagow,” so he searched for it on Facebook. He found a Peter Lagow, who had attended Western, had the same hometown and most importantly, had the same birthdate as the person in the police report.

This could have just been a coincidence however, and more confirmation was needed to go ahead with the story. In the case file, the survivor mentioned making a report with University Police, so Erasmus requested all University Police reports with the name “Peter Lagow.”

A few days later, the report came back and confirmed everything. The survivor’s story from the disciplinary files matched up with the police report, and Lagow’s name was there.

Erasmus’ search for Lagow’s name in the juvenile case system in the county he was convicted in did not return any results. However, Washington state law allows juvenile records to be sealed after a certain amount of time. Based on his convictions, Lagow could’ve petitioned for his records to be sealed after two years.

Around the same time, Asia, who was then editor-in-chief of The Western Front, was seeking out the stories and voices of survivors at Western. She launched a web form that allowed survivors to anonymously share their stories.

The second response was from Tia Petrini, the survivor in this case.

Petrini later said she had reached out to tell her story because despite how common sexual assault is, it is swept under the rug.

“I would rather fight the rest of my life for the rightfully deserved justice of assault victims than ever sit down because my voice tires from shouting this to the world so much,” she said. “Enough is enough. Period.”

We realized that she was talking about the same case, and that we were each holding half of the full picture. No reporting would be complete without her voice, and it would take a long time to re-request the records.

In this case, we decided the student body would be better served by the Front and AS Review collaborating instead of competing. Reporting on sexual assault is a communal effort to build a better community, not a chance for individual glory or competition.

We hope this will lay the ground for future collaboration as we strive to tell the stories that make a difference and that our community needs to hear.


This is a sidebar to the story “Suspended for sexual assault, readmitted one year later.” Read the full story here.


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