Art Briles, Baylor assistants kept players' misbehavior under wraps, legal documents reveal

ByPaula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach ESPN logo
Friday, February 3, 2017

FormerBaylorcoach Art Briles and his assistant coaches actively intervened in the discipline of football players, worked to keep their cases under wraps and tried to arrange legal representation for their players, according to a series of emails and text messages released by three university regents in a legal filing Thursday.

The document filed in a Dallas County court was in response to a libel lawsuit that former football director of operations Colin Shillinglaw had filed Tuesday against the school and several members of its senior leadership.

The regents' response alleges Briles and his coaching staff created a disciplinary "black hole" into "which reports of misconduct such as drug use, physical assault, domestic violence, brandishing of guns, indecent exposure and academic fraud disappeared."

Shillinglaw and former assistant athletic director Tom Hill were fired in May, after lawyers with Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, hired by Baylor to assess the school's handling of sexual violence complaints, found systematic failures in the way Baylor responded to allegations of sexual assault and other violence by students, including football players. The investigation led to the firing of Briles, the demotion and eventual departure of university president and chancellor Ken Starr, and the sanctioning and resignation of athletic director Ian McCaw.

In an email to ESPN, Shillinglaw's attorney, Gaines West, called Thursday's filing "very unorthodox."

"It's really hard to discern just what it is these defendants assert. We are anxious for the complete truth to come out, instead of just a bunch of disconnected accusations," he wrote.

Ever since the university issued a summary of Pepper Hamilton's findings in May, there has been an outcry -- particularly vocal among supporters of Briles and the football program -- to release the specific findings from the investigation, with the belief by some that those details would exonerate the coaches.

On Wednesday, Briles dropped his defamation suit against three regents and Baylor vice president Reagan Ramsower, less than a week after another woman filed a Title IX lawsuit against the school, in which her attorneys allege there were 52 sexual assaults committed by "not less" than 31 players from 2011 to 2014.

Among the information released in Thursday's legal filing is a description of what happened when the former girlfriend of Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman reported that Oakman physically abused her. She made a report to Waco police, and brought a copy of it to Shillinglaw and "two other people she believed to be assistant football coaches." The response to the lawsuit states, "There was no evidence that Shillinglaw or anyone in the football program shared the report with Baylor officials outside of the athletics department. Worse, when Pepper Hamilton questioned Shillinglaw about the incident and showed him evidence of his involvement, Shillinglaw insisted he did not recall anything about it."

The woman, a Baylor student, declined to pursue the criminal case and left the state. She returned to Baylor in the summer and fall sessions of 2013 but withdrew after more encounters with Oakman. In January 2015, the woman and her mother met with a learning accommodation specialist at Baylor who, upon hearing her story, immediately contacted judicial affairs, the Title IX office, the student life office and the office of general counsel. The legal filing states the specialist wrote, "I haven't seen a student as scared and upset as she was in a long time. She mentioned that she lives in constant fear, 24 hours a day she is scared that [Oakman] or his friends will come beat her up. The mom also talked about Baylor protecting the guy because he is a Baylor football player and that he had an assault record before he was at Baylor."

According to the response, the first allegation of gang rape involving Baylor football players surfaced in April 2013, when a female student-athlete confided in her coach that five players raped her at an off-campus party in early 2012. According to the response, the woman told her coach that the incident "started with one football player and the other players were soon 'all over her.'" She identified each of the players who allegedly sexually assaulted her, and the coach wrote their names on a piece of paper.

The regents' response says the woman's coach -- Outside the Lines previously confirmed the coach was former Baylor volleyball coach Jim Barnes -- addressed the woman's allegations with McCaw, who told him to talk to Briles. The response says Barnes showed Briles the names of the players, and he replied, "Those are some bad dudes. Why was she around those guys?" The response says Briles "offered no defense of his players and told the coach he should have his student-athlete inform the police and prosecute." McCaw allegedly told the coach that if his player didn't press charges, there wasn't anything the athletic department could do.

