2018-12-08 / News

Sexual Assault Case Is Closed

By Stephanie Fortino

After a tense summer on Mackinac Island, where reports of sexual assaults caused fear in the community, two women were arrested October 9 for falsely reporting the allegations to police. Following an extensive investigation, the Michigan State Police and City of Mackinac Island Police Department came to the conclusion that the reports made in June were untrue. Detective Sergeant Gary Demers, the acting commander of the Michigan State Police Post in St. Ignace, announced the arrests at the Mackinac Island City Council meeting October 10 before the news was widely shared that evening.

The women were arraigned in 92nd District Court in St. Ignace . Mackinac County Prosecutor Stuart Spencer charged them with filing false felony police reports, which are felony crimes. The women, Zinhle Xaba and Bongiwe Mjali, are both 23 years old and spent the summer working on the Island under the J-1 Student Visa program from their native Republic of South Africa.

The reports were made June 6.

During his statement at city council, D/Sgt. Demers said the case took a turn in October when new evidence came to light.

“Just recently, some more information came about through the investigation which definitely proved that the allegations were false.... The sexual assaults did not take place.”

D/Sgt. Demers addressed the widespread concerns that local police did not warn the public enough about the possible sexual assaults. In conversations with the Town Crier this summer, Police Chief Lawrence Horn reassured the public more information would be available if needed, including descriptions of perpetrators.

“The allegations that everybody heard about, that nobody talked about, there are reasons those things were kept quiet,” D/Sgt. Demers told the council, adding the reports “were investigated to the point where, in my 23 years, I’m not sure I’ve seen as many resources placed on a single set of events.”

Now that the women have been arraigned, D/Sgt. Demers said that police noticed several red flags early on in the investigation. Those red flags were not shared publicly for obvious reasons, he said, mainly because it would be disrespectful to the women and jeopardize the case if the reports were true. Sharing police reservations about the case also could have signaled to the women, who could have fled the Island before being charged.

“We treated it as a true and actual crime that did take place until the evidence took us in a different direction,” he said.

D/Sgt. Demers also addressed public concerns that it seemed as if police weren’t actually working on the case this summer. He noted the Island was saturated with police and undercover officers.

“Just because you don’t see us front and center, doesn’t mean that we weren’t there,” he said.

If there was an imminent threat to the public, he continued, more information would have been shared.

People should not be concerned that this case will affect whether future reports of sexual assaults will be believed, D/Sgt. Demers continued, adding that is “definitely not the message we want to put out there.”

Every reported crime will be investigated, he said, adding that there are few cases when reports of sexual assault turn out to be false.

“This case is very rare in that a sexual abuse complaint was fabricated,” he said. “That doesn’t happen often.”

D/Sgt. Demers acknowledged that the alleged assaults had cast a shadow on the Island this summer.

“It was a difficult summer on the Island, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We are very glad to have the outcome that it did, to be able to prove that a crime didn’t take place.”

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