Feds investigate UF's handling of Antonio Callaway Title IX case

A woman files a complaint about the response to her alleged sexual assault.
Published June 30 2017
Updated July 1 2017

The University of Florida is under federal Title IX investigation for its handling of a December 2015 sexual assault accusation against star receiver Antonio Callaway, the complainant's attorney confirmed.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is looking into a complaint filed by Callaway's accuser, her attorney John Clune said Friday.

The complaint was filed Aug. 10, according to a letter to the university obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. That's five days after UF held a student-conduct hearing on the case and two days before Callaway was found not responsible by the university for any wrongdoing. Clune and his client boycotted the hearing because the outside lawyer chosen to preside over the case was a Gators booster and member of the school's Hall of Fame.

On Jan. 20, the Office for Civil Rights began investigating whether the university "failed to promptly and equitably respond to sexual violence complaints" related to this student or any other. The investigation became public soon after it began, but the connection to the Callaway case had not previously been reported.

The case stems from a sexual encounter at Callaway's residence in Gainesville in December 2015. The university received a complaint and began investigating a month later. Callaway was suspended by the school during the investigation and fully reinstated before the start of the 2016 football season in September.

Clune said his client's goal in filing the complaint is to help Florida correct some of its procedures for the sake of future students in similar situations. Clune and the woman have not ruled out the possibility of a Title IX lawsuit against the university. The Times typically does not name victims or possible victims of sexual assault.

"It seems like one of the crazier things we've seen, and yet I would have to believe there's smart people at the school," Clune said. "I think we want to talk to the school a little bit and find out how something like this actually happened before we decide on anything else."

UF has declined to address the case specifically and redacted much of its letter because of student privacy laws. But spokeswoman Janine Sikes said in an email that the school is "fully cooperating with the Office of Civil Rights."

Miami native Callaway, 20, led the Gators in receiving in each of his first two seasons. The junior has combined for 1,399 yards and seven touchdown catches. He denied any wrongdoing, in part because he said he was so high on marijuana that he had "no interest in having sex with anyone."

Callaway's attorney, Huntley Johnson, also has been critical of the university's actions. He previously accused UF of allowing a Title IX official to serve as the "prosecutor, the investigator, the judge" in the case. Johnson also alleged that the Florida official, Chris Loschiavo, had a conflict of interest because he did consulting work for an outside group with ties to Clune.

The university fired Loschiavo and determined he had "both a conflict of interest and lack of independence." Two other university officials, dean of students Jen Day Shaw and general counsel Jamie Lewis Keith, have recently left, too.

"The removal of those three people has completely changed the dynamic," Johnson said, "and we are cautiously optimistic that Florida's going to do better in that regard in the future."

Under the Title IX federal gender-equity law, schools must look into claims of discrimination, including sexual assault and violence. Schools that do not comply risk losing federal funding.

The Department of Education is investigating sexual violence cases at hundreds of postsecondary schools, including the University of South Florida and Miami. A federal inquiry on Florida State University's handling of current Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston case has been ongoing since April 2014. Clune and his Colorado firm, Hutchinson Black and Cook, also have represented the FSU complainant Erica Kinsman of Zephyrhills.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.