When one Florida Memorial University student began attending the historically black college in Miami Gardens this fall, she immediately noticed security in her dorm seemed lax. She had moved from Apopka to attend the school this year, but when she settled into the Willie C. Robinson Residence Hall, she says, she noticed a potential problem. Though there was a security desk and a team of resident advisers monitoring dorm visitors, the building's fire escapes had no alarms, and students routinely used the unsecured entrances to sneak in visitors — even into the women-only wing of the 360-student dorm.
In a negligence lawsuit filed today in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, the student says that's how she believes two men snuck into her dorm room, where she was then sexually assaulted. The student, identified only as Jane Doe, says that on September 12, two drunk men woke her up around 3 a.m. and threatened to hurt her if she didn't comply with their demands. The suit alleges one of the men then raped her.
The student says she was able to escape and run into a neighboring dorm room. A fellow student chased the two men out of the building through the same unsecured fire exit the woman believes they used to enter the dorm.
"The attackers laughed at their victims as they fled through the fire exit door without any alarm signaling," the lawsuit states. (CBS Miami first reported on the suit yesterday.)
A spokesperson for Florida Memorial did not immediately respond to a message from New Times. This is not the first time the school has been warned about security problems, nor is it the first time in the past few years that students have been sexually assaulted on campus, according to the lawsuit. Nationally, one in four women experience sexual assault while attending college, according to the Association of American Universities, and virtually every Miami-area institution for higher education — especially the University of Miami — has been accused of mishandling or turning a blind eye to sex crimes on campus over the years.
In 2009, New Times chronicled a long series of security issues at Florida Memorial, including home invasions, burglaries, and security guards who were filmed using nightsticks to beat students and even firing a gun at them. Worse yet, the story recounted how one student began dating a former FMU security guard, Jervon Smith, who was later convicted of aggravated stalking and battery after using security loopholes to sneak into her dorm. The student, Phylise Johnson, later sued the school, and the case was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2005.
After that incident, FMU fired its private security firm, USA Security. But the new legal case filed today alleges little has changed in the 14 years since Johnson won her settlement; in fact, the plaintiff says that not only were the fire-exit doors in her dorm unsecured, but also the security cameras in the hallways weren't recording that day.
"What happened to this young college student is simply horrifying," the woman's lawyer, Thomas Hasty, said yesterday in a media release. "Just a few months into her first year away at college, our client went to sleep in her dorm room believing she was safe and then found herself in the middle of a very real nightmare, fighting for her life. Colleges and universities have a duty to protect their students whose dormitories become their home away from home. We believe FMU failed in that duty in every way, which resulted in this foreseeable and preventable attack."