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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Assaults linger

On Jan. 29, Lt. Mike O’Brien of the Chico Police Department stood before reporters and announced the arrest of Lonnie Scott Keith, who was charged with two kidnappings and a sexual assault.

Beside a blown-up picture of Keith’s face and a timeline of sexual assaults committed within the last year, police laid out the items discovered in Keith’s car when they stopped him at 2:30 a.m. for running a stop sign. The items included syringes loaded with sedatives, a back seat covered with blankets and bedding, a stun gun and adhesive tape cut into several strips. The car, they said, was primed for another sexual assault.

Lonnie Scott Keith
Lonnie Scott Keith

Keith’s arrest was a major development during the investigation of a series of south-campus sexual assaults. But when he goes on trial for six counts related to the commission of sexual assaults on Oct. 7, many of the sex crimes that involved women being snatched off the street by a  man waiting in a car will remain unsolved.

Pepper spray attacker stalks streets

In September 2011, two female Chico State students were attacked by a young white man who exited a dark-colored sedan with tinted windows and doused the women in pepper spray.

One of the women, who had been exposed to pepper spray before, described the battle with her attacker in a 2011 interview with The Orion. She said passersby near West Eighth and Hazel streets watched and did nothing as she fought for her safety.

“He grabbed me and I thought he was going to put me in the car,” she said.

She began kicking and screaming and was able to get free long enough to run into her home, which was just around the corner. That same night, a witness saw a dark-colored sedan circling the neighborhood from 11 p.m. to the early morning.

“It was stalking my neighborhood,” the witness said in a 2011 Orion interview. “We haven’t seen it since.”

After that night, seven more sexual assaults would take place in the South-Campus Neighborhood over the span of 12 months. When police made an arrest in connection with two of those assaults in January 2013, their suspect didn’t fit the profile of a rapist.

“He was a respected member of the community,” said O’Brien said. “He held a position of trust within the community working at the hospital, both in Chico and Oroville. If you were putting a list of potential subjects together, he would not be on that list.”

“During this ordeal, I have lost my husband and my children have lost their father”

Lonnie Scott Keith, a Salinas native, was a physicians assistant at Enloe Occupational Health when he was arrested in January. He is a father of four children, and a husband to Kari Keith, who filed for divorce in August 2013, according to case records.

Shortly after Keith’s arrest, Kari Keith released a statement reaffirming her family’s commitment to cooperating with authorities, and lamented the impact Keith’s arrest had on her family.

“During this ordeal, I have lost my husband and my children have lost their father,” the statement read. “Our hearts go out to the victims in these cases as they deal with this difficult process as well.”

In April, a judge issued an order barring Keith, a longtime employee of Enloe, from practicing medicine.

Raising the alarm

Emily Peart, who runs an on-campus support program for victims of sexual assault, started her job in August 2012, just one month before police reported that a string of sexual assaults had occurred during the previous year.

In a press release, many victims described being contacted, pepper sprayed, and sexually assaulted by a white male. The revelation was disturbing, Peart said.

“I think, as a resident of Chico, it was unsettling and disconcerting to know we had a serial rapist out there,” Peart said.

There were 10 assaults listed on the release, and Keith would eventually be charged in connection with three of them. Police continue to investigate the other incidents, in which some victims described multiple assailants and suspects of varying races and descriptions. In most of the cases, the women were intoxicated.

Shortly after the chain of assaults was made public, Peart began fielding more calls from students asking how they could best protect themselves. When she gave safety orientations to transfer students, she spent more time going over nighttime safety.

“Most people in Chico were aware of what was going on,” she said.

After Keith’s arrest in January 2013, police had enough evidence to connect him to three of the 10 sexual assaults, said Capt. Lori MacPhail of the Chico Police Department. They have had no more reports of women being snatched off the street and sexually assaulted since his arrest, she said.

Diagnosing the problem

Sexual assault continues to be a problem on college campuses, where one in four women will be affected by sexual violence at some point, Peart said.

Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are most likely to be affected by sexual violence, and 80 percent of sexual assault victims are below the age of 30 — statistics that identify college-aged women as an at-risk group.

“And you have to keep in mind that that’s just what’s reported,” Peart said.

It’s difficult to determine how many students are affected by sexual violence, partly because universities are only required to report assaults that occur on campus. But students are regularly affected by sexual violence, she said.

“I’m very busy,” she said.


Benjamin Mullin can be reached at [email protected] or @benmullin on Twitter.

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