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Florida State defends how it handled Winston case

  • Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston passed under pressure from Oklahoma State linebacker Josh Furman during an Aug. 30 game in Arlington

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. >> Florida State University released a document Friday morning defending itself in the handling of the sexual assault investigation of quarterback Jameis Winston, detailing its own timeline of events.

The university said in a statement it was publicly releasing the series of events that have transpired since the incident in December 2012 because of “misinformation in the media.” The university did not name Winston in the release, but referred to allegations against “a prominent athlete.”

“The University has remained silent for one reason: To protect our students, who are after all our highest priority,” the statement read. “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.”

Florida State said the only people aware of the incident before January 2013 were Tallahassee police, campus police and the Victims Advocate Program. The program is not required to share information with school officials as a way to help victims. The athletics department decided not to file a report with the university’s Title IX administrator after Winston’s lawyer said the Tallahassee Police Department was “no longer pursuing the case” and Winston and his roommates said the sex was consensual.

The press release did not give an exact date for when the decision was made.

The university said its Title IX officials did not become aware of the incident until November 2013, when contacted by the Tallahassee Police Department. The police turned the case over to State Attorney Willie Meggs in November 2013. He announced he would not press charges about a month later due to inconsistencies and flaws in the evidence and in the woman’s memory.

The release states the woman was not made available for an interview with the school until Aug. 6, 2014. The woman’s lawyers have maintained that she was willing to talk throughout the process.

The Associated Press does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault.

Baine P. Kerr, one of the woman’s attorneys, released a statement on behalf of his client Friday in response to Florida State’s actions. He said there is a story about to break in the case and that the university “is trying to do a little preventative damage control.”

“The obvious news in its statement is that senior athletic department officials met with Winston and his lawyer one month after the rape occurred then decided to hide it from the Title IX office,” Kerr said. “The statement’s timeline is full of errors but it shows that we can add both FERPA and the victim-advocate privilege to the list of laws Florida State is willing to break to protect this football program. What else can the school do wrong in this mess?

“The whole country is moving toward improving the response to campus rape reports while Florida State backpedals the other way.”

Winston’s legal adviser David Cornwell was not immediately unavailable for comment.

Department of Education guidelines state that a university must conduct an investigation once it learns of an incident regardless of whether a complaint is filed or not and “a law enforcement investigation does not relieve the school of its independent Title IX obligation to investigate the conduct.”

“Who within the university knew what and when?” is now what it comes to, said attorney James Ryan, a Title IX expert based in New York. “And based on that, what was their response and how did the investigation take place? That, in a nutshell, is going to be the issue that is being examined by the university itself as well as anybody else on the outside looking in.

“That’s generally the issue in all these cases. If you answer that properly, then you’ve complied with Title IX.”

The university release also states that Florida State began a Title IX investigation in December 2013, but the woman’s lawyer asked officials to “cease all contact with her client.” The woman was being represented by Patricia Carroll at the time. It states that Winston met with the Title IX office on Jan. 23, 2014, but he declined to give a statement.

Florida State said in the release that there was insufficient evidence to file charges and ended the investigation with neither party cooperating. The investigation, however, could be revisited at a later date. The university reopened its investigation after speaking with the woman in early August and the statement said it is approaching “a final resolution of the complaint.”

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