A woman who experienced a traumatic break-in and sexual assault in White Rock five years ago has come forward, saying she can’t keep her concerns over how police handled the investigation quiet any longer.
The woman, who asked to be identified only as Caitlin for fear of retribution from her attacker, said “avoidable behaviour” by the lead White Rock RCMP investigator who responded to her 911 call caused “years of anguish and trauma on my end.”
She said she was motivated to come forward now after learning July 10 of recent cases in which White Rock women alleged police investigating their sexual-harassment complaints suggested they move – jargon that Caitlin said struck a familiar chord.
“I had no intention of ever making this public, but when I read that, I was like – no,” Caitlin told Peace Arch News Friday (July 17).
Police have acknowledged that a review of her 2015 file – triggered by a public complaint Caitlin filed in November 2018 after she obtained the police report on the incident through a freedom of information request – “found that the officer was negligent for not taking a statement from her at the time so as to preserve and document what she originally told police.”
Caitlin, 31, told PAN that she called police around 5:30 a.m. on the day in question, after a man came into her apartment in the 15100-block of Royal Avenue and sexually assaulted her. She said she was able to break away and flee to a neighbour’s unit, but the man chased her and “tried to break that door down saying very disturbing things.”
She said police that responded arrested a man at the scene, but didn’t take down any information from her, ensure DNA evidence was collected or even ask if she needed medical attention. She said she was then told the perpetrator’s actions weren’t a crime due to his level of intoxication and the officer’s belief that she’d left her door unlocked.
Later, Caitlin said police who called to let her know the man was being released from custody told her he had a “great job and no priors,” and didn’t remember what he’d done. No charges were recommended.
In a final report on her public complaint dated May 12, 2020, White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls advised Caitlin that the officer “believed that it was not in the public interest to recommend charges in this matter and exercised his discretion not to forward charges.”
“However, I find that in this instance, that exercise of discretion was not reasonable,” Pauls wrote.
“On behalf of the RCMP please accept my apology for any inconvenience you suffered due to the actions of (the officer).”
Pauls confirmed to PAN Friday (July 17) that police did recommend a charge on the file as a result of the complaint review. While it was initially “returned to us pending the outcome of the public complaint,” it was re-submitted with requested material earlier this month, he said.
A decision on any charges “lies entirely with the BC Prosecution Service of the BC Ministry of Justice,” Pauls noted in his final report to Caitlin.
Regarding the two recent complaints being investigated, Pauls – in a news release issued July 16 – confirmed that responding officers in those files “discussed a safety plan with each of the complainants.”
“During the discussion around a safety plan, they were asked if they had somewhere they could go temporarily if they felt they were in imminent danger. This is a standard question asked during a safety plan discussion. If the complainants interpreted it as the RCMP telling them to move, that was not the intention,” Pauls stated.
He added that both incidents are being “actively investigated” and treated seriously, and that any findings “will be submitted to the BC Prosecution Service for review and charge assessment.” Further details were not released.
Caitlin said given the time lapse in her investigation, she’s not optimistic that any charge will be laid against the man who attacked her – “their tangible evidence is gone,” she said – but she is hopeful that by going public, her story will help spare others a similar anguish.
She has also asked for further review of her public complaint, in light of Pauls’ determination that three of her four neglect-of-duty allegations could not be supported.
In a June 2020 email to Caitlin, Pauls assures that if the 2015 incident had occurred under the current watch, “there would have been more follow-up conducted” and the misstep would have been caught by supervisors.
Caitlin said she regrets not standing up for herself at the time, that she didn’t file her complaint sooner and that she didn’t ask for help addressing the impacts of the trauma sooner.
Requesting the police report was part of that latter process, she noted.
“I wasn’t living, I was just going through the motions,” she said, describing moving several times, sleeping with a baseball bat under her bed and anxiety attacks that continue to this day.
“I just wanted answers so I could heal and move on and end this chapter of my life.”
Change won’t come about if those in positions of authority aren’t held accountable for their actions – or lack thereof – she added.
“We can’t fix a systemic problem by staying silent.”