UC Berkeley student charged with sexual assaults ordered to stand trial

Finn Wolff leans against the wall as he waits with his parents during a break from court Sept. 11, 2019, at the René C. Davidson Courthouse. Photo: Emilie Raguso

A UC Berkeley student charged with raping one young woman at his former fraternity in 2017 and forcing another to perform oral sex on him earlier this year must stand trial, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled Monday afternoon.

Finn Wolff, the 20-year-old man who was arrested at his Southside Berkeley home by police investigators in May, is on interim suspension from Cal as a result of the allegations against him. Wolff’s attorney, Colin Cooper of Cooper, Cooper and Morris, said the young man is living with his parents in Utah while the case is underway. Wolff and his parents both appeared in court for the hearing, which began Wednesday and ended Monday.

Both women — addressed by the court as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 due to the nature of the charges — testified during three days of hearings. One of the young women said Wolff punched her twice and forced her to perform oral sex on him on a balcony on Warring Street in March. The other said Wolff grabbed her aggressively, bit her and repeatedly raked his teeth across her body, at times breaking the skin, until she eventually agreed to have sex with him after a fraternity “date party” in 2017 at Phi Kappa Psi.

The fraternity removed Wolff from Phi Psi in December 2018, its leadership told Berkeleyside previously, following multiple allegations of sexual assault against him during his freshman and sophomore years at UC Berkeley.


In May, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Wolff with three counts of forcible rape in relation to one woman, in 2017, and sexual battery and forced oral copulation in connection with the other, in 2019, among other charges, court documents show. On Monday, Judge Thomas Rogers ruled, at the end of the preliminary hearing, that sufficient evidence had been presented for the case to proceed to trial.

Cooper, who was retained privately by the Wolff family, had asked the judge to dismiss all the 2017 charges against his client because Wolff believed, at the time, that it had been a consensual encounter. Jane Doe 1, Cooper said, had an “after-the-fact realization” where she came to think she had been raped. Cooper argued, further, that his client had not been able to maintain an erection that night, so there had been no “actual intercourse.”

When she testified, Jane Doe 1 described extensive, deep bruising on her body resulting from Wolff, which did not heal completely for more than two months. She acknowledged that she never tried to leave the Phi Psi bedroom where they spent about 2.5 hours alone on Nov. 3, 2017, attributing that largely to the social expectations from her sorority and Wolff’s fraternity that the two of them would have sex after a “date party” on a boat several hours earlier.

Wolff and the young woman were both UC Berkeley freshmen who met for the first time on campus as part of the Nov. 2, 2017, social event that their Greek organizations had arranged. As part of that event, older members of Phi Psi and the young woman’s sorority (which she has since left) set up younger members on dates.

On the boat, the young woman testified, she and Wolff talked and got to know each other, but there were immediate red flags. She said Wolff got into an argument with a security guard and came off as “entitled.” As they danced, he repeatedly encroached on her personal space in a way that made her uncomfortable. A friend of hers repeatedly got in between them with an electronic cigarette to try to provide some relief, she said.

After the boat party, a number of students went back to Phi Psi, at 2424 Warring St., to continue to socialize. The woman said she was open to getting physical with Wolff, in part because there was social pressure to do so: “This is what you do, you hook up with your date after date party,” she testified. Had she refused, she said, “I don’t know what people would have thought of me.”

At the frat, the two were talking in a room with a number of other people when Wolff started trying to take off her dress and pinned her hands to the wall, she said. She let him know she wasn’t comfortable with that, she said, but he continued to kiss her roughly, using his teeth.

Suddenly, she said, they were alone in the room. She said she wasn’t sure what happened, but the other students had left en masse. Over the next 2.5 hours, she said, he groped and grabbed her, bit her and did other things she described as painful. She made it clear she didn’t like how he was touching her because it was too aggressive, she said, and kept trying to get him to change his approach.

At one point, she tried to push his face away because of the “sheer pressure” he was exerting on her, she said, to which he replied, “Don’t touch my fucking face.” Another time, when she made it clear he was hurting her, he chastised her, saying, “Don’t be a pussy.”

Eventually, she said, she gave in, and told him: “I’ll let you have sex with me if you stop hurting me,” she testified, adding, “I felt like he would get what he wanted…. I just, at that point, wanted it to be over.”

They tried three different positions, but Wolff could not maintain an erection, according to court testimony. Prosecutor Emily Tienken, a deputy district attorney, argued in court that the contact Wolff had with Jane Doe 1 still qualifies as intercourse under the law. The judge ultimately agreed with her.

When Wolff and the young woman ultimately left the room, which only happened after Wolff finally gave up himself, she said, there were male students sitting in the hallway outside. They clapped as she and Wolff walked past them. She felt ashamed and objectified, she said.

When she got home and in the days that followed, she took multiple photographs of the injuries left by Wolff on her body. She’d never seen anything like it, she said. But she didn’t want to report the incident. She wasn’t familiar with the process and had a midterm that day. She already felt like people were looking at her differently and treating her differently as a result of what had happened at Phi Psi.

