STANDALONE – Reilly’s ripple effect: Death of 2016 student brings GVPD trust into spotlight

Nick Moran

Nick Moran

[email protected]

A lawsuit regarding the claimed wrongful death of Rosemarie Reilly, a Grand Valley State University student, in 2016 was filed on Nov. 2, 2018, directly citing two Grand Valley Police Department (GVPD) officers and four Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) officers for their involvement and “gross negligence.” The surfacing of a lawsuit not only brings up questions surrounding the cause of Reilly’s death, but challenges if the situation could happen again.

Jim Rasor, the attorney representing Reilly and her family, said that the lawsuit was filed because Reilly’s death and lack of concurrent investigation left too many questions unanswered. 

As stated in the lawsuit, Rasor claims that the risk Reilly’s killer presented was “obvious and known,” which leaves one question lingering: why wasn’t anything done to arrest him? A key claim in the lawsuit states that local police “listened and acquiesced to” the killer’s father, who was a local officer at the time, when he “requested leniency for his son.”

OCSD and GVPD could not respond to the Lanthorn’s requests for comment due to the ongoing status of the legal proceedings. 

The Holland Sentinel reports that in OCSD’s response to the lawsuit, they claimed that Reilly did not do enough to protect herself from her killer. Rasor said he believes that Reilly did everything in her power to protect herself, raising questions about the values of both OCSD and GVPD. 

“If I was a student at GVSU, I would be worried about my police force,” Rasor said. “What was (Reilly) supposed to do?”

The relationship between victim/survivors of sexual violence, stalking and domestic abuse and GVSU’s resources are now in the spotlight. 

It’s On Us president Maddie Vervaeke said that trust plays a key role in not only reporting an under-reported crime, but helping students cope as well. Without that trust, Vervaeke said that students should go elsewhere. Vervaeke said that GVSU has certainly earned her trust, which is why she encourages others to feel comfortable with on-campus resources. 

“From my standpoint, being able to trust the centers on campus is extremely important,” Vervaeke said. “You want Grand Valley to be on your side and I think a lot of what Grand Valley stands for is (supporting) students… I personally trust the individuals who I’ve met in each of the centers and I have a relationship with them. Because of that, I would recommend people to go talk to (them), whereas if I did not trust them, I’d recommend them to go somewhere maybe off campus.”

Through her involvement with GVSU’s chapter of It’s On Us, a national movement aiming to end sexual assault on college campuses, Vervaeke said that she’s worked closely with GVPD, the Center for Women and Gender Equity and many other resources on campus for victim/survivors. With sexual violence being such an emotional experience, it’s important that student relationships with resources are strong.

“If I was having a similar issue and I had read that GVPD had done this, I would go to the Ottawa County Police Department instead, or I would go somewhere else and find support somewhere else,” Vervaeke said. “You’re not going to talk to someone you don’t know about something like that. It’s such a personal topic to people and it is about trust and building a relationship with someone before that persons starts spewing their feelings.”

While trust plays a key role in getting victim/survivors the recourses they need, GVSU victim advocate Krystal Diel said that ultimately, the recovery process is an individual one. While some students may feel comfortable pursuing legal action right away, others may need to work at their own pace, and may not feel comfortable working with police.

“Each victim/survivor is different,” Diel said. “For some individuals pursuing justice through the criminal justice system or Title IX can be incredibly healing and a way for their voice to be heard. For others, they would rather find healing through counseling or through family and friends. It’s so individual in what makes the most sense for each person.”

Vervaeke said that the most startling part of the lawsuit is it’s claim that GVPD and OCSD expressed negligence. Since It’s On Us’s inception at GVSU in 2016, Vervaeke said that the conversation surrounding sexual violence has improved to the strong point it’s at today. 

“I’m shocked by this whole thing because I know GVPD almost on a personal level and they work really closely with us, so (the lawsuit is) really surprising to me,” Vervaeke said. “I know that just recently, things have shifted and the campus climate has shifted to be very in support of victim/survivors of sexual assault. I really hope that helps. Maybe this was kind of a turning point for that.”