Man accused of FIJI sexual assault arrested on harassment charge

Police say Carson Steffen shared a photo of a victim engaged in a sex act with another man without consent.


Rachel Wagner

The Phi Gamma Delta house is seen on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

Caleb McCullough, Executive Editor

Editor’s Note: This article contains references to sexual assault.

Carson Steffen, one of the two men accused by University of Iowa student Makéna Solberg of sexual assault in 2020, was arrested on Wednesday and faces charges of harassment, accused of sending a sexual photo to multiple people without the victim’s consent, a year after the incident is said to have happened. The timing lines up with the allegations made by Solberg.

According to a criminal complaint, Steffen, 20, sent a photo of the victim, which other documents make clear is Solberg, engaged in a sex act with another male to multiple people using Snapchat on Sept. 5, 2020. The complaint says the victim did not consent to the photo being shared. The complaint lists the location as 303 Ellis Ave, the address of the FIJI house.

Solberg was not named as the victim in the initial criminal complaint, but on Wednesday, the Johnson County District Court issued a no-contact order against Steffen barring him from contacting Solberg. The no-contact order said the court found there was probable cause Steffen had committed first-degree harassment against Solberg.

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said she could not comment on the the case in an email to The Daily Iowan.

The date of the incident in the complaint lines up with the allegations in a lawsuit filed by Solberg against the two men. Solberg alleges that Steffen and Jacob Meloan, both members of the UI’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, sexually assaulted her at a party at the fraternity’s house and shared videos and photos of the assault with multiple people.

Court documents offer no indication any new information was presented since Solberg’s initial police report was investigated last year. In search warrants from September of 2020, police interviewed multiple people who said they saw photos and videos circulating on social media of Steffen and Jacob Meloan engaged in sex with a woman. Police seized Steffen’s and Meloan’s phones and found a photo on Steffen’s phone that corroborated a photo described by one of the people interviewed. The criminal complaint did not say whether the photo mentioned in the complaint was the same one mentioned in the search warrant.

Iowa City Public Safety Information Officer Lee Hermiston wrote in an email to the DI that the arrest is a result of the Iowa City Police Department’s investigation into allegations at 303 Ellis Ave.

“The timing of an investigation is not driven by public opinion or outside pressures, but our responsibility to uncover the facts of the case, support the needs of the victim and address public safety concerns,” he wrote. “Each investigation is different, but thorough investigations take time and cannot be rushed just to satisfy the demands of those not involved.”

Steffen was booked into the Johnson County Jail at 4:50 on Wednesday morning. He was released from the Johnson County Jail at 10:15 on his own recognizance. First-degree harassment is an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine between $850 and $8,540.

On Monday, Steffen filed a counterclaim in Solberg’s suit, denying the allegations. Steffen didn’t deny having sex with Solberg, but he said it was consensual. He is seeking reparation for damages to his reputation, loss of a future with earning capacity, and mental suffering.

One year later

Solberg initially reported the alleged assault on Sept. 10, 2020, a few days after she says Steffen and Meloan sexually assaulted her. She told police that she attended a party at the FIJI house on the night of Sept. 4, and she woke up the next morning with no memory of the night before and bruises on her legs and arms, according to a search warrant application from 2020. She was also told by friends there was a video circulating of Steffen and Meloan having sex with her.

According to the application, police spoke to several people with knowledge of the video. Police seized Steffen’s and Meloan’s phones using a search warrant, and found a photo on Stephen’s phone that corroborated a photo described by one of the witnesses.

Police also executed search warrants to obtain DNA swabs from the two men and surveillance footage from the FIJI house. No arrests were initially made in the investigation last year.

Protesters hold up signs during the third night of protests following sexual assault allegations against the University of Iowa’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta at the Pentacrest on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (Grace Smith)

In August, a petition describing the allegations and calling for the removal of the FIJI chapter from campus circulated, garnering more than 180,000 signatures. The petition sparked nights of protest on the University of Iowa campus and surrounding Iowa City community.

In October, Solberg’s lawyer, Eashaan Vajpeyi, filed a civil lawsuit seeking damages from Steffen and Meloan, as well as the Iowa FIJI chapter and the Phi Gamma Delta Educational Foundation, Inc., saying the organizations failed to protect their guests at an official fraternity function.

Steffen has denied the allegation in court, filing a counterclaim saying he did not have nonconsensual sex with Solberg. The allegations represent a “willful and wanton disregard for the rights and safety” of the defendant, Steffen’s lawyer, Leon Spies wrote, and Steffen is seeking payment for claimed damages.

The Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta, Inc. also filed documents on Monday stating that Solberg failed to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted” and requested that damages against the incorporation, if any, should be “decreased in the amount by which she failed to mitigate said damages.” 

Facebook Comments