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Mayville, N.D. woman frustrated by delays in rape investigation

MAYVILLE, N.D. -- Craig and Nancy Peterson were on the verge of getting a divorce. He had strayed, and she had found out.

The couple of 11 years wanted to make things right again, so they agreed on an unconventional solution: Nancy should have her own fling.

"Fair is fair is what I would say," Craig said.

But their plan boomeranged, resulting in a brutal episode that neither husband nor wife says could have been foreseen.

Now, more than a month later, the Petersons are wondering if the men involved ever will be punished for their alleged crimes.

For the sake of the couple's privacy, the Herald agreed to use aliases. The men are not identified, either, because none have been arrested or charged, though Mayville Police are investigating the incident.

State's Attorney Stuart Larson said Friday he has received reports from the three investigating agencies: the police, the sheriff's department and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He said in the coming workweek, he'll begin deciding whether to file charges, but would not comment further on the case. Nevertheless, the Petersons are frustrated with the investigation.

The night out

Nancy and her friends went to a street dance in town. The group visited three bars. At the Top Hat, Nancy met a guy.

"I ran up against him, and then we just started talking," she said. "I pretty much told him my husband cheated on me, and I was planning on cheating on him."

A random guy in earshot expressed interest.

"No. Just one person," Nancy fired back. "I'm not going to be with more than one person."

The man Nancy had her sights on wound up getting in a fight. He bolted from the bar with a buddy, and she followed.

"Halfway to the house, (Nancy's guy) got arrested, so I decided to go home with the other guy.

"... I know it's all very bad," Nancy said, acknowledging how others might view the situation.

Shortly after 2 a.m., Nancy and her new guy went back to an apartment near Mayville State University campus and started having sex. After a while, the first man showed up (the police apparently had let him go). He "came in and pretty much jumped on top of me," she said.

Nancy said that's when the sex became nonconsensual: The two men began assaulting her at the same time, grabbing her hair and forcing her to perform sex acts.

"That's pretty much how it went most of the night," she said.

Nancy conceded she was drunk. (She recalled having at least seven drinks). But she said she was thinking clearly enough to know this was not what she wanted.

After a while, Nancy blacked out. She said it was likely a combination of what was happening and the alcohol. When she came to, she discovered a new man assaulting her. Nancy bluntly asked him who he was.

"And then they all started laughing," she said.

A fourth man was asked if he wanted to get involved; Nancy screamed, "No!" The other men continued to hold her down and assault her in the dark room. None of them wore condoms, she said.

"I told them to stop. I didn't want to do this," Nancy wrote in her statement for the police. "They all kept switching positions and throwing me around how they wanted me."

The fourth man stood blocking the doorway, she said.

The men had taken Nancy's cell phone and kept it from her during the incident. Several friends tried to call her. Someone reportedly answered one of the calls and told her friend, "She's busy," and hung up.

That night, Craig, who was in South Dakota where he was working with a harvesting crew, got a call from someone he thinks was one of the four men. The caller told him his wife was having sex with several men.

Craig initially thought it was a prank.

"I didn't know what to believe at first," he said. "Then, I started to think ... 'What the heck's going on here?' because that ain't something my wife would do. I don't care how p----ed she is at me."

Later, three of the men left, and the third man stayed behind. When Nancy got up to go to the bathroom, he followed her.

"He pushed the bathroom door open, grabbed my hair, slammed me down on the sink and started all over again," she said.

Eventually, he gave it up and left.

"I was the last person to leave the apartment," Nancy said.

Disgusted and exhausted, she went to a friend's house at about 4 a.m. and later home to sleep. About 9 a.m., Nancy decided to go to the emergency room because she was in "severe pain all over," her statement says.

A nurse at Union Hospital in Mayville called the police at 9:40 a.m., July 27, a Sunday, according to the local emergency dispatcher's log.

"They have a female in who said she was raped last night," the log reads.

The investigation

Nancy said she gave an initial report to a Mayville Police officer who met her at the hospital. The police took her clothes as evidence, she said.

Nancy then went right away to a Fargo hospital, so a sexual assault kit could be done. Craig said the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo told him and his wife the kit showed forced, non-consensual sex.

"She had lacerations and bruising and bleeding," he said.

The couple said they learned from police that the apartment where the early morning July 27 incident occurred was searched July 30, a Wednesday. The Petersons said the scene should have been searched sooner to better preserve any evidence.

"They weren't moving fast enough," Craig said.