The response says the woman's mother later met with a football assistant coach at an off-campus delicatessen and provided him the names of two of the five players who allegedly sexually assaulted her daughter. The assistant talked to the players, who claimed it was consensual and "fooling around" and "just a little bit of playtime." The assistant coach said he contacted other Baylor coaches. According to the legal filing, their "apparent response was to engage in victim-blaming." The assistant concluded the accusations were in a "gray area," and Pepper Hamilton attorneys found that no one, including Briles, notified police, judicial affairs or anyone outside of athletics about the alleged gang rape.

Briles and other coaches would state that any failure to report accusations of assault or related behavior was due to the fact that Baylor lacked any clear instructions on what to do, noting that the university did not have a Title IX office until November 2014 and that none of the coaches received proper training. But the response filed Thursday noted that Briles should have been aware that judicial affairs had jurisdiction in investigating allegations of sexual assault because on April 23, 2013, "the very same day Coach Briles learned about the student-athlete's account of being gang raped -- he was forwarded a letter stating that Judicial Affairs had investigated and cleared another one of his players of sexual assault allegations."

The 54-page response to the lawsuit notes several other incidents that football coaches knew about but were never reported to judicial affairs. On Feb. 11, 2013, when a coach notified Briles that a female student-athlete complained that a football player had brandished a gun at her, it states that Briles responded, "what a fool -- she reporting to authorities." The legal filing then states the assistant responded, "She's acting traumatized ... Trying to talk to her calm now ... Doesn't seem to want to report though."

In one of the messages, dated April 8, 2011, the response notes that Briles sent a text message to an assistant coach, referencing a freshman defensive tackle who was cited for illegal alcohol consumption, "Hopefully he's under radar enough they won't recognize name -- did he get ticket from Baylor police or Waco? ... Just trying to keep him away from our judicial affairs folks. ... "

In reference to a player who was arrested for assault and threatening to kill a non-athlete, a football operations staff member "tried to talk the victim out of pressing criminal charges," the document states. The correspondence from Sept. 20, 2013, quotes Briles in a text to McCaw, "Just talked to [the player] -- he said Waco PD was there -- said they were going to keep it quiet -- Wasn't a set up deal ... I'll get shill [Shillinglaw] to ck on Sibley." (Sibley was in reference to Waco attorney Jonathan Sibley.) It states McCaw responded, "That would be great if they kept it quiet."

Briles again referenced having Shillinglaw contact Sibley on behalf of an athlete in an Aug. 15, 2015, exchange regarding a player who was arrested for possession of marijuana. Briles texts an unidentified assistant coach and asks, "Do we know who complained?" The response to the lawsuit states the assistant coach responded that it was the superintendent at the player's apartment complex, to which Briles replied, "We need to know who (sic) supervisor is and get him to alert us first."

Some of the other exchanges were:

  • A September 2013 text from Shillinglaw to Briles about a player who allegedly exposed himself to a masseuse, who had a lawyer and was asking the athletic department to handle the situation with discipline and counseling. Briles responded, "What kind of discipline ... She a stripper?" and after Shillinglaw responded that the player was at a salon and spa for the massage, Briles texted, "Not quite as bad."
  • In October 2013, Shillinglaw and Briles corresponded about a player who was suspended for repeated drug violations. "Bottom line, he has to meet with [vice president for student life Kevin] Jackson tomorrow morning. If Jackson does not reinstate President will," Shillinglaw wrote.
  • A May 2014 exchange showed Briles and an assistant coach arranging for a player who was caught selling drugs to transfer to another school, noting the offense was never reported to judicial affairs. The assistant coach is quoted as texting, "Him just hanging around Waco scares me. [Another school] will take him. Knows baggage."

The regents' response also claims Briles personally appealed to Starr on behalf of former Bears defensive lineman Tevin Elliott when he was charged with a second count of plagiarism, which made him ineligible for the 2011 season. After Elliott missed an April 2011 appeal deadline, according to the response, Briles "personally took up Elliott's cause more than two months later" in June.

"The coach notified President Starr in an email that Elliott wanted to appeal the suspension," the response says. "The unusual request by Coach Briles triggered concern among top Baylor administrators, who complained to President Starr and among themselves that overturning Elliott's suspension after the appeal deadline would send a message that athletes were above the rules."

The response says Elliott's appeal letter was suspect and "appeared to have been authored by an academic adviser in the Athletics Department. Nevertheless, President Starr ignored the decision of his Provost and overturned the suspension."

