All we (still) know about the Jameis Winston case: Investigators failed

Stacy Revere

A reminder that the Tallahassee Police Department and Florida State University should have done more to pursue an alleged act of violence against a woman, and should have done it more quickly.

The New York Times has published a lengthy review of the investigation into a rape allegation against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and involving two of his teammates. It concludes with a line from a former assistant state attorney about "keeping players on the field" being "a priority" in Tallahassee.

It contains a few new details on Winston, and is a thorough summary of a side of the story (it does exclude some information that works in Winston's favor and some that suggests a different conclusion), primarily the ineffective work done by Tallahassee police and by the school.

We already knew the Tallahassee Police Department performed a meager investigation, which focused at least as much on the accuser and her relations as it did on the suspect. And we knew Florida State's investigation was also unsatisfactory, as it didn't begin until the football season had concluded (and as evidenced by the Department of Education opening a probe into how the school handled the case).

The Times finds more signs of failure, such as the police's inability to locate the players' taxi driver and the investigation being marred by a delay in obtaining security video from the bar where the alleged victim met at least one Seminoles player. By the time police requested the footage, it had been cycled over.

And Willie Meggs, the Florida state attorney who helped turn the announcement that Winston wouldn't be charged into a circus, finds numerous faults, including the investigator's choice to first contact Winston by phone instead of surprising him at baseball practice.

Willie_meggs_medium

Meggs and others laughing during the press conference announcing Winston was not going to be charged with sexual battery/Photo credit: Tallahassee Democrat-USA TODAY

The most damning information provided by the story is the barrage of evidence that the half-hearted rape investigation was not unique. The Times on another rape case, in Oct. 2013, involving Florida State students [my emphasis added, because I'm a father, and ... wow]:

The police response was so inappropriate, according to the father, that later on, in a complaint filed with the police, he compared it to the Winston inquiry, which had recently drawn criticism in the news media.

The father, a part-time deputy sheriff in another county, said he was away on business when he called his daughter and found her crying and confused. With prodding, she disclosed that she had just spoken to the police about "a situation," but would say no more. An officer had told her that "it might be better not to inform me," her father said.

Alarmed, he asked his wife to call. She did, and their daughter said she had been raped. The mother and a family friend, also a law enforcement officer, immediately drove more than two hours to Tallahassee. They found the daughter with what appeared to be choke marks on her neck.

The Times also reports a second woman sought counseling after an encounter with Winston, but that she didn't believe she had been raped. No crime was committed against the second woman, according to chief assistant state attorney Georgia Cappleman, who did find the incident "troubling," in the Times' words.

As far as the Winston case goes, we're in largely the same predicament we were when the news first broke in Nov. 2013: we don't know what happened.

We do know that there was an allegation of sexual assault in 2012. We know that the alleged victim had been drinking, the alleged incident happened around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. December 7th, and police were notified (not through 911) at 4:43 in the morning. We don't know whether that involved the police going to the apartment in which the alleged incident occurred or if the alleged victim went to them.

[...]

We do know that the vast majority of sexual assaults do not result in conviction, and most do not result in charges even being filed. It is a crime, but one that rarely leaves definitive evidence - and often the prosecution process dehumanizes the alleged victim as much if not more than the incident itself. So many times the victim of a sexual assault will choose not to cooperate or press charges.

We don't know if any of that information is applicable to this specific situation, however. If it's not, then Jameis Winston's life will have been made worse by someone else's alleged crime. We don't know.

Winston has never been charged. According to our legal system, he is innocent. He would remain so even if charged, unless a jury were to find him guilty.

Either Winston or his accuser is wrong about what happened on Dec. 7, 2012, but both of their lives have been made more difficult. Due to the lack of a full, prompt, professional investigation, this is the only unimpeachable conclusion I know of.

Update: Florida State has released a statement, via Tomahawk Nation:

RESPONSE TO TODAY'S NYT STORY

The university expresses its deep disappointment in today's New York Times story alleging FSU officials did not properly investigate a rape allegation against Jameis Winston "in apparent violation of federal law." It also vigorously objects to the newspaper's characterization of the university as being uncooperative in explaining its actions.

