Competency hearing ordered for man accused of rapes at shelter

Set to go to trial Monday, a judge ordered a mental health evaluation

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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A man accused of raping three women at a Vancouver domestic violence shelter in 2010 was set to go to trial on Monday, but his case was postponed after a judge on Friday ordered a competency evaluation.

Uche P. Onwuzuruike, 31, is in the Clark County Jail and accused of raping the women at the YWCA SafeChoice Domestic Violence Center while he was a resident there in the spring and summer of 2010.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard on Friday ordered Onwuzuruike to undergo a mental health evaluation to determine whether he’s fit to stand trial and assist in his own defense. The evaluation will postpone the trial indefinitely.

A warrant was issued for Onwuzuruike’s arrest in November 2011 after the three women came forward to Vancouver police investigators in the fall of 2010. The first woman interviewed by police, age 34 at the time, said Onwuzuruike approached her while she was waiting to use a computer at the shelter. He told her there was a computer in his room and pulled her arm, guiding her to his shelter room, according to an arrest warrant filed by Senior Deputy Prosecutor Camara Banfield.

In the room, Onwuzuruike then pushed her on his bed, allegedly sexually assaulting her, the woman told police.

The woman said the rape happened on July 1, 2010.

Afterward, Onwuzuruike allegedly made threats if she reported the event. “Onwuzuruike told her if she told anyone about the rape, he knew how to make people disappear, that he knew how to blow people up so no one would recognize them,” according to Banfield’s arrest warrant.

The second woman, 33, told investigators that Onwuzuruike called her into his room on May 17, 2010, so he could talk to her, according to the arrest warrant. She said she found him in bed covered with a blanket. That’s when he allegedly assaulted her.

The woman told police that she contracted herpes after the encounter, according to the warrant.

The third woman, 36, told investigators that Onwuzuruike came into her room at the shelter on July 3, 2010. After shutting the door, Onwuzuruike made sexual advances toward her, and she said that she was unable to fight him off because of a neck injury, according to the warrant. She said she repeatedly told him to stop.

“Onwuzuruike later told (the woman) that if she reported the rape, he would have her children taken away from her,” according to the warrant.

In fall 2010, Onwuzuruike was last heard to be in New Jersey. After prosecutors issued an arrest warrant, Onwuzuruike was apprehended and made his first appearance in Clark County Superior Court on Dec. 16.

He is being held in jail on a no-bail hold.

YWCA Clark County Executive Director Sherri Bennett said the organization has offered a co-ed shelter since January 2010 after officials recognized they needed to offer equal support to men and women victims.

“We know that men experience domestic violence. We felt that in order to address domestic violence in all communities, we needed to be gender inclusive,” Bennett said.

Men and women have shelter rooms on the same floor, Bennett said.

Following the alleged rapes, Bennett said officials did review policies and procedures, but felt the organization already had strong security measures. All shelter rooms and bathrooms have locking doors, security cameras and there is a 24-hour staff.

“We feel we had strong policies and procedures in place,” she said.

The director who oversaw the YWCA’s domestic violence program, Debra Adams, resigned in January 2012 because of looming budget cuts.

Citing the pending criminal case, Bennett declined to say if or when YWCA staff were alerted to the alleged rapes.