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IOWA CITY — Fifteen months after a University of Iowa student told investigators she was sexually assaulted by a pair of fraternity brothers who shared video and pictures of the attack on social media, Iowa City police have arrested one of the accused men on a harassment charge.
Carson Douglas Steffen, 20, of North Liberty, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree harassment, an aggravated misdemeanor, which generally is punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine in the thousands upon conviction.
UI student Makena Solberg asserted in an October lawsuit that on Sept. 4 to 5, 2020, she was sexually assaulted in the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity — called FIJI — operating at the University of Iowa.
The criminal count against Steffen does not charge him with a sexual assault, but rather says that about 3:30 a.m. Sept. 5, 2020, he sent “a photo to multiple persons on Snapchat” of the victim “engaged in a sex act with another male.”
“The victim never gave consent to the dissemination of this photo,” according to police, who also filled an order for Steffen to have no contact with Solberg.
Although Steffen’s arresting documents mention the other man Solberg accused of assaulting her, police don’t plan to arrest Jacob Meloan, Iowa City police spokesman Lee Hermiston said.
“We have concluded our investigation and the case is in the hands of the Johnson County Attorney’s Office,” he said. “We do not anticipate any more charges against Carson Steffen or anyone else in this case.”
Steffen, who was held without bail in the Johnson County Jail pending his initial court appearance, on Wednesday hired defense attorney Leon Spies, records show.
Although the alleged assault occurred last fall, news of the lagging police response and absence of charges — aired this fall over social media and a Change.org petition that has garnered nearly 184,000 signatures — prompted days of protests, including one inciting thousands and extensive damage to the FIJI house.
“The timing of this or any investigation is not driven by public pressure, but by our responsibility to uncover the facts of the case, support the needs of the victim, and address public safety concerns,” Hermiston said. “Each investigation is different, but thorough investigations take time and cannot be rushed just to satisfy the demands of those not involved.”
UI officials have said they can’t publicly discuss any disciplinary action involving students. FIJI officials have said Steffen and Meloan no longer are fraternity members.
‘Consented to the sexual activity’
Just two days before he was booked into jail — the same day police sought a warrant for his arrest — Steffen on Monday responded to allegations against him in Solberg’s lawsuit.
In his response, Steffen said he “engaged in sexual activity” with Solberg but denied it was “without her consent and while she was in an intoxicated, physically, impaired, and physically vulnerable state of which defendants Steffen and Meloan were aware or should have been aware.”
He denied Solberg’s assertions she became sick while at the fraternity house that evening for “an official and sanctioned Iowa FIJI fraternity event.” He also denied accusations he offered her water and said “she could come into his room for it,” or that he filmed or photographed the sexual activity without her consent and shared it with FIJI brothers and the wider public.
Steffen on Monday filed counter claims against Solberg accusing her of defamation for “falsely accusing him of sexual abuse.” By publicly accusing him of a crime, she harmed “his good name, exposed him to public hatred and contempt and deprived him of the benefit of public confidence,” he wrote.
“Carson Steffen demands judgment against plaintiff for compensatory damages in an amount deemed fair and just, and punitive damages in an amount that will punish plaintiff and provide future deterrence to others, together with interest and the costs of this action,” according to court documents.
‘No duty’ to protect her
In her lawsuit, Solberg also named the fraternity and its governing bodies as defendants. FIJI officials this week denied in court filings had any role in or control over the alleged situation.
While they admitted to learning that digital images of Solberg were sent “through a group Snapchat,” they denied the group chat was established for official chapter communications.
They also denied culpability, asserting any offending behavior was caused by people “not related to or under the control of the International Fraternity and for whose conduct the International Fraternity is not liable.”
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