The university provided the newspaper with a general statement (below) and numerous written answers over a period of weeks. Most of the responses were left out of the story, giving readers an incorrect impression of the university's efforts on behalf of sexual assault victims under Title IX.

Among the points FSU emphasized but were either missing or downplayed in the NYT article:

  • FSU does not tolerate sexual assault. Even one sexual assault is a problem. Like other colleges and universities that are grappling with this issue, we actively provide programs and educate students on safe behavior, the meaning of consent and how to properly report cases of sexual misconduct. Contrary to the article's over-arching theme, FSU takes this matter seriously.
  • State and federal privacy laws govern the university's ability to comment on a particular student or disciplinary matter. 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.
  • The university must balance its duty to investigate sexual assault cases with the welfare of the victim. Many students who contact the Victim Advocate Program make it clear they are only seeking counseling and academic accommodations. They either decline or want to delay the decision to go forward with university or criminal proceedings. Guidance from the U.S. Dept. of Education (April 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter) makes it abundantly clear that the university needs to take these wishes into account. To rush victims or disregard their wishes not to proceed would be re-traumatizing and hinder their recovery.
  • Nevertheless, as part of its services to victims, the Victim Advocate Program always advises its clients about the option to file a criminal or Code of Conduct complaint or both. Advocates often explain the option more than once and even offer to support the victim through every step of the process, including accompanying the victim to the police station or a student Code of Conduct hearing.
  • The article also failed to explain the extent of the other services offered by the university's victim advocates, who are trained and dedicated professionals providing 24-hour, on-call assistance to victims. Among the services are finding a victim or family members a safe place to stay; making referrals to counselors; re-arranging class schedules to accommodate the victim's needs; contacting professors to reschedule exams; finding accommodations for the victim's roommates; planning social accommodations; helping victims drop classes or get copies of their transcripts; and providing support and resources to family members. These accommodations are precisely the type of actions contemplated by the "Dear Colleague" letter and are offered to every victim.
  • The Victim Advocate Program operates under a statute unique to Florida that gives all rape crisis counselors a confidentiality privilege. Advocates cannot breach this confidentiality--even to talk to police--without a waiver from the client.
  • In the case examined by The Times involving Jameis Winston, 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.
  • At no time has there been or is there now a complaint on record from a student referred to by the State Attorney's Office. The university has been aware of the information in The Times article, however, and has fulfilled all of its legal obligations under Title IX.
  • The paper's suggestion that FSU underreports sexual assaults is misleading. The campus statistics used by The Times to make that point do not account for the crucial fact that 83 percent of FSU's students live off-campus, where incidents are handled by the Tallahassee Police Department and are not required to be reported as part of the university's annual campus crime statistics. Despite this, the university provides full victim services to any student regardless of where he or she lives.

The Times has done its readers, as well as the FSU community, a disservice by omitting these answers and by seriously misrepresenting the university's concern and care for its students who are victims of sexual assault.

FSU STATEMENT PROVIDED NYT PRIOR TO 4.16.2014

Following is the full statement the university gave The New York Times prior to today's article:

Like all other colleges and universities, FSU is faced with a balancing act when following the "Dear Colleague" letter. The need to investigate possible harassment must be balanced against the rights of and consent from the complainant. As the letter states: "If the complainant requests confidentiality or asks that the complaint not be pursued, the school should take all reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the complaint consistent with the request for confidentiality or request not to pursue an investigation."

Given the inherent tension within the "Dear Colleague" letter, FSU seeks to empower victims by giving great weight to their wishes when it comes to counseling, academic accommodations and supporting them through criminal or university proceedings. In a great number of cases, the victims make it quite clear that they don't want to file a police report or pursue a Code of Conduct process.

FSU's Title IX/Code of Conduct process has worked well for the vast majority of sexual assault cases. The process has provided victims with the emotional and procedural help they need, and the university has handled dozens of cases over the years that have resulted in the discipline of respondents.

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