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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

New trial date for Whatcom County employee charged with sexual assault

Trial marks first major development in court proceedings

Photo of the Whatcom County courthouse
Photo of the Whatcom County courthouse. The trial for Timothy Kennedy is scheduled for April 15, 2021. // Photo by Nick Sadigh

By Mairead Solferino

Content Warning: This story contains a description of sexual assault.

More than a year after he was charged with sexually assaulting a Western Washington University student, 38-year-old Timothy A. Kennedy’s case has a trial date: April 15, 2021. 

On Jan. 12, Judge Robert Olson ordered the defense be given a Zoom or face-to-face interview with the student by March 25. 

This decision came after Kennedy’s attorney, Alexander Ransom, filed a motion requesting a face-to-face interview at least a month before trial and said a phone interview wouldn’t be adequate for representation of his client. Kennedy has been charged with rape in the third degree, which Washington state code defines as engaging in forcible sexual intercourse when the victim’s lack of consent was expressed by words or conduct, or the perpetrator threatens substantial harm to the victim’s property. It is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

In the motion, Ransom cited the legal precedents State v. Wilson and Lord v. Wood to support his request. In State v. Wilson, judges wrote that a defendant’s due process rights include the right to interview a witness prior to trial. In Lord v. Wood, judges wrote “a witness’s testimony consists not only of the words he speaks or the story he tells, but of his demeanor and reputation.”

The prosecution agreed to arrange a meeting but asked the court to be flexible with the deadline. The signed order states both attorneys will appear in court March 9 to decide whether the set date for the interview is a realistic possibility.

At the time of his arrest, Kennedy was employed by Whatcom County as a Planner II.  The Whatcom County website currently lists Kennedy as a permit center planner in the Building Services department. Tyler Schroeder, the Whatcom County deputy executive, said in an email to The Western Front that it would be inappropriate for the county to comment until the case has been resolved in the court. He did not confirm whether or not Kennedy is still employed with the county.

Police records show Kennedy was arrested Jan. 19, 2020, after the student told University Police Kennedy assaulted her in early December 2019.

According to the police report, the student said she first met Kennedy after matching on Tinder, where he used the name “Jake.” Kennedy told police in his initial interview that he made the Tinder account because his wife was out of town and he was bored. He told police he was only looking to “hook-up” and his profile reflected that, but didn’t include other personal information or that he was married.

The student met Kennedy at her dorm in early November 2019 and they had a sexual encounter on campus. After their initial contact, the student said she ignored Kennedy’s subsequent attempts to meet until Dec. 7, 2019, when she agreed he could come to her dorm.

The student said Kennedy began to kiss her and she told him she didn’t want to have sex with him, to which he agreed. 

In Kennedy’s first interview with police, he confirmed she verbally told him she didn’t want to have sex and he told her they didn’t have to. He also said the student invited him to her dorm after she had been in an argument with a family member and was visibly distraught, but he continued engaging in sexual acts. 

Police records show Kennedy agreed to be interviewed but declined to be recorded during the interview.

The police report states Kennedy repeatedly touched the student after she told him “no” multiple times. The student said Kennedy then proceeded to sexually assault her and she reacted by screaming — Kennedy then dressed and ran out of her dorm. Kennedy deleted his Tinder account after the second encounter.

Court documents and police records show a protective order has been issued for the student until a judgment is delivered, and University Police issued Kennedy a WWU Trespass Warning Jan. 31, 2020. Police records state this warning means Kennedy isn’t allowed anywhere on Western’s campus.

Bail was set at $5,000 during Kennedy’s preliminary hearing on Jan. 21, 2020, which court documents show was posted later that day. 

Since then, the case has been granted multiple continuances. Continuances are preparation extensions granted to the prosecution or defense before or during a trial. They are common in trial cases as both sides work to build evidence and prepare for trial. The April 15 trial could be subject to another continuance depending on what is decided at the March 9 hearing.

Online dating sites are commonly used by students hoping to meet new people. According to a report for Brigham and Women’s Hospital by Meredith Jean Scannell, staff nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the Center for Clinical Investigation, 50% of college students use online dating sites, and 83.7% of those students will meet someone face to face after connecting online.

According to Scannell’s report, 72% of online dating sexual assaults occur at one of the individuals’ homes, but many go unreported. This can be due in part to the confusing and lengthy judicial process. 

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County is a local non-profit that assists survivors with difficult processes such as legal proceedings.

“We can refer survivors to legal advocates who can help explain the reporting process,” Nicole Berman, executive director of DVSAS, said.

DVSAS also has a 24-hour helpline that can be reached at 1-877-715-1563.Western offers support for survivors of sexual assault through the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of Student Life, Consultation and Sexual Assult Support and the Counseling Center.

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