Safety concerns resurface after sex offender Mercer student arrested

Written by: Svetlana Craft, Maria Ramos & Jasmine Santalla

What happened: The crime, the suspect, the arrest

Mercer student and repeated sex offender, Adam L. Woolf, was arrested following an incident at the campus gym on February 7. He has been charged with five counts of second-degree luring, three counts of fourth-degree lewdness, and five counts of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child.

A source with direct knowledge of the case, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive subject matter, gave The VOICE the following account of what happened. On Tuesday, February 7 two girls, aged 10 and 11, arrived a few minutes early to their 5:20 PM swim practice at the Mercer pool. They were approached by a man they didn’t recognize on the pool deck. He was medium height, balding, and had a British accent.

Acting as though he was a college employee, the man told the girls there were new rules because of chlorine in the pool, and that they had to go downstairs and shower in the women’s locker room before they could come back up for practice.

Although they thought it sounded odd, the girls headed slowly down the stairs to the empty locker room. Hearing footsteps, they hid in the toilet stalls, standing on top of the seats. They heard the man, later identified as Woolf, enter and say: “I know you girls are in here!”

The girls waited until all was quiet before venturing out, then spotted feet below one plastic shower curtain and immediately ran out of the locker room and up to their practice.

The allegations presented by Assistant Prosecutor, Renee Robeson, suggest Woolf also approached three boys on the team, lured them into the shower and exposed himself to them. All the children were later called into the police to give statements taken by the Special Victims Unit.

According to Breanna Santini, a Mercer student who works as a lifeguard and receptionist at the gym, and who was there on the evening of February 7, the swim team’s coach, Nancy Shapiro approached her and asked, “If I recognized this man in an overcoat who claimed to be campus security, but wasn’t wearing an ID or uniform.” Santini says she told Shapiro she did not recognize him.

Soon after that, Santini says, Shapiro contacted campus security to alert them that there was a problem. Shapiro was coaching a YMCA team that uses the facilities, and is not a college employee. The VOICE reached out to her for comment multiple times but was turned down.

According a statement from county prosecutor Angelo Onofri, campus security quickly handed the case off to the West Windsor police department who he commended for their work on the case.

Woolf who had slipped out of the gym at first was quickly apprehended and brought to the police station, leaving later that evening after his attorney, John Furlong, arrived. He was not formally booked and charged until February 8, during which time it appears he returned to his parents’ home in Skillman, NJ. According to records online, Skillman is where his prior arrests took place.

On February 15, at Woolf’s first court hearing before superior court Judge, Peter E. Warshaw, the judge did not allow him to return home, despite his father’s requests. The judge asked Furlong if his client had sought a program for help or was considering attending one. Woolf’s lawyer, responded saying that they would look into one and would have an answer for the judge by Woolf’s next court date of March 1.

What came next: Campus safety and the notification

Woolf’s record as a sex offender goes back to 2006, with other incidents following in 2007, and again in 2009 according to records online. All of the incidents seem to have been against girls under the age of 13. Woolf himself was only 13 when the first arrest took place, but under the sex crime laws in New Jersey, commonly known as Megan’s Law, Woolf would have been tried as an adult in the courts and subject to adult penalties.

During the February 15 hearing, Judge Warshaw noted that in addition to the current events, there had been another allegation against Woolf in 2015 that was still pending in 2016. He clarified that he was not assigned to hear that case, in which a female student at Mercer had reported Woolf for harassment.

Reporter David Foster at The Trentonian, obtained the incident report in which the female student indicated to security that even though she had initially been friends with Woolf, she felt he was now harassing her. Campus security investigated, the Title IX coordinator was notified, and the college decided the situation didn’t rise to the level of harassment but told the student she could file a complaint with the police, which she did. The case, which has lingered in court for 15 months, still has not been resolved.

In an interview with The VOICE the day after the pool incident, Mercer Dean of Students, Dr. Diane Campbell said, “We are aware if there is a sex offender among our student body. Mercer is aware when a sex offender is registered in courses.”

When asked what the college’s policy is on allowing registered sex offenders to attend, campus Public Relations spokesman, Jim Gardner, told The VOICE that that was beyond his purview, but said, “We are an open campus and we have students from all walks of life, many of whom are looking for second chances.”

Woolf is registered as a “tier 3” or “high risk” sex offender. According to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General’s website: “If the risk level is high (Tier 3), in addition to law enforcement agencies, schools, licensed day care centers, summer camps, registered community organizations, and members of the public are notified,” when an offender is present.

Mercer shares its campus with the The Joseph F. Cappello School, which, according to the Mercer County Special Services School District, “serves students between the ages of three and seven.” Mercer also runs “Camp College” a summer day camp for elementary and middle school aged children and has many minors on campus through programs such as Jump Start and Career Prep. Then there are off campus groups like the YMCA swim team that have permission to use specific campus resources, such as the pool, on a limited basis. It is not clear which, if any, of these programs were aware of Woolf’s presence.

Keighley Webb, an Education major, told The VOICE: “I cannot believe I sat so close to this man for 15 weeks in my public speaking class last semester. Woolf asked a number of girls in the class, including myself, for our phone numbers. We all felt sorry for him because of his learning difficulties and we wanted to help him. Little did we know that we had just given our personal phone numbers to a registered sex offender.”

Director of College Safety and Security Bryon Marshall, told The VOICE that his team is always worried about the safety of the students, and that there is a notification process if there is a sex offender on campus. He said, “Yes, yes, absolutely. We would send [notification] out through Dr. Campbell. She has all the students’ emails and information. We also have the MAlert system. So we would provide information to the degree necessary. So then, in a sense, she would inform the general population.”

