Sunday, December 17, 2017
Colleges

Florida State again looks into Jameis Winston sexual assault complaint

Florida State is taking a closer look into months-old sexual assault allegations against Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston.

Last month, the school interviewed a former FSU student from Tampa Bay who accused Winston of sexual assault in December 2012, one of the woman's attorneys, John Clune, said Thursday. Although the woman has spoken with school officials on different occasions — including at a disciplinary hearing involving two of Winston's teammates — Clune said this is the first time the school received a detailed account of the accusations against Winston.

"I don't know if I'd call it opening or reopening…" said Clune, a Colorado-based Title IX attorney. "They told us that they were moving forward with the code of conduct process."

The meeting was the latest step in a months-long saga. The accusations first became public last November, prompting an investigation by the State Attorney's Office. No charges were filed, and Winston was never arrested. He has denied any criminal wrongdoing.

But the standard for criminal charges differs from the university's responsibilities. Instead of proving a crime "beyond a reasonable doubt," schools must only rule that it's more likely than not that an assault took place, according to Title IX, the federal gender-equity law. Violations of FSU's code of conduct policy can result in punishments ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.

"There is clearly a Title IX investigation commenced. There's no question, but it's not because the university did something wrong," attorney David Cornwell, who serves as an advisor to Winston, told USA Today. "It's not because these Colorado lawyers forced them to do something. It is because (the accuser) refused to be interviewed previously and now she's willing to be. That's the only reason.

"Secondly, there's a Title IX process going on. It doesn't matter because we expect this process to have the same results as the prior ones did, which is no wrongdoing."

FSU has already heard parts of the case. The school held a disciplinary hearing in May for Ronald Darby and Chris Casher — two FSU football players who were accused of violating privacy by witnessing the incident. Casher was put on probation by the school.

It's unclear why the more detailed interview didn't take place until last month. The Tallahassee Police Department said the criminal case stalled a year and a half ago because the accuser stopped cooperating — a claim her attorneys have denied.

Clune said he and his colleagues have been in regular contact with FSU since the spring. FSU's representatives said that they never received a formal complaint about the case, but the woman's team responded by saying she was willing to talk about the case, even though she never filed an official accusation.

"There are some good folks at that school that I think would like to see this handled properly," Clune said. "Maybe in a moment of weakness in the athletic department, the good folks got the upper hand."

FSU's policy is for victims to control the investigative process.

Thursday's news comes a day after FSU announced changes to how it handles sexual assault allegations. The school is reviewing its policies and is looking to hire a full-time Title IX program director.

On Wednesday, FSU launched a kNOw More awareness campaign. Initiatives included more student engagement to raise awareness of sexual misconduct, a new website — knowmore.fsu.edu — and training for all new students about sexual violence prevention.

FSU is one of 76 schools being investigated for possible Title IX violations by the Office for Civil Rights. Under Title IX, universities are expected to handle most sexual assault cases in about 60 days.

Winston led FSU to an undefeated season and the program's third national championship last fall and won the Heisman Trophy in the process. The No. 1 Seminoles beat Oklahoma State in their season opener and host The Citadel on Saturday.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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