On July 28, a Monday, Nancy wrote a seven-page statement and was recorded on video describing the incident for the police. She was able to give names of three of the four men, including one she recalled meeting briefly before the night of the street dance.

Nancy said the police interviewed her Aug. 1, a Friday. She said Chief Stan Baker asked questions that riled her.

"He kept saying to me, 'So, when your husband made that phone call, that's when you decided that you didn't want to do it anymore?'" Nancy said.

"I had no idea who was on the phone. I didn't answer the phone," she said. "I didn't hear what they were saying, and obviously, I didn't hear what (Craig) was saying."

Nancy said the police asked her why she didn't attempt to get away, why she didn't fight back against the four men larger than her.

"Sorry, but I'm 5-2, 145. What was I supposed to do?" she asked.

One question made her especially irate.

"So, they never really physically restrained you?" Baker asked, according to Nancy.

"And I flipped," she said.

Nancy said the police told her they had questioned the four men.

"They all admit they were there with me that night," Nancy said. But beyond that, she said, she doesn't know what else they told police.

Since the interview, Nancy has not had contact with the authorities. Craig said any information they've gotten about the investigation, they've had to seek out themselves.

"They haven't gone out of their way to tell us anything," he said.

Craig said he worries the men won't be brought to justice.

"As far as I'm concerned, (law enforcement officials) have messed it up so bad right now that I'm afraid that these guys aren't going to get any kind of punishment for this at all," he said. "I shouldn't be angry at the cops. I should just be angry at the three of them."

Traill County Sheriff Mike Crocker said his department helped execute the search warrant to obtain evidence from the apartment. Crocker referred all questions to the Mayville Police Department, the lead investigating agency.

Baker declined to comment on the case, directing inquiries to the state's attorney's office.

'One thing

at a time'

Once Nancy reached Craig and told him she had been raped, her husband scrambled to get back from South Dakota. After some trying, he managed to borrow a pickup to drive home and be with his wife.

In a recent interview, Craig said he couldn't predict what will happen to their relationship.

"We're still together," he said. "We just wanted to get through one thing at a time."

Navigating this ordeal has been tough, particularly, in a town of roughly 2,000 people where rumors travel at high speed, the couple said.

Nancy said she feels like much of the town has heard about what happened. Many residents approached by the Herald last week did not know about the incident; however, some did. Johnny Jorgensen, a sophomore at Mayville State, said he'd heard talk of it at work.

"It's horrible," he said. "A girl should never be taken advantage of like that."

But not all shared Jorgensen's sympathetic view.

"She probably shouldn't have went with them in the first place," said a 74-year-old retired farmer from nearby Reynolds, N.D., who declined to give his name.

The man had not heard of the incident until he was asked, but was quick to offer advice to Nancy: "She should stay out of the bars."

Getting help

Nancy said that, for a while, she blamed herself for what happened.

"It was a pretty crazy night ... and I did really stupid things by even going out," she said. "I did a lot wrong, and obviously, I'm learning that doesn't justify that I was actually raped."

Emily Huemann, program supervisor for Sex Offense Services of Ramsey County, Minn., said it's not unusual for victims to feel at fault for being sexually assaulted. Huemann said her office tells victims with such mindsets: "Nothing that you do says to someone else, 'Hurt me.'"

Jude Foster, program director for the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis, said people tend to dissect victims' stories and make judgments about what they could have done to avoid being assaulted.

"We get a false sense of security by blaming victims because we can say, 'I would never do that,'" Foster said.

Nancy said an advocate from the rape crisis center in Fargo and a counselor in Mayville has been helping her come to terms with what happened.

"There's a lot that's gone on, that's for damn sure," she said.

Getting out

Nancy said she's been spending most of her time at home lately.

"I don't really go anywhere ... unless (Craig) is right there with me," she said.

Nancy said she can't stand going to the grocery store for fear of, once again, overhearing people talk about the incident. Craig said he and Nancy can hardly bring themselves to drive by the apartment where the alleged assault occurred. Nancy even quit her job as a waitress because some of the men frequent the restaurant where she worked. And, Craig said, they ran into one of the men at the gas station.

"We liked the town before. Quiet town, you know, felt safe," he said. "We don't want to be there anymore. This has pretty much driven us out."

The thirty-something couple, along with their four kids, ages 4 months to 14 years old, said they're planning to leave Mayville, where they've lived for three years, and move out of state this weekend.

Craig said the incident has left him brimming with rage: "I'm to the point where I just wanna ...."

"Just stop," Nancy said sharply, interrupting. "We know what you want to do."