Cooper, the defense attorney, asked Jane Doe 1 about text messages she and Wolff had exchanged shortly after the party. In those messages, she called their encounter “consensual.” Cooper read a number of those text messages into the record, pointing out how Jane Doe 1 seemed to be trying to reassure Wolff that, even though their encounter had been uncomfortable, everything was fine.

In court, Jane Doe 1 said she hadn’t yet processed what had happened to her and just wanted to “suppress it” and get on with her life: “I wanted to pretend like I was tough.”

Cooper also asked her why she had shown photographs of her injuries to her friends.

“People were going to see them regardless,” she said, because her clothing didn’t cover all of them. “I was making light of the situation.”

Many months later, during a sorority workshop on sexual assault, the young woman realized she had been raped, she testified. Wolff had repeatedly ignored her requests to stop hurting her, and she’d felt she wasn’t going to be able to end the encounter until she gave him what he wanted, she said.

Cooper asked her repeatedly, over multiple days of testimony, why she hadn’t just left the room, to the point where Judge Rogers cut him off, saying, “You’ve made your point.”

Jane Doe 1 said her feelings about reporting the incident changed over time when she heard about other incidents involving Wolff and female students. In November 2018, she said, she brought up the issue to Phi Psi’s vice president, who she considered a friend.

“I thought it would be best” if Wolff was no longer in the fraternity, she told him, “and that it would put a stop to the pattern of behavior if he was removed.” The VP told her the issue would be taken seriously, but then never got back to her, she said.

She later brought her concerns to Phi Psi President Parker Cardwell, she said, hoping he would do more. She said she was in conversations with the fraternity about how it could become a safer environment for women. Women who had been assaulted gave her permission to share their stories with Cardwell as long as she didn’t use their names.

From the beginning, she testified, she hadn’t wanted what happened to her to happen to anyone else. But eventually, when she decided to drop out of the Greek system, she pushed the issue harder and said changes needed to be made.

Cooper asked Jane Doe 1 repeatedly if she had been driven to get Wolff kicked out of the frat.

“I didn’t have a motive,” she said. “I just wanted it to stop.”

The problem was bigger than Wolff, she said. A number of friends had been sexually assaulted at Phi Psi, and she sent text messages to the fraternity to say the issue needed to be addressed, she said. Cooper alleged that the texts were increasingly threatening and prompted the university to ask for a “wellness check” on Jane Doe 1.

She told Cooper she “got in arguments” in those texts, which may have been intimidating because she was being defensive on behalf of other women who had been harmed.

In March, she said, a woman who described being sexually assaulted by Wolff got in touch with her to say that what had happened “was bad and that she wanted him off campus.” Jane Doe 1 agreed to go forward to make an official complaint at that time, she said.

Jane Doe 2 testified in court Monday about that incident. She said she’d hung out March 14-15 with friends, including Wolff, at a house in the 2300 block of Warring Street where Wolff was living earlier this year with a number of other students. The two of them ended up alone on a balcony, she testified. He started to touch her body and was not respecting her space, she said.

He pushed her into a corner, she said, and touched her breast and other parts of her body. She tried to stop him but he wouldn’t listen, she said.

“I want to keep doing this, I think you’re beautiful, I’ve always wanted to do this,” he told her, according to her testimony. She urged him to think about his best friend, who had been the woman’s boyfriend until earlier that day, and also to think about his own girlfriend. “I don’t want to do this,” she told him.

“I don’t care,” Wolff replied, as he stood within an inch of her body. He kept touching her and grabbing her, she said, kissing her on the face. When she pushed him away, she said, he punched her in the eye and then in the side. It felt like she had been “hit by a rock,” she said.

“I felt like I was in a position that I wasn’t going to escape,” she said. “I saw an enemy. I saw someone who wanted to hurt me.”

Wolff grabbed her hair in his hands and forced her onto her knees, she said, then forced her to perform oral sex on him.

“I went into survival mode and just decided not to fight back,” she said. After a few seconds, she said, she was able to push him away and crawl to the door that led into the house. When she opened the door, she was crying hysterically, she said. She called a friend to pick her up so she could leave.

The incident left her reeling.

“I thought we were good friends,” she said. “I didn’t think he would put me in that situation.”

She reported the incident to the Berkeley Police Department the next day. Initially, she did not support the pursuit of criminal charges. She just wanted to move on, she said, and forget what happened. But then she heard about three other women who had run-ins with Wolff and changed her mind.

Cooper asked Jane Doe 2 about texts between her and a former female friend who said she had seen the pair on the balcony and believed they were having a good time. Jane Doe 2 said the friend hadn’t been truthful about what she’d seen and that the two ultimately had a falling out.

Prosecutor Tienken asked Jane Doe 2 about the texts, too.

“She told me I was lying” and shouldn’t “cause drama” or go to the police, Jane Doe 2 said.

After the judge made his ruling, Cooper said he planned to discuss a possible settlement offer with the district attorney’s office.

If the case does go to trial, he said outside the courtroom, he will bring “a lot of eyewitnesses” whose description of events will be “diametrically opposed” to the testimony of both women from the hearing. Everything that happened was consensual, he said.

“Nobody’s happy about anybody feeling like there wasn’t consent,” Cooper said, adding that he would present “contrary evidence” about the claims both women made should there be a trial.

“That’s not who Finn Wolff is,” he added.