SANDUSKY, Ohio — In the early morning hours of Aug. 12, 2020, “L” returned to her Cedar Point employee dorm room after a night out with friends.
“I’m getting ready for bed. We have a community bathroom, and my door was unlocked so I could go back and forth,” she said. “He walked in unannounced and grabbed me and pushed me against the bed.”
L, who did not want to publish her full name, said for the next hour, the man sexually assaulted her until she was able to convince him that she had to use the bathroom.
She said she got away from him when the man looked into the bathroom to see if anyone was in there.
“I ran out a side door, where the RA was supposed to be. He wasn’t there,” L said. “So I’m like, 'I’ll just run outside because we have police officers,' and I ran outside and there’s nobody there.”
At that point, afraid that her attacker was close behind, she slipped back into the building.
“I ran up to the emergency exit and just hoped it was unlocked – because it’s not supposed to be unlocked,” she said. “I ran up there and it was unlocked.”
Unable to find help, she went into a bathroom on a different floor, hid in a stall, and put her feet up so she would not be seen.
She is one of 27 Cedar Point employees who have said they were sexually assaulted in Cedar Point housing during the past five years, according to police records.
Our two-month investigation was completed with the help of our sister stations WKYC in Cleveland and WBNS in Columbus
Women refute Cedar Point statement
By the end of 2020, the man L accused of attacking her left the United States and returned to his native country. L’s case remains open, but her story directly contradicts a statement that Cedar Point sent us.
After initially denying 11 Investigates’ request for an interview with park officials and Cedar Point Police Chief Ron Gilson, the park responded to a second request with the following statement:
“The safety of our guests and associates is always our top priority. Through a variety of methods, our on-site housing is monitored 24/7. In addition, our team is available to assist associates at any time with multiple resources, including on-site security, an emergency texting program, a dedicated and confidential associate “Speak-Up Hotline” and access to mental health programs. Associates are made aware of these resources during their onboarding process.
Cedar Point takes these matters very seriously. All reports of associate misconduct are immediately responded to, reviewed, and if appropriate, escalated to local law enforcement for further investigation.”
According to L’s account, there was not security or even a resident advisor to help her when she said she believed her attacker was hunting for her. She has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Cedar Fair, Cedar Point’s parent company, alleging the park inadequately protects employees. Cedar Point has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Both sides have filed their responses and are awaiting the judge’s ruling.
We sent Cedar Point’s statement to the women we interviewed for this series.
L, who worked at Cedar Point for three seasons, said: “Housing is not monitored 24/7 and that is the main reason we are in this lawsuit. … I am not sure if it was because of COVID, but security was cut down immensely. In past years, there were security guards everywhere.”
She added that she wasn’t aware of a texting program and said she didn’t remember the “Speak-Up Hotline” posters in the dorms. She asked a co-worker if they remembered the posters. That employee said they were only in the parks, not the dorms. Her sexual harassment training was on her first day in 2018. It was not repeated for her in subsequent years, she said.
Kacie Wilson was assaulted by Donelle Fowlkes in 2019. In the previous two years, Fowlkes was also accused of sexually assaulting women. In 2017, a Toledo case not associated with Cedar Point did not result in charges, but Fowlkes' DNA was submitted to a police database and that DNA was a hit when police submitted results from Wilson’s sexual assault test kit.
In 2018, Fowlkes was indicted for sexual battery against a Cedar Point employee while she was impaired. The case was dropped when Fowlkes agreed to plead guilty to sexual battery against Wilson. In 2020, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
His case was mentioned to Cedar Point when we asked a second time for an interview. The park sent us the above statement but did not address the Fowlkes case and has still not agreed to an interview so that we can ask about, among other things, background checks, on-site security, and sexual harassment training.
Wilson was assaulted the day before her first shift at the park. She had only attended a day of orientation. She objected to several aspects of the park’s statement. She said she was never told of any resources available to her, even after she was assaulted.
“How come I was never contacted by them after this happened on their grounds? How come I received a check for $0? They took away my money for orientation because I moved out after it happened,” she said.
A third woman, Raven Jones, said she was sexually assaulted last season. Her case remains open. She, too, said Cedar Point had no contact with her and did not offer her counseling.
When asked by a reporter if she needed counseling, she responded, “Yeah, I do. I don’t even have insurance right now. … I have a lot of nightmares, a lot of really bad dreams, sleepless nights.”
