BYU, Provo police explain ‘timely warning’ delay in sexual assault case

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Wayne Ray Leas was arrested on Nov. 12 for the Nov. 6 sexual assault of a woman in the Rock Canyon area. BYU police said a timely warning notice about the incident didn’t go out until Nov. 12 because that’s when they found out the assault happened close to campus. (Utah County Jail)

A woman was the victim of a sexual assault in the Rock Canyon area on Nov. 6, according to BYU police.

But it wasn’t until Nov. 12 — six days after the assault, and the day the perpetrator was arrested — that BYU students were notified of the assault by an email sent through BYU’s timely warning system.

University Police Lt. Steven Messick said the delay was simply because BYU police didn’t know the incident was connected to campus until Nov. 12, though they’d seen the Provo police sketch of the suspect released on Nov. 10. As soon as they knew there was a campus tie, Messick said, they released the timely warning notice.

“I don’t want to judge what Provo (police) did, but it certainly would’ve been very helpful had we been notified about it,” Messick said. “We tried to make sure (to tell Provo police) that we would like notification, especially with things close in proximity to campus … and also in areas where our students would frequent, and so it’s something that we have discussed since this.”

According to Provo Police Sgt. Brian Taylor, the Nov. 6 incident occurred close to midnight in a public restroom in the Rock Canyon area, when a woman hiking decided to use the restroom before getting too far into her hike.

The perpetrator, later identified as 34-year-old Wayne Ray Leas, followed her into the restroom. BYU’s timely warning notice said Leas had a knife and demanded the victim undress. The woman called her hiking companion, who came back down the trail and confronted Leas. He fled when confronted.

Taylor said the department didn’t immediately notify the public of the incident because it took several days to properly investigate, from searching the canyon to creating a sketch of the suspect. He also said they wanted to avoid causing panic.

“If you just put out a sketch of a sexual assault suspect without having done every reasonable investigative thing, you cause a lot of consternation and fear and panic,” he said.

However, as soon as their investigative options were exhausted, the police decided to release the sketch to the public because “it’s critical public safety information, there’s somebody out there that’s likely to recognize it and we won’t have any other immediate investigative avenues to do that without causing that kind of public alarm,” Taylor said.

Taylor said BYU police reached out to Provo police after the sketch was released Nov. 10 because on Nov. 9, BYU police officers had detained a man at the BYU Central Utilities Heating and Cooling Plant on Campus Drive who resembled the person in the sketch.

According to Messick, that man, later identified as Leas, was found in bushes on campus with a kitchen knife. There wasn’t enough evidence at that time to arrest him, as he had not yet been identified as the wanted suspect from Nov. 6.

However, the three responding officers detained him long enough to issue him a temporary ban from campus, as well as get his name, date of birth and other critical information, which they passed on to Provo police upon seeing the sketch. This information ultimately led to Leas’ arrest on the night of Nov. 12, the same day the timely warning notice was sent out.

“We’re extremely grateful that we were able to figure out who that was,” Taylor said. “That wouldn’t have happened without BYU’s cooperation.”

According to the arrest detail from the Utah County Sheriff’s website, Leas has been booked into the Utah County Jail on charges of forcible sexual abuse and aggravated robbery. Cash-only bail is set at $25,000.

Court documents show Leas has a criminal record extending back to 2002, with a range of charges including theft, trespassing and aggravated assault.

Messick said any officer can send out timely warning notifications, and the department’s goal is to send them out as quickly as possible any time there’s a threat to the safety and well-being of students. According to a BYU Office of Information Technology page, alerts can also be sent out through texts and IP phone calls.

“It’s absolutely a great way to help keep students safer,” Messick said. “I think it’s very necessary for us in doing our part to make sure that we’re giving you the information that you need.”

Messick said these notices are useful because students see and hear more than just police officers can.

BYU student Taisha Ellison, however, said it makes her nervous and a bit scared realizing she didn’t know for six days that there was a potential sexual predator in the area.

“It just kind of isn’t an easy situation to know that there’s someone that could be on campus that could be a potential threat to me, and I don’t want to be walking on campus knowing that,” she said.

Ellison, 23-year-old pre-advertising student, said she would rather have been alerted immediately of the situation “so that we can all be informed and more aware of the situation.”

She said both police departments could “definitely just kind of be more on top of things and get (information) out and not take time to just let everyone know.”

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