Lack of housing background checks leads to alleged rapist living at HPT

The university accepted a student who has been charged with sexual assault and allowed him to live on campus. FAU doesn’t conduct background checks. There’s no way to know how many other students may also be in this situation.

Kendall Little, Managing Editor

Eight months before becoming a FAU student, Riley Hayes allegedly engaged in sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl when she was physically unable to resist, according to the state of New Hampshire.

Hayes was 17 at the time. Court records identified his alleged victim only as L.B. because she is a minor.

Police in Conway, N.H., arrested Hayes on Feb. 26 — the day after he turned 18 years old — and charged him with aggravated felonious sexual assault. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in New Hampshire state prison.

Four months ago, the university admitted Hayes and allowed him to live in Heritage Park Towers on the Boca Raton campus without a screening or background check.

Carroll County Superior Court clerk Abigail Albee scheduled Hayes’ hearing for Oct. 20 at 9 a.m. The judge ruled that the hearing must be done in private because minors were involved.

The UP could not reach Hayes for comment, but did receive a statement from one of his attorneys.

“As we have said previously, Riley has pled not guilty because he is not guilty,” Hayes’ attorney Robin Melone said to the UP. “We will not try this case in the court of public opinion where people have already tried and convicted Riley on the mere allegation. Riley very much looks forward to his real trial.”

There could be other students in Hayes’ situation living on campus. Interim Dean of Students Audrey Pusey said that the university’s admissions and housing forms include a box for applicants to check if they have a criminal record. However, the box is not foolproof.

“It’s kind of like the honor code,” Pusey said. The university cannot force students to disclose their criminal history. However, if university officials discover that a student has a criminal record and did not disclose it, housing policy dictates that the university can remove that student.

University officials eventually removed Hayes from campus housing on July 8 for a reason officials have yet to disclose. Several students are frustrated with the lack of screening for housing applicants.

“I think allowing Riley Hayes to live on campus shows that FAU does not value safety as much as it values presentation,” freshman history and English major Connor Birkhimer said. “Ignoring problems seems to be FAU’s policy regarding anything that might make them look bad and they prioritize appearances above student welfare.”

Pusey stated that university officials are not always aware of students’ backgrounds, including any criminal activity prior to their arrival on campus. “Sometimes the community knows before we do,” Pusey said.

Several students say that’s the problem.

“I understand that [the administration] can’t catch every single thing, but when it’s brought to their attention, they stay silent,” said Joi Dean, president of the university’s chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Students seeking on-campus housing must be enrolled in classes and taking at least nine credit hours. University officials then send housing applications to the housing contract appeal committee to be evaluated. All first-year students are required to live on campus unless they file for an exemption, according to the university’s housing website.

The university is not required to accept housing contracts, but according to Stacy Mosley, the associate director of housing and contracts, very few contracts are canceled by the university — especially for criminal reasons.

“I’ve been here [for] seven years and can only think of one or two [criminal cases],” she said.

But housing applicants are not subject to background checks prior to moving in.

“It would require [student] consent to do a background check and that would be over 5,000 background checks,” Mosley said. “We can’t. We don’t do background checks.”

Mosley says that university administration is responsible for making any modifications to housing processes.

Back in July, members of several student organizations on campus sent a letter about Hayes to Pusey and two other university officials, Christine Rick and Samieca Morgan, hoping for action.

The organizations that signed the letter were:

  • Generation Action
  • National Organization for Women (NOW)
  • Students Demand Action (SDA)
  • Students Demand Peace
  • Tau Sigma

“While we understand the [school’s] hands are tied to a certain extent, we hope FAU takes this opportunity to establish our campus as a safe place,” the letter read. “Regardless of guilt or innocence, the safety of minor students and the general student body is what is most important. We would like to know what the school plans to do to reassure students that their safety is being looked after.”

Three students met with Pusey and Title IX coordinator Donovan Diaz in September after reading a Conway Daily Sun article about Hayes’ arrest. All three students declined to comment on the record for this story, citing fear of retribution from the university.

Pusey informed the students that university officials informed Christine Rick, the FAU High School
Dean, of Hayes’ presence on campus but did not contact parents. Citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Pusey declined to confirm any correspondence with Rick to the UP.

Michelle Rodriguez-Gonzalez

Rick referred UP requests for comment to the media relations staff at the university. Chief Press Officer Lisa Metcalf did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Members of those same student organizations feel that parents of FAU High School students should have been notified of Hayes’ presence on the Boca Raton campus. The high school is located 1.2 miles from Heritage Park Towers, the dorm Hayes briefly lived in.

“I’d hope there could be a warning system,” Dean said. “Parents should be aware of what’s going on.”

Pusey says it’s not that easy due to federal law. FERPA prohibits university officials from disclosing personally identifiable information derived from education records about a student to the public. But it doesn’t prevent the university from speaking out.

A respondent is anyone who is charged with an alleged violation of a law, whether it be federal, state, or university. Respondent rights are detailed in the university’s student code of conduct and include:

  • “The right to have their status remain unchanged pending final student conduct action except in cases involving the health, safety or welfare of the University Community.”
  • “The right not to be forced to present testimony.”
  • “The right to request an appeal of the student conduct decision(s) and sanction(s) imposed, as long as appropriate appeal procedures are followed.”

Citing FERPA and respondent rights, Pusey said the university was unable to disclose Hayes’ identity to students.

“How do you make a statement to the community when you’re trying to protect respondent rights?” she said. “We’re married to federal guidelines.”

Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, says that FERPA is used as a common excuse for university administration to dodge questions.

“FERPA is a very narrow statute and is very hard to violate,” LoMonte said. “Universities cannot give out the content of students’ education records. That’s all that FERPA restricts. If the information doesn’t come out of the records, the dean can talk about it.”

Students still want a statement from the university, but Pusey doesn’t see the benefit.

“I’m not sure what the positive end-all is to these statements,” she said. “To me, putting out a statement doesn’t carry any weight. You put out a statement and students expect you’re making an immediate change.”

But she says change can’t happen as quickly as students want.

Last October, the FAU community petitioned for the removal of student Ryan Richards after a Snapchat video of him repeating a racial slur surfaced on Twitter.

University administration, including Pusey, released a statement condemning racism in response to the community uproar but did not expel Richards, citing the First Amendment that protects free speech — which was met with criticism from many students.

“Social media sets expectations that are unattainable. As much as I admire a strong student voice, I cannot be swayed by it,” Pusey said.

Multimedia studies major Maddie Freshwater believes Hayes’ presence on campus is doing more harm than good for the student body and the university’s reputation.

“For a university that prides itself on being a safe environment for all students, it greatly disturbs me that they actively allowed a student with sexual assault charges to stay on campus and take classes. By doing this, it puts all students at risk,” Freshwater said. “Riley should be given the opportunity to take classes remotely and not be allowed to be on the campus until the case is closed.”

Pusey explained that there is a complex process for every case and that Hayes’ case is no different.

“There’s not one path to this. There’s many avenues,” she said. “And I have to be multipartial.”

Pusey says that if students want a change, they need to approach administration with a tangible action plan.

“That emotional labor shouldn’t be on the students when there’s administration getting paid to do it,” Dean said.

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of our October/November issue titled “On Campus and Awaiting Trial,” which you can pick up on campus or read online here.

Kendall Little is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @klittlewrites.