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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Crime & Courts

FSU rips New York Times’ report on Winston case


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Florida State has issued a statement objecting to a New York Times story that said the university did not properly investigate a rape allegation involving quarterback Jameis Winston.

The report, written by investigative reporter Walt Bogdanich, said “there was virtually no investigation at all” by the university or Tallahassee police and that work done by the detective assigned to the case was “halting at best.”

The story also said FSU may have violated federal law by not promptly investigating the charges against Winston. It also said the university stopped granting interviews as the Times’ reporting continued.

In a media release Wednesday, FSU expressed “deep disappointment” in the story, saying it “vigorously objects to the newspaper’s characterization of the university as being uncooperative in explaining its actions” and that it gave “an incorrect impression of the university’s efforts on behalf of sexual assault victims under Title IX.”

FSU also released a letter from Liz Maryanski, vice president for university relations, to Times executive editor Jill Abramson in which she wrote “the article contains a number of significant omissions and mischaracterizations that we believe mislead Times readers.”

The university said it provided the Times with a general statement and replied to numerous questions over a period of weeks, but that the Times left those out of the story. Wednesday’s media release included those remarks.

The encounter between Winston and the accuser occurred Dec. 7, 2012, at his off-campus apartment. The Times cited records that show the athletic department knew about the rape accusation in January 2013, but “did nothing about it, allowing Winston to play the full season without having to answer any questions.”

On Wednesday, the school said “no university official outside the Victim Advocate Program received a report from any complainant naming Winston prior to when the allegations were made public in November 2013,” after police responded to a newspaper public-records request. The school also said the program’s rape crisis counselors have a confidentiality requirement that includes contact with law enforcement.

“State and federal privacy laws govern the university’s ability to comment on a particular student or disciplinary matter,” FSU’s statement said. “This is particularly crucial in cases of sexual assault, where victims may request privacy to heal. To interpret the university’s silence as a lack of interest or an insufficient ‘level of energy’ is utterly wrong.”

FSU also said it must balance its duty to investigate sexual assault cases with the welfare of the victims, who many times decline or delay going forward with criminal charges. Some often seek only counseling or academic accommodations.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether FSU violated Title IX in its handling of the Winston case, and Maryanski wrote in her letter “the university is cooperating fully with the review ... an important fact that was omitted from the story.”

The Times’ story said police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses.

“They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do,” Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs told the newspaper. Meggs announced the case was closed in December.

According to the Times, police detective Scott Angulo, who has also requested to work private security for FSU booster functions, waited two weeks to contact Winston after his accuser identified him as the suspect a month after the incident.

However, police contacted Winston by phone, instead of in person, and Winston avoided talking to the investigator. His attorney later told police his client would not answer questions.

The Times report also said detectives failed to obtain the surveillance video from the bar where Winston met his accuser, losing possible evidence.

The Times also reported that part of the sexual encounter involving Winston and the accuser was recorded on video by one of Winston’s friends, but it was erased before police learned of it. Police later made no effort to investigate why it was erased or where the phone was, the story said.

The Times said the friend was teammate Chris Casher, who was later charged with a student-code violation by FSU for taking the video.

Winston, who has claimed the sex was consensual, did not miss a game in 2013 and won the Heisman Trophy while leading FSU to a 14-0 season and national championship.

In December, Pat Carroll, the Dade City attorney for the accuser, said her client was victimized by a shoddy police investigation and a hasty conclusion to the case by Meggs’ office. In January, she said she “absolutely” planned to file civil lawsuits against Winston and Tallahassee police.

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