The Niagara Regional Police have arrested Rick Lowes, 65, owner of the Country Corner Market, in Fonthill, charging him with three counts of Sexual Assault, and one count of Sexual Interference with a Person Under 16 Years of Age.
A publication ban prohibits the disclosure of any information about the alleged victims that may lead to their identification.
Reached at his business, Lowes, a butcher by trade, initially told the Voice that he had no comment, then added, “That was supposed to be…first of all, it hasn’t gone to court yet. There were supposed to be no comments until it goes to court for the allegations.”
In fact, there have already been five court proceedings in the matter, not including Lowes’ initial arraignment, after which he was released on his own recognizance on a $2000 bond.
Furthermore, the Voice only learned about Lowes’ arrest—which occurred 24 weeks ago, back on March 4—after being tipped off by a citizen concerned that the case was being “buried” by the Niagara Regional Police. After the newspaper published an appeal for additional information last week, two more sources came forward.
In early April, an anonymous female caller left the newspaper a voicemail message, outlining in broad terms claims about Lowes, who is a Thorold resident, asserting that he had been banned from three specific restaurants in Welland, without saying why.
While the Voice will agree to keep the names of sources confidential, it will not generally proceed on a tip unless those sources reveal their identity to the newspaper. Accordingly, no effort was made in April to look into the caller’s allegations—which did not include any mention of sexual assault.
In mid August, after receiving additional information about Lowes from sources who did identify themselves, the Voice reached out to the three named restaurants for information. Managers at two of the restaurants said they had no comment, while the manager of the third said that he did not recognize Lowes’ name—inquiries that Lowes was informed of, telling the Voice last Thursday, “I just heard somebody tell me that you called them on Niagara Street. Bloggers were telling me that you called them on Niagara Street.”
Lowes asserted, incorrectly, that there was a ban on any reporting of his arrest, and said, “Maybe I’ll give my lawyer a call.”
The Voice had already spoken with Lowes’ lawyer, Mark Evans, after reviewing court documents in the case.
Despite there having been five court proceedings following Lowes’ arrest, the case has gone nowhere. On each occasion—April 14, May 12, June 9, July 7, and August 4—the matter was adjourned to a later date. The next proceeding is set for September 1, in Welland. Evans has yet to enter a plea for his client.
“The case is still in the early stages,” Evans told the Voice last week. “I have not yet read the full disclosure documents.”
A source whose identity and relationship to the Niagara Regional Police the Voice has agreed not to disclose over concerns of retaliation, asserted that some members of the force were disturbed that the case against Lowes had not proceeded more quickly, and were concerned that there was effectively an effort that the charges be “buried”—citing the fact that the NRPS never issued a media statement about Lowes’ arrest back in March.
Police services typically, but not always, issue statements to the media when filing sexual assault charges, in part to alert the public to an ongoing investigation as well to request other alleged victims to come forward. Two such police news releases appear elsewhere in this week’s issue.
“It’s common knowledge that he has buddies [in the police service], especially with the older [staff],” said the source. “But, you know, giving away free lunch meat shouldn’t buy you a pass for [alleged wrongdoing]. The younger [staff], the ones who still have kids at home, sure they’re upset.”
Lowes and Country Corner Market have long donated food to several charitable causes in Pelham and Niagara. Recent donations mentioned on the business’ Facebook page include “Free Food Front Line Fridays,” a joint effort with 91.7 Giant FM, and contributions to the Fonthill Lions Club and Women’s Place of South Niagara. Lowes was the Fonthill and District Kinsmen Club’s 2008 Citizen of the Year. The Welland Tribune quoted a club member saying of Lowes, “He’s a rough diamond but he’s got a big heart.”
It took the Voice multiple attempts to get a clear answer from NRPS communications staff as to who made the decision not to issue a press advisory when Lowes was arrested and why.
NRPS Corporate Communications Manager Stephanie Sabourin finally told the Voice that it was “categorically false” that police opted not to issue a release “in a calculated manner.”
Sabourin said that the case, being investigated by detectives in the Special Victims Unit, was reviewed by a sergeant acting as Case Manager.
“The detectives would consult with that person in determination if there is a need to issue information publicly,” said Sabourin. “This would be done if there was an investigative belief that there are potentially more victims. It is rare that a suspect’s name is released in regards to a sexual assault investigation, and even rarer in a sexual assault investigation involving a person who is underage.”
Sabourin asserted that not issuing press statements in some cases is to ensure “that the victims are not identified or further revictimized.”
Any person with information they believe of value to the NRPS investigation may contact the Sexual Assault Unit at (905) 688-4111, Ext. 1025110.