Lawyers: FSU a 'hostile environment'

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Attorneys for the woman who accused Florida Statequarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her in December 2012 filed a civil suit Wednesday against the university, alleging it didn't properly protect her Title IX rights.

Attorneys for the woman, a former FSU student, filed the civil suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando on Wednesday morning, according to John Clune, one of her attorneys.

In the lawsuit, the woman's attorneys demand a trial by jury and damages from FSU for fostering a "hostile educational environment." Her attorneys allege that FSU's athletic department deliberately concealed the reported rape from the rest of the university and didn't properly investigate the allegations as required by federal Title IX laws.

A copy of the lawsuit wasn't immediately available.

The woman alleges that Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, sexually assaulted her in his apartment on Dec. 7, 2012. Winston and his attorneys contend the sexual encounter was consensual. Tallahassee police and the state attorney's office there never charged Winston in the case.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation of FSU's handling of the woman's complaint last year. The DOE hasn't yet released its findings.

Last month, Winston was cleared of four violations of FSU's student conduct code hearing after a two-day student judiciary hearing. On Dec. 21, retired Florida State Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Harding ruled that evidence was "insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof."

In his ruling, Harding wrote, "In light of all the circumstances, I do not find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses. I cannot find with any confidence that the events as set forth by you, [the accuser], or a particular combination thereof is more probable than not as required to find you responsible for the violation of the Code. Therein lies the determinative factor of my decision."

State attorney Willie Meggs made a similar decision in December 2013, when he chose not to bring criminal charges against Winston after his office investigated the case.

On Wednesday, Winston announced that he intends to enter the NFL draftinstead of returning to FSU for his junior season. Because Winston is three years removed from his high school graduation, he is eligible to enter the NFL draft as a sophomore. Winston led the Seminoles to a BCS national championship as a freshman in 2013, and the Seminoles were the only remaining unbeaten FBS team until losing to Oregon59-20 in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year's Day.

According to the suit, FSU victim advocate Kori Pruett told the plaintiff on Oct. 25, 2013, that a second female student had reported that Winston sexually assaulted her. "With a mix of sympathy, terror, and even guilt that Winston was still free to harm others, Plaintiff began to cry," the suit said. "Pruett asked Plaintiff if she would testify against Winston if the school brought Code of Conduct charges against him and Plaintiff said she would."

The suit also alleges that FSU athletics department officials and Seminoles football coach Jimbo Fisher withheld the allegations against Winston from the school's Title IX coordinator and Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. According to the suit, "The FSU Athletics Department chose to violate school policy and not report to the FSU administration that their star recruit had been identified as the suspect in the Dec. 7, 2012 rape investigation. This deliberate concealment of student-on-student sexual harassment to protect the football program deprived Plaintiff of her rights under Title IX and caused substantial damages."

After the woman identified Winston as her alleged attacker, after seeing him in a class more than a month after the incident, Tallahassee police investigator Paul Osborn called Winston on Jan. 22, 2013 to request him to come in for an interview. Osborn then called Mike Bonasorte, Florida State's senior associate director of athletics, and told him Winston was suspected in a rape investigation.

According to the lawsuit, Bonasorte then made two phone calls to someone using the phone of Candi Fisher, the FSU football coach's wife. After talking with someone on Candi Fisher's phone, Bonasorte called Tallahassee attorney Tim Jansen. Over the next hour, Bonasorte made seven more phone calls to either Fisher's wife's phone or Jansen, the lawsuit said.

The next day, Jansen notified Tallahassee police that Winston would not be interviewed.

The investigation stalled for the next nine months. On Nov. 8, 2013, Matt Baker, a sports reporter with the Tampa Bay Times, filed an open records request asking for documents related to the Winston investigation. Tallahassee police records manager Michael Courtemanche sent the records to FSU police chief David Perry, who then forwarded the reports to Bonasorte. According to the lawsuit, Perry asked Courtemanche about Baker's background, and Bonasorte later asked FSU's sports information director to look into Baker.

The next day, Jansen obtained the police reports and acquired signed affidavits from FSU football players Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, who were in Winston's apartment on the night of the alleged incident. In their affidavits, Casher and Darby said they witnessed Winston and the woman having consensual sex.

The State Attorney's Office learned of the investigation for the first time on Nov. 12, 2013. That same day, according to the lawsuit, "Despite being on notice that two women had reported being raped by Winston, on November 12, 2013, FSU Dean of Students Jeanine Ward-Roof, who supervised Code of Conduct proceedings at FSU, emailed Chief Perry and others at FSU stating that no disciplinary proceedings against Winston were going to take place."

On Nov. 14, 2013, after news of the investigation broke in the media, FSU administrators held a meeting to discuss Winston and public relations, according to the lawsuit. Perry, Bonasorte, FSU vice president Mary Coburn and her husband, David, and general counsel Carolyn Egan attended the meeting. On Nov. 25, 2013, Ward-Roof, Egan and associate general counsel Robyn Jackson met to discuss the case.

On Jan. 23, 2014, 17 days after Winston led the Seminoles to a 34-31 victory in the BCS National Championship, FSU officials attempted to interview him as part of the school's Title IX investigation. Bonasorte joined Winston at the meeting, and the quarterback refused to answer FSU officials' questions. "FSU then concluded its Title IX investigation on the spurious ground that Winston refused to talk," the lawsuit said.

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