The City Council should have better handled reports of a young girl who was sexually assaulted by boys at a Twin Falls apartment complex earlier this month, said many residents who addressed the board at its meeting Monday night.
A crowd packed the chambers to hear a briefing from Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury about false reports circulating about the incident, which contrary to claims on anti-Muslim websites did not involve Syrian refugees.
Residents said the Council should have released more information more quickly or expressed sympathy for the girl’s family, while others criticized Islam, refugee resettlement, the media or Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs.
“We need to know what’s going on with this case,” said Davis Odell.
Odell said people don’t need to know the names of the boys accused — the two boys in custody are 10 and 14, respectively, and the case has been sealed — but that the city should be transparent.
“We need to understand what the implications are of this,” she said.
Vice Mayor Suzanne Hawkins, who presided over the meeting, said the City Council should have done a better job of communicating with people, but that the situation was new for them too and that they were learning as well.
Two boys from Middle Eastern immigrant families are in custody in relation to a sexual assault on a 5-year-old girl that, authorities say, happened at the Fawnbrook Apartments on June 2. Several people came to the City Council a week ago calling on city officials to release more information.
Police and Loebs’ office were saying little last week, but the story blew up over the weekend after the boys were taken into custody. Many anti-refugee resettlement and anti-Islamic blogs picked up on it, and some incorrectly reported that the boys were Syrian refugees or made claims about other details on the attack that authorities have denied.
“The nation of Islam has declared global jihad on us,” Vicky Davis of Twin Falls told the City Council. “And Obama, this administration, is bringing them in as fast as he possibly can.”
“They’re on your head, your head, your head, yours, yours,” she said as she pointed at each Council member.
Terrence Edwards passed out pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution to the City Council, saying some of them might need to read it and be reminded of the oath they have all sworn to uphold it.
“The Muslim influence is not just a religion,” he said. “It’s a theocracy.”
Edwards said the Council wouldn’t be here tonight if they had been proactive on the issue two or three years ago, and criticized President Obama for dividing Americans further.
“Coexistence doesn’t exist in our country,” he said.
Julie Ruf criticized Councilman Chris Talkington, who at last week’s meeting asked Ruf if she agreed with some white supremacist comments made at a February meeting and also said he was glad the critics of refugee resettlement weren’t around when his ancestors came over from Ireland. Ruf said she is of Irish descent as well, and that people shouldn’t have to worry about being attacked for speaking at a public meeting.
“That was entirely dishonorable of your seat,” she said.
Ruf reiterated her opposition to refugee resettlement — she said she talks to refugees, and most of them were not fleeing any sort of crisis — and said that, while there were inaccuracies in some of the stories told about the sexual assault, “I’ll tell you most liberals have their facts wrong, too.” She went on to criticize the media in general and the Times-News in particular.
“I’ve been called so many names it’s ridiculous, thanks to the Times-News,” Ruf said.
Jesse Stroup agreed, saying people who come to speak shouldn’t be met with “sarcasm and rude insinuations.”
“I don’t know why you feel it was appropriate to treat (them) like their concerns were of little or no significance,” she said.
Talkington stood by his comments, saying one of the anti-refugee speakers at a Council meeting in February called for “preservation of the white race” and that’s why he brought it up.
Susie Kapeleris was one of the few people to praise the Council, saying she supported the way the situation has been handled. She thanked them for “the attempt to refute misinformation that I think is purely to stir up bigotry and hatred.”
Eric Odell said that he had many Muslims working under him when he was a shift leader at Chobani, and that while most of them were great people, a few were evil or frightening.
Odell called for some sort of local refugee vetting system (the federal government has the sole responsibility for vetting refugees now) to better “pick the ones who deserve a second chance.”
Nathan Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org