In another break with university policy, according to the response, Starr put Elliott under the probationary watch of the athletic department and not judicial affairs, which was responsible for overseeing enforcement of the school's honor code. Because of Starr's decision, the athletic department became the sole arbiter of whether Elliott was complying with the terms of his probation and what consequences he should suffer if he failed to adhere to them, according to the response.

In the fall of 2011, according to the response, Elliott had "attendance problems, was in danger of flunking his human performance class and was caught cheating on quizzes." On Oct. 21, 2011, an athletic department employee wrote to McCaw: "Wow, what is this kid thinking?" McCaw replied: "Unbelievable!"

On April 1, 2012, a woman told Waco police that Elliott raped her at her apartment three days earlier. Two weeks later, on April 15, Jasmin Hernandez told police that Elliott raped her behind a pool house near one of his teammates' townhomes. When the coaches learned of the allegation, an assistant coach texted Briles and told him that Elliott "firmly denies even knowing the girl." But, after interviewing Elliott the next day, the assistant told Briles that Elliott "admitted he lied to us. He was with her and said when she said stop he did."

"Wow -- not good -- I'll call you later," Briles replied.

When the assistant texted Briles later and told him that Elliott had been contacted by Waco police, Briles replied: "Dang it."

On Jan. 24, 2014, Elliott was convicted of raping Hernandez and was sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His trial would reveal accusations by three other women that he raped them and a conviction of misdemeanor physical assault of another.

"The Athletics Department's unwillingness to crack down enabled Elliott to stay at Baylor and play football," the regents' response says.

Thursday's legal filing notes that the messages were collected by the Pepper Hamilton law firm that was investigating Baylor's response to sexual violence. "There could be dozens more, but Pepper Hamilton believed it had compiled enough to support a conclusion that those in charge of the football program, including Shillinglaw, improperly covered up disciplinary problems other than sexual assault," it states.

The response to Shillinglaw's libel suit filed Thursday was on behalf of three regents he had named as defendants -- chairman Ron Murff, Cary Gray and David Harper -- who are represented by Houston attorney Rusty Hardin. Hardin said the regents felt compelled to defend themselves personally against the lawsuit by releasing the information, even though Hardin said it does expose the university even more in the defense of its six pending Title IX lawsuits, four of which include women who said they were raped by football players. The response reads less like a legal document and more like a narrative for Baylor's entire sexual assault saga, explaining why the regents had remained mostly silent but were pressured to release details of the evidence against Briles and the coaching staff in light of the groundswell of opposition to his firing -- widely seen this past fall at football games in which people wore black T-shirts or carried black banners with the hashtag #CAB for "Coach Art Briles."

Thursday's legal filing recounts a meeting that Baylor alumni and donors had with regents, who were unwilling to share more details of the investigation, citing privacy concerns. It states that the regents tried to explain why they couldn't keep people whom they found responsible for Title IX failure because that would not uphold the "mission of the university." It quotes a donor as responding, "If you mention Baylor's mission one more time, I'm going to throw up. ... I was promised a national championship."

The response notes that the regents could no longer "allow Coach Briles' supporters to continue polluting the record" and had a "right and a duty to set the record straight."

"When a college football coach goes 6-7, 5-7, and 5-7 for three consecutive years, no one blinks an eye when the coach is fired. But when at least 17 women report sexual and physical assaults involving at least 19 football players, including allegations of four gang rapes, why is anyone shocked by his dismissal?" it states. "Contrary to some people's belief, Briles was not a 'scapegoat' for the University's larger problems -- he was part of the larger problem."

Briles' attorney, Ernest Cannon, could not be reached Thursday for comment and did not respond to a text message or email.

With social media reaction already calling for the NCAA to take action against Baylor in light of the new information, Hardin said Baylor should be commended for hiring Pepper Hamilton, releasing the highly critical results of the investigation and firing its head coach at a time when most other colleges confronted with such allegations would just quietly pay off the victims and not investigate further.

"At the end of the day, I'm hoping that the NCAA and others will recognize that instead of punishing Baylor, they ought to be saluted," he said. "I think they ought to be held up as a model for how to respond."

When reached, the NCAA had no comment.

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