- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A black University of Iowa freshman told police that he was severely beaten by three white men who called him racial slurs, investigators said Wednesday.

The Iowa City Police Department said that it was investigating the assault of Marcus Owens as a hate crime. Owens, 19, walked in to the department late Monday to report the assault, which he said happened late Saturday in downtown Iowa City.

Owens told police that he was walking in an alley near several bars and restaurants when he was approached by a man and struck multiple times. Two others joined the attack, striking him several more times and calling him racial slurs, he told police. Owens described his assailants as three white men who were of average height and approximately 19 to 22 years old.

Owens, who is from Naperville, Illinois, was later treated for his injuries at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

The attack was first reported Tuesday night by WLS-TV in Chicago, which said Owens suffered damage to his eye socket, had his front teeth knocked out and injuries to his lip that required stitches. The station said he was released from the hospital Monday evening.

Students took to social media to express safety concerns and question why they learned about the alleged hate crime from the station, not the university.

University of Iowa officials condemned the assault Wednesday and moved to offer support services to Owens and any other affected student.

The university’s interim public safety director, Lucy Wiederholt, said Owens initially came to the campus police department late Monday to report the assault. A dispatcher referred him to Iowa City police after learning the incident occurred off-campus, which is routine, she said.

“It eliminates having victims retell the story more than once,” she said. “As soon as we discovered it was downtown, we didn’t ask any additional questions.”

In a statement issued later Wednesday, the university said, “We now recognize this as a failure in current UI protocol and will be working with many campus and community partners, including ICPD, to improve reporting mechanisms in the future.”

The school said that it learned more details of the assault Tuesday night from news reports. Campus police issued a crime alert Wednesday morning notifying students of the assault after getting information from Iowa City police.

Owens and his family met Wednesday morning with the dean of students’ office, where administrators offered to provide academic support during finals week. University president Bruce Harreld joined the meeting at the family’s request.

Police said they have gathered information about possible suspects and were actively exploring leads.

University vice president for student life Tom Rocklin expressed hope that criminal charges could be brought soon. If any UI students are responsible, they will likely face sanctions such as suspension or expulsion from the school, he said.

“I’m deeply concerned and saddened by the report that this was a hate crime,” Rocklin said. “We want our students to feel safe on campus and we have students today who are not feeling safe. What we hope to do here is to resolve the criminal part of this rapidly and provide some assurance of safety.”

Three percent of the 32,000 students enrolled at Iowa were black as of last fall, university statistics show.

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Follow Ryan J. Foley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rjfoley

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