Late last month, an Erie County, N.Y. grand jury dismissed all criminal charges against Elijah Bethel, a SUNY Buffalo State student and football player who had been arrested just before school started this fall for groping a sleeping female in a residence hall.
The crime allegedly occurred in the wee hours of Aug. 28, 2015, according to Albany, N.Y. ABC affiliate WTEN-TV.
The unidentified woman described the groper as a short black male wearing black shorts.
“She was sleeping, and it was very difficult for her to make an identification,” Paul Michalek, an attorney representing Bethel, told WTEN-TV.
Michalek also said that cigarettes and a lighter were found at the scene of the crime. He believes the groper left those items while fleeing.
About 20 minutes after the woman called in the crime, a SUNY Buffalo State campus police officer spotted Bethel — with three friends — on the other side of campus.
Bethel was wearing black shorts that night. At 5’7″ tall, Bethel is also reasonably short.
Bethel told the campus cop that he and his friends had been at Jim’s Steakout — “Buffalo’s best Philly cheesesteak hoagies,” open until 5 a.m. The quartet was carrying food. They showed it to the showed the cop. Bethel also produced a receipt from Jim’s Steakout.
Bethel was able to leave but, a short time later, Buffalo State cops visited his dorm room — in the same residence hall where the unidentified woman resided — and arrested him.
“They put me in an elevator to take me downstairs, and everybody on my floor had seen me in handcuffs,” he told WTEN.
Next, at a police station, police asked the woman to identify Bethel.
Curiously, police did not arrange any sort of lineup for the identification. The 17-year-old freshman was just sitting there by himself with his hands in chains.
The unidentified woman informed police they had their man.
Based on the woman’s identification, police charged Bethel with felony sex abuse.
“That’s very unfair and prejudicial as far as I’m concerned,” Michalek, Bethel’s attorney, told the Albany ABC station.
Bethel spent five days in jail.
A dean at SUNY Buffalo State also summarily suspended Bethel and banned him from the taxpayer-funded campus.
“You googled his name, it was football highlights,” Bethel’s mother, LaTonia Berkley-Taylor told the station. “Now you google his name, nothing but the assault.”
Ultimately, law enforcement officials were unable to produce any physical evidence tying Bethel to the groping incident.
Buffalo State police chief Peter Carey refused a request for an interview with WTEN-TV. Instead the police chief submitted a terse statement in the passive voice.
“Mr. Bethel’s arrest was based upon probable cause and the evidence at the time,” Carey wrote. “Evidence was analyzed resulting in the dismissal of charges.”
Bethel now attends Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H.
The native of Troy, N.Y. said he is not bitter about his experience.
“I’m not looking for an apology,” Bethel told the station. “It’s okay. I’m here to be the best I can be and help people be the best they can be.”
Bethel’s attorney does not yet appear to have filed a civil rights lawsuit.
No further arrests have been made, though local police promise they are still searching for the groper.