Sex Assault Rumor Worries Reggae Organizers



Reggae on the River organizers are trying to sound a "safe, family event" note at the same time that they're scrambling for more details about a reported sex assault in a campground south of the festival.

The scramble hasn't been made easier by an apparent mis-communication between Humboldt and Mendocino county sheriff's departments.

Back on July 21, Humboldt sheriff's officers responded to a woman at Garberville's hospital and took her report that two men forced her into a tent and assaulted her around 3 a.m. that morning. They gathered evidence that could be used in a rape investigation, according to sheriff's spokesman Lt. Steve Knight.

But since the ugly mess unfolded at Cooks Valley Campground just south of the county line, they took the report as a courtesy to the Mendocino County sheriff's department, and would normally have sent it on to Mendocino.

Instead, it sat, until the Journal and KHUM started calling asking about rape rumors, Knight said.

"It appears to be an oversight," he said. "Evidence was collected but for some unknown reason the report was not sent to Mendocino County."

The report was faxed to Mendocino this afternoon -- more than a week later -- "because you [the media] told us about it," Knight said, adding he located the report more easily after getting the time and date of the episode from the radio station.

The buzz about the mystery crime report has frustrated Justin Crellin, general manager of the Mateel Community Center, a nonprofit whose biggest annual fundraiser is the 28-year-old reggae show. The Mateel-organized camping at Benbow this year was safe, said Crellin, and other camping wasn't under the Mateel's control. Crelling said the festival shouldn't be tarred by things that happened miles away or by memories of older, rowdier years.

"Back in the day there were untold numbers of people," he said. "It's really been scaled back to a very safe, friendly event."

Reggae has gotten safer, but women should stay alert and shouldn't attend alone, said Sgt. Ken Swithenbank, the south area commander for the Humboldt Sheriff's Department. "It seems like there's almost always some sort of sexual assault reported at Reggae. That's just the reported ones. I'm sure there's much more. It's an issue and I don't see it going away anytime soon, due to the alcohol and drugs."


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