However, during the time Woolf was released, before he was formally charged and detained, the college did not use its emergency alert system–MAlert–to notify students about the incident. The MAlert system was working, however, as students did receive snowstorm information.

Mercer Professor of Criminal Justice Elizabeth Bondurant, formerly Chief of Police in Plainsboro, was asked by The VOICE, from her knowledge of the law, if the college had any obligation to let the campus know if a sex offender might be at large after an incident on the campus. She responded: “I would say that it was a police matter that supersedes the college’s responsibility. So I believe the police department, West Windsor, who investigated it, would be responsible and most likely would have released information in a press release.”

Although the West Windsor Police Department handled the initial investigation of the case, their public information officer referred the matter to the county prosecutor’s office which did not release an official statement until a week after Woolf was apprehended on campus. Articles in local papers came out the same day.

Katriel Perez, a Computer Science major, told The VOICE: “I think it’s something we should have been told about. To hear it from a Twitter account but not your own school makes no sense to me.”

The first official notification from the college about the February 7 events came via a broadcast email on February 17. Mercer President, Dr. Jianping Wang, wrote: “Over the last two days, items have appeared in the news media about a recent incident in a MCCC facility involving a Mercer student and underage youth.” Dr. Wang emphasized the legal obligations of the YMCA team saying, “The organization’s use of the pool facilities is guided by the terms and conditions of a rental agreement, which requires that underage children be supervised by adult participants, coaches, or spectators.”

Dr. Wang concluded her letter to the college community saying, “I strongly encourage you to work with us to enhance campus security.  If you see something, say something.” Official posters with that same phrase have now appeared in the P.E. building.

Student and Staff Reaction

Mercer students’ reactions to Woolf’s arrest and the college’s response to it, ranged from stunned to outraged.

Nicole Migliaccio, an Education major, told The VOICE: “I am kind of shocked that no one was alerted. After hearing about the situation, and realizing that I had seen [Woolf] around campus previously, not knowing what his intentions were, it’s kind of unsettling now that even after the fact students weren’t informed directly. I found out through Facebook.”

Stefany Changanaqui, a Communication major, told The VOICE: “It’s crazy. Why wouldn’t Mercer notify us? It’s a big thing and it concerns my safety. What if something disturbing like this happens again? Is Mercer not going to let us know? We have a right to know if there’s a sex offender wandering around campus, just so we can be cautious. It’s disturbing because it’s like a slap in the face from our campus saying they don’t care about our safety.”

Lina Garcia an Exercise Science major, who had a class with Woolf, struggled to understand her own experience with Woolf. She told The VOICE, “I was shocked when I saw the news. Adam Woolf was a somewhat shy classmate, with a soft voice and sometimes [he] looked like a child. No one could ever imagine that he could be a sexual harasser.”

The VOICE asked Dr. Robert Kleinschmidt, Dean of Liberal Arts and Communications, if he knew about Adam Woolf’s background or the incident that lead to Woolf’s arrest, he said he did not and declined to give an interview.

Likewise, Communications Professor, Mitch Canter, who was Woolf’s academic advisor told The VOICE he, too, had never been made aware his advisee was a registered sex offender.

Ongoing security questions

The VOICE obtained copies of the campus daily security logs from the day of Woolf’s arrest, but found they do not contain any record of a call coming in to security from coach Shapiro regarding the pool incident, nor of the arrival of the West Windsor police.

Mike Hiestand, an attorney at the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), told The VOICE in a phone interview that the incident should have been reported into the campus daily logs.

Hiestand said: “Pretty much everything that occurs on campus, where a crime has actually taken place, should have been noted [in the logs] there…They need to provide enough information about the crime so that you have a general understanding of what’s going on.”

The logbooks are records the college must maintain as part of the Clery Act. The law is named after a college student, Jeanne Clery, who was beaten, tortured, raped and murdered in her freshman dorm room at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in 1986. No one had told her parents that 38 other violent crimes had been reported on the campus in the three years prior to their daughter’s death. They advocated for a law that could keep other parents and students informed.

Colleges have two basic obligations under Clery. According to the Student Press Law Center’s website, “Under the Clery Act, colleges that receive federal funding must report annual crime statistics, maintain a daily crime log, and produce an annual report detailing security policies.”

However, Mercer officials had a different interpretation of the law. A week after Woolf’s arrest, Bryon Marshall told The VOICE, “By definition [The] Clery [Law] has a discrete set of variables that you have to examine before you make an entry into a Clery report, and the conduct that occurred here does not reach those levels that we know of. As the investigation continues it may or may not. There is a particular definitional categories which are reported. Is it Clery reportable? By definition, no, based on what we know.”

It is not clear if Marshall was conflating the daily logs–which had no record of the call on February 7 or the visit from the police to pick up a student–with the annual crime report, which, based on the charges now filed against Woolf, will certainly be required to include the incident. Nor is it clear how the annual reports can be filed accurately if there is no record of incidents in the daily logs.

Mercer has run into problems with inaccurate crime reporting in the past. In 2012 The VOICE reported that the college had filed annual reports indicating zero crime for three years, even though various incidents had been reported and occurred on campus. The report also revealed that incidents which were handed over to local law enforcement–similar to the handoff of the Woolf to the West Windsor PD–were omitted from the college’s reports between 2009 and 2012.

When asked if colleges often have a series of ongoing problems with crime reporting, SPLC attorney Hiestand told The VOICE: “Typically, if you’ve been slapped on the wrist or in violation with Clery, we do not see repeats coming in. We would think that would be the wake up call to get your act together.”

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About Svetlana Craft, Maria Ramos & Jasmine Santalla

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