SWEETWATER, Fla. - Two former Florida International University students have raised questions about how a sexual misconduct incident was handled by the university.
The women who say they have since graduated said a male graduate student exposed himself to them at a campus park in April 2015 and no one informed them when charges were dropped and the university took no disciplinary action. The women said they did not know the alleged perpetrator is still enrolled at FIU and has worked as a teaching assistant.
"It's pretty scary because that's a place. It's a school. We are supposed to feel safe there," one of the women told Local 10 News investigative reporter Amy Viteri.
She asked not to be identified for privacy reasons. She talked about the incident after learning the man accused of the indecent exposure, Carlos Ruiz Pineros, was never disciplined and has continued his work at the university.
"Like if he never did anything," she said. "It's upsetting."
She said that in April 2015, she and another female student were working out at the campus nature preserve next to the football stadium.
"I hear leaves crunching and then, when I turn around, I see this guy with his penis in his hands and he was touching himself," she said.
In audio from a 911 call to the FIU Police Department, she described the incident: "I'm calling because I'm working out in front of the stadium, Gate 10. There's a guy inside, red shirt and gray shorts. I turned around and he was, like, playing with himself, looking at us work out."
She said that within minutes, officers responded to the park and took Ruiz, a graduate student in the university's biology department, into custody. According to the incident report, officers took the two students to see Ruiz and they positively identified him. The report also says Ruiz's wife told investigators she had been with him in the park the entire time "conducting an experiment for class," saying the "allegations were false."
When asked whether she had any doubt about what she saw that day, the woman said, "No, none whatsoever."
After the arrest, FIU biology professor Philip Stoddard wrote an email to university deans and attorneys, advocating for Ruiz. He wrote: "I fail to see the necessity or net benefit of our subjecting a graduate student to further disciplinary proceedings, and the further expense and sleepless nights that come with that."
"It definitely changed completely how it was handled," the woman said. "I feel like if he wouldn't have gotten involved, then things would have been taken a little more seriously."
Stoddard, who is also the mayor of South Miami, said he enlisted the help of attorney Scott Fingerhut, an FIU College of Law professor, to defend Ruiz.
A judge eventually issued an order of no contact for Ruiz with the two women. Ultimately, the charges were dropped. Prosecutors said that was due to concerns the women would be unable to identify Ruiz's face in court.
After a university hearing, the woman told Local 10 News that she assumed the school took disciplinary action, only to learn, almost four years later, that Ruiz is still enrolled and has been working as a teaching assistant.
"At least they could have called us and let us know this is what's happening," she said. "But they never let us know anything, so I feel like they didn't really handle it."
Stoddard would not speak with Local 10 News but sent an email saying Ruiz was "falsely arrested by the FIU police."
Of his involvement with the case Stoddard wrote, "FIU administration asked me to assist the PhD student in dealing with the entire matter." Ultimately, he said, an FIU tribunal dismissed the case.
The incident left both women wondering who was supposed to be assisting them through the process.
"It's very disappointing," the woman said. "I think the most disappointing part is that the school never really let us know what happened, that they just completely forgot that that incident happened."
Sources told Local 10 News that FIU police stand by their arrest of Ruiz.
An FIU representative would not comment on the university's handling of the incident as Ruiz is still enrolled at the school. Local 10 News was not able to speak with Ruiz for this story but Fingerhut, his attorney, wrote in an email that he had established Ruiz's innocence and Ruiz has moved on with his life.
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