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Attorney: Sexual assault investigation connected to Jameis Winston 'a complete failure'

ZEPHYRHILLS — The attorney for Jameis Winston's accuser renewed her criticism of the Tallahassee Police Department on Friday, calling for the Attorney General's Office to investigate the police and their handling of a sexual assault case connected to Florida State's star quarterback.

"It appears to me to be a complete failure of an investigation of a rape case," Dade City-based attorney Patricia Carroll said during a 90-minute news conference at Zephyr Park.

"Do I believe that complete failure of an investigation of a rape case was related to the fact that this gentleman was on the football team? I do."

Much of her criticism centered on toxicology results that she said contradicted the woman's behavior.

Carroll said the accuser, a 19-year-old Pasco County resident, showed symptoms — nausea, headaches, spotty memory — during the Dec. 7, 2012, encounter that were consistent with date-rape drugs. Police documents also say the woman was given a shot of alcohol by an unknown person at Potbelly's, a Tallahassee bar.

After her samples were checked and independently retested for 172 different drugs but showed no traces of anything, Carroll questioned whether police tampered with the evidence.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement calls for investigators to give blood and urine samples to crime labs "as soon as possible." FDLE didn't receive the samples until Jan. 17 — more than a month after they were taken — according to police documents.

"Which makes one wonder what the holdup was," Carroll said. "Which makes me concerned as to the validity of that evidence."

That evidence was among the points considered by the State Attorney's Office, which ended a 13-day investigation last week by announcing that it would not press charges against Winston, who has denied any wrongdoing.

On Friday, Carroll expressed concern with that investigation, too, and wondered if "the politics of football" factored into it.

Carroll asked why State Attorney Willie Meggs' office didn't search the phone records of Winston or a witness, FSU defensive end Chris Casher, and whether he adequately explored the chain of toxicology evidence.

"He should have done a lot more," Carroll said.

In a phone interview Friday afternoon, Meggs disputed Carroll's points.

Meggs said investigators focused on the woman's phone records to find out whether someone sent her a text message asking her to meet her outside, as one witness told investigators. Meggs said his office confirmed through DNA tests that the blood tested belonged to the accuser. Although it's impossible to link a person's DNA with a urine sample, Meggs said the urine and blood samples were sent in the same sealed package.

"I have never, one time, in my wildest dreams thought that someone would substitute someone's blood or urine in a rape case for no particular reason," Meggs said.

Carroll also criticized several other aspects of the Tallahassee police's investigation: failing to identify and interview witnesses immediately; releasing medical documents to media with some details redacted; refusing to get warrants to search Winston's apartment or collect his DNA; focusing too much on the accuser and not the suspect; and deactivating the case without telling her.

Statements previously released by the family through Carroll said they were available for police interviews "at all times," but Carroll said Friday they stopped calling police in April because of "fear and concern for what we were encountering."

"It was very obvious as this progressed that we didn't feel we were going to get a proper investigation, and we didn't feel we were going to get justice," Carroll said.

Tallahassee Police Department spokesman David Northway said his department didn't release some medical details because of privacy laws but otherwise declined to respond to Carroll's concerns.

"The case has been closed by the State Attorney's Office," Northway said, "and we continue to support Mr. Meggs in his endeavors."

Neither the accuser nor her family were present, and Carroll said the woman is "doing as well as she can." The Tampa Bay Times generally does not name victims or possible victims of sexual assaults.

Where the year-old case goes from here is unclear. Carroll said the woman's family isn't considering a lawsuit, but she hopes Attorney General Pam Bondi conducts an independent investigation to see if the Tallahassee Police Department has a "systemic problem" with rape cases.

"Attorney General Bondi has spoken with FDLE Commissioner (Gerald) Bailey regarding a possible formal request from the attorney alleging criminal allegations against TPD," Bondi's spokeswoman, Jenn Meale, said in an email. "No formal request has yet been received."

Any inquiry into Meggs would have to go through the governor's office, and spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Gov. Rick Scott has no plans to pursue one.

"The State Attorney's Office and FDLE did a thorough investigation of this case," Schutz said, "and they concluded that no further action on this matter is required."

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

Attorney: Sexual assault investigation connected to Jameis Winston 'a complete failure' 12/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 13, 2013 11:04pm]
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