Fight for records
In late February, 11 Investigates requested all the sexual assault reports involving Cedar Point housing units compiled by the Sandusky Police Department for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In 2020, Cedar Point was open for only a limited time because of COVID-19.
Sandusky fulfilled the request quickly, providing us with two reports from 2020 and 10 from 2021. We then expanded our request, asking for records dating back to 2017. Again, the records were turned over within a day or two and those three years yielded an additional 15 reports.
During an April 6 interview with Sandusky Police Chief Jared Oliver, 11 Investigates learned that during the season, all 911 calls on park property are dispatched to Cedar Point police.
Cedar Point has agreed to call Sandusky police to handle cases that could be felonies. However, Chief Oliver told 11 Investigates that he cannot confirm Cedar Point police have made those calls in all situations that may involve a felony.
The agreement does not require Cedar Point authorities to call Sandusky police to deal with misdemeanor-level incidents. In Ohio, sexual imposition -- unwanted sexual touching -- is a misdemeanor.
On March 23, 11 Investigates sent a records request to Cedar Point Chief Ron Gilson, asking for sexual assault incident reports taken by his officers. He responded that the request would be sent to legal counsel, and if counsel determined the department was subject to public records law, the reports would be turned over within 30 days.
Previous Ohio court rulings have stated that private police forces – for example, hospital forces – are subject to public records law. And police incident reports should be quickly turned over. WTOL 11 lawyers issued a “demand” letter to the police department, giving them a deadline of April 22 to provide the records. We have received no response and cannot definitively say how many sexual assault allegations have actually been made in the past five years.
And according to Sondra Miller, the president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, institutions often guard those numbers.
“Most institutions, most communities want to paint a picture of public safety, like our campus is safe. Our community is safe. We don’t have high crime reports,” she said. “But that actually works against what we’re trying to do, where we’re trying to bring crime and sexual assault to the surface so we can address it and we can do something about it. That’s how we drive sexual prevalence down, but institutions often don’t have much incentive to be forward with that information.”
No response from prosecutor
During a March 4 phone call, Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter expressed surprise when he was told that there were 12 sexual assault reports filed from Aug. 12, 2020 through Sept. 12, 2021.
As a result, 11 Investigates shared the 12 reports with the prosecutor and asked him for a response. He did not reply. 11 Investigates sent two additional emails, asking for an on-camera interview. Baxter did not respond to those either. In addition, our team left multiple voicemails at his office, none of which were returned. We have not heard from Baxter since March 4.
As of late April, 15 of the 27 cases have been closed at “victim request.” Three others have been closed by the prosecutor. Four resulted in charges and five remain open. At least two of the open cases are under review by Baxter’s office, including Jones' case.
Late Thursday, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D, Ohio) issued a statement on 11 Investigate's reporting. "These reports are horrifying – Cedar Point must do everything within its power to investigate this," Brown said. "Companies have a responsibility to make sure that seasonal workers who live in employee housing are safe, both on and off the clock."
Living environment criticized
When WTOL 11 published the initial story for this series, multiple people commented online about the toxic environment of the Cedar Point dorms, alleging that drugs, alcohol, and sexual assaults were pervasive.
Jones' husband, Dylon, met his wife while working and living at Cedar Point. He painted a similar picture during an interview.
“Anything you can think of is there. Anything from a little bit of alcohol given to an 18-year-old to meth, heroin, cocaine. There’s a lot,” he said.
Last year, Sandusky Fire Department responded to two drug overdoses in the dorms. In 2019, that number was nine.
Nicole Bedera, a sociologist who specializes in sexual violence in dorm settings, said all these elements play a role in the sexual allegations Cedar Point has seen.
“We’re really talking about a perfect storm of risk factors. We are talking about young people, some of whom are looking to have this very carefree summer, perhaps full of sexual conquests, and then you mix in drugs and alcohol, which makes it easy to blame the victims,” she said. “It can be hard for a survivor to recognize what happened to them in the moment, especially if other people are saying it was normal.”
And Bedera said Cedar Point shares blame.
“Social scientists know that sexual violence is incredibly predictable," she said. "If you’re seeing cases happening in the same place over and over, it’s because the climate in that space allows sexual violence to persist.”
Contributing: Silas Tsang
Are you a sexual assault survivor who needs help? We have links here to resources in Ohio, Michigan and across the country.
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