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USFSP accused of failing to protect student sexually assaulted in parking garage

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Willie Fudge III, accused of attacking a USFSP student in 2016.

A University of South Florida student who was sexually assaulted in 2016 is accusing the school of not providing adequate protection for her safety.

The student, identified in documents as “L.E.,” was a USF St. Petersburg undergraduate who had been sexually assaulted by a non-student Feb. 22, 2016, after entering the elevator at the Parking Garage on the USF campus. The building, at 260 5th Ave. S in St. Petersburg, also holds the Barnes & Noble USFSP bookstore, and has only one elevator.

A lawsuit filed June 5 in Pinellas County Circuit Court said the attacker escaped. However, USFSP Police Chief David Hendry told that police eventually arrested a suspect: 26-year-old Willie Fudge III, who at the time of the incident lived less than a block away from the parking garage.

Since the attack was sexual in nature, Pinellas County Sheriff’s online records provide only minimal information on the arrest, which resulted in at least two felony battery charges and a misdemeanor charge of exposure of sexual organs.

According to court records, Fudge pleaded guilty of all three charges and was sentenced Aug. 26, 2016, to a year in prison followed by two years’ probation.

Available offender information from the Florida Department of Corrections shows Fudge has been on probation since Feb. 22, 2017, with no indication he ever served time in a state prison, suggesting that Fudge may have served a small part of the sentence in the Pinellas County Jail.

Redaction errors on court documents reveal the plaintiff as a 23-year-old Tampa resident who obtained a bachelor’s degree from USFSP in 2017.

She is accusing the campus police — whose headquarters are on the 3rd Street side of the same building as the parking garage— failed to provide adequate protection against such an attack.

Filing suit against the board of trustees of the University of South Florida, she is seeking damages for negligence.

The suit says that the USF board “had a duty to L.E. to use reasonable care and take adequate measures to provide a reasonable degree of safety and to protect L.E. against reasonably foreseeable criminal acts of third parties at the Premises. Further, USF had a duty to use reasonable care to ensure that the premises were safe from injury from reasonably foreseeable criminal acts of third parties” and that the area had been “locations of numerous prior criminal acts, including crimes against persons and property.”

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