State attorney's report: Video of Winston encounter deleted

When the State Attorney's Office resumed a sexual assault investigation against Jameis Winston that had been paused for nine months, investigators encountered several dead ends, including the deletion of partial video of the incident and erased surveillance footage.

Those details were included among 200-plus pages of documents released Friday by the State Attorney's Office, a day after State Attorney Willie Meggs declined to press sexual assault charges against Winston.

Through his attorney, Winston, a Heisman Trophy front-runner for No. 1 Florida State, has maintained that the sex was consensual. He has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

The Tallahassee Police Department began investigating when a woman reported a sexual assault Dec. 7, 2012. The case stalled two months later after police said the woman did not want to go forward, and it didn't reach Meggs' office until Nov. 12.

In the time between when the police were first called and the State Attorney's Office began investigating, some possible evidence disappeared, according to a Dec. 5 memo from State Attorney's Office investigator Jason Newlin to Meggs.

Winston's teammate Chris Casher did not mention in his signed affidavit to an investigator for the defense attorney dated Nov. 13 that he might have recorded part of the sexual acts between Winston and the woman, which he told police about in an interview the next day. According to Newlin's memo, Casher said he "did record a portion of the incident but has since deleted it and discarded that cellphone."

A statement released last month from the accuser's family through its attorney, Dade City-based Patricia Carroll, said police initially refused to interview Casher, Winston's roommate.

"It's unbelievable to me that the police did not attempt to interview anyone they possibly could," said Viktoria Kristiansson, an attorney advisor for AEquitas, an organization that helps prosecutors in violent crimes against women.

A Dec. 2 incident report says Tallahassee police didn't interview Casher because he didn't match the description of the man who entered the room during the sexual encounter and because the accuser, at the time an FSU student, didn't believe Casher was present when the incident happened.

Tampa-based defense attorney Nicole Denmon said police have to consider many factors in who they interview and what evidence they collect because of limited manpower and resources. How likely was the case to be prosecuted? Was the woman willing to cooperate?

"I don't think it's an error on the officer's fault by not necessarily interviewing every single potential witness on the onset," said Denmon, a former state prosecutor.

The State Attorney's Office's documents also said Newlin couldn't obtain surveillance footage from the bar where Winston and the woman met.

The bar, Potbelly's, has 30 cameras, but the images are recycled every 30 days and had been erased by the time Newlin tried to view them. Tallahassee police documents did not include any references to surveillance footage from the bar.

The woman deleted her Twitter and Facebook accounts at some point after the incident. Tallahassee police and Newlin both tried but failed to find the cab driver who took the woman, Winston, Casher and teammate Ronald Darby from Potbelly's to an off-campus apartment.

Meggs had been critical of Tallahassee police for waiting 11 months to give the case to his office because he normally sees high-profile cases quickly. Meggs declined to speculate at Thursday's news conference if a quicker investigation would have changed his decision.

"Obviously it would have been somewhat better if we had all gotten involved a little earlier," Meggs said.

Documents released this week gave Tallahassee police's reason for not alerting Meggs sooner.

An incident report filed Monday said the case was deactivated in February "because probable cause could not be established given the conflicting statements between what the victim told her friends and what was reported to police. In addition, the victim was unwilling to pursue criminal charges at that time."

"We take seriously the obligation to respond to any individual who wants to report a crime, regardless of who they are accusing," TPD interim Chief Tom Coe said in a statement Thursday. "We also have an obligation to the accused to investigate to see if a crime actually occurred. That is our job."

Denmon, the Tampa attorney, said long delays in investigations can lead to problems such as memory lapses or disappearing evidence.

But the investigation had other hurdles for prosecutors. Newlin's memo said investigators told Winston's accuser there were "several perceived problems with the case," including a second DNA found on her shorts. The DNA found on her underwear was linked to Winston, 19. The woman, who is from the Tampa Bay area, didn't identify the source of the DNA on her shorts, but investigators later matched it to her boyfriend, who was living in Ohio.

Meggs called the 19-year-old woman's testimony "problematic" because she had memory lapses. The woman's samples were tested and double-checked for 172 drugs and none were found, according to State Attorney's Office documents.

And Casher and Darby both signed affidavits corroborating Winston's account that the sex was consensual and reiterated their claims in interviews with investigators.

"In this particular case, I don't think (the delay) affected it one way or another," Denmon said.

Times staff writer Tia Mitchell and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

State attorney's report: Video of Winston encounter deleted 12/06/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 11:16pm]

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