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Stanford University employee charged with making 2 false sexual assault allegations

In what the DA called a “rare and deeply destructive crime,” Jennifer Gries was arrested and accused of lying about being attacked by someone matching the description of a Black male co-worker.
Stanford University
Stanford students demanded expanded safety measures last fall after two rapes were reported. The DA now says the reports were false.David Madison / Getty Images file

A Stanford University employee was arrested Wednesday on charges of lying to authorities about two alleged incidents of rape that she claimed occurred on the California campus, prosecutors said.

According to the complaint, obtained by NBC News, Jennifer Gries, 25, of Santa Clara, was arrested on two felony counts of perjury and two misdemeanor counts of inducing false testimony after an investigation found that she twice made false accusations of rape against someone matching the description of a Black male co-worker, in what Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen called a "rare and deeply destructive crime."

The false assault reports — which did not identify Gries by name — “triggered campus wide safety alerts and campus unrest,” the DA’s office said. They also spurred national media coverage, including by NBC News, which covered the two false assault reports, as well as a student-led protest on the campus in October after the second false report.

“These false reports are damaging, both for true survivors of sexual assault and for the members of our community who experienced fear and alarm from the reports,” Stanford officials said in a statement Wednesday, noting that evidence shows false reports of sexual violence are extremely rare.

Indeed, research has shown that false reports make up 2% to 8% of sexual assault reports, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. And Black men in particular have long been falsely accused of sexual assault. Five Black and Latino teenagers, for instance, were wrongly imprisoned for six to 13 years for the 1989 rape of a white jogger in New York City's Central Park before their convictions were thrown out in 2002.

“Sexual assault and other sexual offenses regrettably continue to be prevalent both at Stanford and in our broader society. Our steadfast commitment to provide compassionate support for survivors of sexual assault and to prevent these acts from occurring in the first place remains unabated,” Stanford's statement continued.

The university's Public Safety Department spent more than $300,000 investigating the false reports and hiring outside security, according to the probable cause document.

Gries, who works in the university's Housing Services Department, has been released on $25,000 bail, and an arraignment is scheduled in San Jose for April 17, a DA’s spokesperson said.

She could face five years in jail if she is convicted, the spokesperson said.

It was not immediately clear whether she has a lawyer. Gries did not immediately respond to texts and emails at the contacts listed under her name Wednesday morning.

According to a LinkedIn profile under her name, she has worked at Stanford since August 2020 — first as a front-desk assistant and most recently as a Housing Service Centers supervisor.

Gries is on a leave of absence, officials said in the statement released Wednesday, adding that they will be “reviewing her employment in light of the information shared” by the DA’s office.

A university spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether the falsely accused co-worker is still employed.

Two false reports in two months

Gries first told county sexual assault forensic examination nurses at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center on Aug. 9 that she had been attacked by a Black man in his late 20s in a bathroom near Stanford's Wilbur Hall, according to the DA's office. It said that she alleged that she did not want to contact law enforcement and that the perpetrator was an "unknown assailant."

After she saw the subsequent campus safety alert, Gries reached out to the Stanford Public Safety Department to speak with a detective about the criminal process. When they met Aug. 17, she "refused to disclose any more details about the alleged sexual assault" but said she knew the alleged perpetrator and did not believe the public was in danger. She also asked the detective "whether human resources would be notified of this report" and "said she did not expect a community alert or for the incident to be in the news," the probable cause document says.

The detective told her the university had received "numerous questions from concerned parents of students at Stanford about whether the campus is safe."

Less than two months later, on Oct. 7, Gries again reported to a sexual assault forensic examination nurse at Stanford Hospital that she had been raped on campus — this time, she alleged, by a Black man in his late 20s in a basement storage closet.

In both cases, the probable cause document says, she signed a consent form acknowledging the nurses were mandated reporters who had to notify law enforcement about the reported sexual assaults and that they would submit her name to law enforcement along with a suspicious injury report. That led to the two misdemeanor charges of inducing false testimony, the complaint says.

Both of Gries’ sexual assault examination kits “were analyzed as priority rushes given the extreme public safety risk of a potential sex offender,” the DA’s office said. According to the probable cause document, "the lab reports showed no male DNA detected in the genital or oral areas" for both rape kits.

Evidence revealed that "Gries made up the stories due to being angry at a co-worker," the DA's office said, adding that she twice applied under penalty of perjury for funds from the California Victim of Crimes Board — which reimburses crime-related expenses — attesting that she had been sexually assaulted. She did not receive funds from the entity, a spokesperson for the DA said.

'Can't I just make his life a living hell'

An investigation by the Stanford Public Safety Department revealed that Gries had made a sexual harassment complaint against a co-worker who fit the description of the alleged rapist — a Black male in his 20s — last March and that a human resources investigation found the complaint was unsubstantiated, according to the probable cause document. She was subsequently moved to a different location at work, it says.

The investigation also concluded that she had told an acquaintance she was in a relationship with that co-worker, that he had sexually assaulted her and that she had become pregnant with twins before she suffered a miscarriage.

But Gries had not actually been pregnant, the investigation concluded. And texts between her and the acquaintance showed that Gries discussed the co-worker’s allegedly sexually assaulting her, blaming herself for the alleged assault and saying, "Can’t I just make his life a living hell myself," according to the probable cause document.

On Nov. 3, Gries again met with the same Stanford Public Safety Detective she previously spoke with and "confirmed that she personally knew the assailant." She also "asked what would happen if she provided a name," and the detective said "she would speak to that person and to other people who knew both of them," the probable cause document says.

When the detective told Gries she already knew who was being described, Gries "became visibly distraught, hyperventilated, and fanned herself" before she said "she needed air and started to cry." She left and later texted the detective that she was going to the emergency room because she felt overwhelmed, the probable cause document says.

On Jan. 24, Gries met with the detective again and "admitted to lying about the rapes and wrote an apology letter to the target of the false allegations who was the same person as the HR investigation, the victim," according to the probable cause document.

"She stated she was upset with the victim because she felt he gave her ‘false intention’ and turned her friends against her," it says.

In an interview with authorities, Gries' co-worker "denied any sexual or romantic contact" with her and said the HR investigation left him "scarred" and caused extreme stress while he was caring for his sick mother, who later died. He also provided evidence supporting where he said he was at the time of the alleged assaults, and he provided a swab for DNA analysis, according to the probable cause document.

He told authorities the false accusations had left him feeling "disgusting."

"I don’t feel human. I don’t feel human at all," he said, according to the probable cause document.

Students react

Sexual violence prevention advocates on campus said the false reports should not distract from the prevalence of sexual violence at Stanford.

"This instance of an unfounded allegation does not change the fact that 40% of women-identified undergraduate students at Stanford will be sexually violated during their time on campus," Sexual Violence Free Stanford, a student-led advocacy group, said Wednesday on Instagram, referring to the findings of a 2019 survey.

"Not only do large percentages of on-campus sexual violence go unreported, but false reporting rates of sexual violence are nearly always comparable to — if not lower than — those of other crimes," it added.