Awaiting trial, alleged serial rapist in Polk, Dakota Co. out on bail

- Fourteen-year-old Jasmine Hansen did not imagine her nightmare would begin just a few miles from home on a warm summer night in June 2016.

Jasmine and a friend snuck out and walked to a nearby Walmart to meet two men. One of them knew Jasmine’s friend. The other man, 18-year-old S’emaj Okongwu, they had both encountered on social media.

Okongwu was a promising cornerback at Apple Valley High School. He was planning on playing at Itasca Community College the coming season.

"He was in the passenger seat, his friend was driving and we got in the back and went out to Burnsville,” Jasmine said. 

And it's there, at Okongwu's Burnsville home, that court documents allege he began to force himself on Jasmine.

He first used his hands, but Jasmine pulled away.

“[I was] thinking he'd get the vibe,” Jasmine said. “I don't want to do anything with him…couple times after that he flipped me onto my stomach, took my pants off and continued to rape me."

It would last about ten seconds. When it was over, Jasmine ran for the door. Her friend had already left.

As she walked out, Okongwu said some final words she’ll never forget.

"He's like, ‘This didn't happen’,” Jasmine said.

But, investigators say it did happen, and as it turns out, Jasmine was not the first victim. And, she would not be the last.

Court documents reveal a striking pattern.

In May, just 34 days before Jasmine's encounter with Okongwu, he took a 13-year old girl into his Burnsville home where he allegedly took off her clothes and raped her.

The young victim would not come forward to police until months later. But in late June, Jasmine mother's had a feeling her daughter was not alone.

"Too much about it that felt this had happened before. That he had hurt other people and needed to be stopped,” Melissa Simon, Jasmine’s mother, said.

On June 17, just hours after Jasmine's rape, Okongwu was arrested by Burnsville police. He was later charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct.

But, his bail was only set at $1,500 – far less than bail amounts that would eventually follow. The conditions of his release did not stop him from being around underage girls.

Melissa says she thinks about that all the time.

“It hurts because I wish I could have saved them,” she says.

Melissa worried what might come next, but she never imagined it would happen at a place like the Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp.

Located near Fosston, Minnesota, the camp is described on their website as a place where "the prairie meets the pine.”

But in late July, it was also a place where a man charged with rape met dozens of young girls.

"It's like an accident, you see an accident happen, you don't plan on the accident but it happens,” said camp manager Don Van Klompenburg.

On the night of July 28, investigators allege camper S'emaj Okongwu forced a 16-year-old girl onto a rock, pulled down her pants and raped her.

Fox 9 asked Polk County investigators why S’emaj was not arrested on the spot.

"Like anything we have to make sure we have probable cause to make an arrest and by the time we got there [S'emaj] had already been back to the cities,” Polk County Sgt. Mike Norland said.

Norland led the investigation. By the time it was over, sheriff's deputies would learn there was not one victim, but two.

Court documents alleged that on July 25, Okongwu was also able to isolate a 15-year-old girl, pulled down her pants and sexually assaulted her.

Neither Polk County investigators nor bible camp management say they knew at the time that Okongwu was charged with rape.

It seemed, whether by accident or on purpose, Okongwu was learning how to evade the system.

"The system is really not able to respond the way that it should, the way these victims deserve and so it's producing collateral damage,” Kristen Sukura, executive director of the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis, said.

At the Sexual Violence Center, Sukura knows the names and faces the system often forgets. Stories easily lost in staggering statistics that show for every 100 rapes, only about five to 20 will ever be reported.

"The people who are actually going to do that are brave and that their bravery cannot be met with justice is just a very sad thing,” Sukura said.

It would not be until Sept. 28, two months after the alleged Polk County sexual assaults, that a warrant for Okongwu's arrest would be issued. It was about that time that his football stats came to an abrupt end.

Okongwu kicked off the team on Sept. 30, but he remained a student at Itasca Community College until Nov. 1.

The Itasca Community College provost told Fox 9, Okongwu "removed himself voluntarily.” The decision lined up with what happened just days earlier on Oct. 31, when allegations connected to the very first sexual assault in May triggered a third warrant for his arrest.

On his way out of the Dakota County courthouse, S’emaj Okongwu had nothing to tell FOX 9. By this time he'd been arrested and bailed out three times.

In the long, cold walk back to his mother's car, there was plenty to consider – a sexual assault in June, two in July and now another, with the one that started it all back in May now finally coming to light.

But months after the first assault, Okongwu was free once again.

"He doesn't deserve to be walking the streets, we don't know what he is doing,” Jasmine said.

"We feel failed, we feel like the system has failed us,” Melissa said.

Okongwu has so far pled not guilty to all charges in Dakota County. But for Melissa and Jasmine, the truth remains anything but innocent. Their reality is one full of questions that will last a lifetime.

"I wish it didn't happen to any of us, but also I wish I was the only one,” Jasmine said.

Okongwu has also pled not guilty to all charges in Polk County. Jasmine's case is scheduled to go to trial this April.


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