Local News

Key question: Was Duke hospital employee sexually assaulted in bathroom?

Posted September 29, 2015 1:53 p.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2015 7:02 p.m. EDT

— The attorney for the female employee who was attacked in a Duke University Hospital on Sept. 20 raised questions Tuesday about why the case is not being investigated as a sexual assault.

The attack occurred at about 6 a.m. in a visitor bathroom on the ninth floor of the hospital. Workers said the female technician was followed into the bathroom after completing a procedure and was choked and shoved to the ground.

She was bleeding and nearly unable to walk and was eventually loaded onto a stretcher and taken to the emergency room for treatment, witnesses said. But Justin Bamberg, the victim's attorney, said the attack went much further.

"Duke administrators have adamantly denied that the victim was sexually assaulted," he said Tuesday. "And when asked, she stated, 'I can't remember if I was sexually assaulted. Why? Because I was choked to the point of unconsciousness.' And when she awoke her pants were down."

Bamberg said a rape kit was performed by the hospital's sexual assault nurse exam team, but the incident is not being investigated as a sexual assault case either by Duke Police or the Durham Police Department.

"The rape kit has not been processed," Bamberg said. "It is my understanding that until there is a suspect, that kit will not be processed - which is not uncommon procedure for law enforcement, however it does present my client with some troubling feelings and emotions."

Douglas Stokke, a spokesperson for Duke University Hospital, said officials are cooperating with police and have not been given any new information about the incident.

“Our understanding is that this case continues to be investigated as an “assault by strangulation” consistent with the police report on the incident. While aware of the statements made in the news conference this morning, we will avoid responding in the interest of protecting the confidentiality of the ongoing police investigation. The important thing is to let the investigation continue to be guided by the facts as they develop and hopefully result in the swift apprehension of the perpetrator," Stokke said in a statement.

Employees criticized hospital administrators for not issuing an alert or placing the hospital on lockdown, even as hospital security and Durham police scoured the building for the attacker.

One worker said she learned of the attack from other workers when she began her Sunday night shift.

"It was kind of a different mood because you didn’t know who knew and who didn’t know," she said.

Security guards would answer worker questions – but only if asked directly – and were told not to offer any additional information to staff or patients, workers said.

A Duke Hospital spokesman said an on-site administrator visited each unit that morning and alerted nursing leadership of the attack, but workers said they were never notified. He declined to comment on why an alert wasn't issued or why patients weren’t notified.

The attacker, who was described as a 5-foot-5 man with a dark complexion and dreadlocks who was wearing red shorts and a white tank top, remains at large.

"I have reason to believe that this was a security issue and that there were some failures that occurred," Bamberg said. "I do anticipate a lawsuit being filed in this matter on my client's behalf."