222 South Copeland Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
An open letter to the Florida State University community
October 10, 2014
In the face of misinformation in the media during the past 10 months, Florida State University has maintained a deliberate silence about how we have handled the sexual assault allegation made against a prominent athlete. The University has remained silent for one reason: To protect our students, who are after all our highest priority.
But as we expect other stories to appear, it is abundantly clear that the continual drumbeat of misinformation about the University's actions causes harm to our students, faculty, alumni, supporters and the FSU community as a whole. Because of this, and within the constraints of state and federal privacy laws, we want to share with you more detail to set the record straight.
Below is a general timeline of how the University became aware of the allegation and how it responded. As you read through the following, we ask that you keep in mind that these events unfolded at a time when FSU, like all American colleges and universities, was adjusting to new guidance from the federal government on preventing student sexual misconduct under Title IX.
- Immediately after being alerted to a possible sexual assault of a student, the FSU Police Department (“FSUPD”) responded and determined the alleged incident occurred off campus.
- FSUPD notified the Tallahassee Police Department, which assumed jurisdiction. At this point, the suspect was unidentified.
- The FSUPD also alerted the university's Victim Advocate Program, which dispatched an advocate to meet the complainant and her family at the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital emergency room.
- The Victim Advocate Program serves as the first point of contact on campus for victims of sexual assault. Its advocates are bound by client confidentiality protection under Florida law and they work behind the scenes. They routinely inform victims how to pursue criminal and student conduct proceedings; offer emotional support and validation; give referrals to other resources; and assist with logistical help, such as contacting professors and rescheduling exams. FSU has used this confidential "victim-centered" approach, now being recommended by the White House and Congressional leaders, for nearly 20 years.
- The first time anyone at FSU outside the campus police and Victim Advocate Program learned about the alleged sexual assault was in January 2013, when a Tallahassee PD detective called the athlete on his cellphone. The athlete immediately notified the Athletics Department, where officials referred him and his family to a Tallahassee attorney.
- Shortly thereafter, the attorney informed the Athletics Department that TPD was no longer pursuing the case.
- The Athletics Department also considered accounts by the athlete and two other FSU student athletes who were present at the encounter. All three independently described it as consensual. Based on that and the TPD's decision, the Athletics Department did not file a report with the University's Title IX administrator or the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
- Although victim advocates continued to provide services and to have confidential interactions with the complainant for months, they were duty-bound not to share any of the information with FSU Title IX officials. Those officials knew nothing about the matter until November 2013, when TPD notified the University it had received media inquiries and was referring the suspended case to the State Attorney's Office for review.
- The University immediately took steps to protect the complainant’s privacy and safety. The University advised the complainant about impending news stories. FSUPD provided additional security detail for her sorority. The Registrar put her publicly available contact information on "lock down." And the FSU General Counsel persuaded the student newspaper on deadline not to publish the name of the complainant.
- The University conducted a Title IX investigation. FSU once again reached out to the complainant to ascertain her wishes but was told by her local attorney to cease all contact with her client. The University reviewed voluminous documents released by the State Attorney's Office in mid-December 2013 after the State Attorney announced that he would not bring criminal charges against the athlete. These documents included sworn affidavits, investigative reports, detailed text messaging records, recorded interviews, forensic lab reports, and toxicology and DNA results.
- As reported in the media, FSU's Title IX Office also met with the athlete on January 23, 2014, even in the absence of a complaint, but he declined to make a statement at that time.
- On February 10, 2014, with neither party offering additional information to the investigative public record, FSU found that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding in the Title IX investigation at this time. Importantly, the ruling expressly left the door open for reconsideration if further information was brought forth.
- Also in February 2014, the complainant's attorneys asked the University to preserve documents under a litigation hold, indicating FSU would be facing a civil lawsuit by the complainant.
- In April 2014, as disclosed by the complainant's attorney and widely reported in the media, the U.S. Dept. of Education Office of Civil Rights initiated a Title IX investigation of the University's handling of the case as well as all of its Title IX processes.
- In May 2014, FSU brought student conduct charges for invasion of privacy against the two athletes who witnessed the sexual encounter. At the University's invitation, the complainant appeared at the May 20 hearing and testified about the incident. During the complainant’s visit, FSU reiterated its willingness to take her statement about the athlete she alleged had assaulted her.
- As disclosed by the complainant’s attorney and widely reported in the media, on Aug. 6, 2014--after multiple requests by FSU over the previous 20 months--the attorney agreed to make the complainant available for an interview. Based on her statement, the University reopened a confidential Title IX investigation and, once again, sought a statement from the athlete.
- In a letter to the University that was widely publicized by the media, the athlete's attorney informed FSU his client would cooperate with the investigation but raised doubts as to whether the University could guarantee his right to due process. The attorney argued that the University had been compromised by an "untenable conflict of interest," in which it had to find the athlete responsible or else face a civil lawsuit, sanctions from the federal government and public and media criticism.
- As we approach a final resolution of the complaint, we remain committed to investigating this matter in accordance with our Title IX obligations and will proceed in a manner that preserves the rights of both parties despite the difficult circumstances.
The University takes sexual assault very seriously. The University is also cooperating fully with the U.S. Dept. of Education investigation into this matter. Indeed, it was the University that informed the DOE nearly six months ago about the Athletics Department knowledge of the case.
Meanwhile, as a result of our own review, we have begun enhancing our training and examining our policies while putting into place concrete changes. These changes are aimed at reducing sexual assault and sexual violence, as well as strengthening our response to sexual assault complaints under Title IX. More information on our programs and services can be found at smr.fsu.edu.
We did not want you to confuse our silence with idleness, a lack of caring or, as some have alleged, an institutional conspiracy to protect a star athlete. We hope what we've shared with you establishes otherwise.