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College head wants claim of rape re-investigated

In its first year of intercollegiate athletics, Pasco-Hernando Community College (PHCC) has run into problems similar to those experienced by the University of South Florida (USF) in the rape case involving a star athlete.

In September, a student/athlete said she was sexually assaulted by two PHCC scholarship athletes. The person who took the lead role investigating the incident has the appearance of a conflict of interest: He is the school's athletic director.

In deciding not to extensively investigate the matter, other PHCC administrators seem to have relied heavily on the athletic director's conclusion that no rape occurred.

In fact, the athletic director talked to just two people: the two athletes, each of whom maintained that they had consensual sex with the young woman.

Police were never called.

As part of the investigation, neither the athletic director nor anyone else at PHCC talked to three young women who walked into the apartment as the incident took place, let in by one athlete who reportedly still was pulling his pants up. One of the three witnesses says she helped pull the other athlete off her friend.

"I started beating him on his back, making him get off of her," she told a St. Petersburg Times reporter.

Now, five months later, and after learning of the Times' inquiries, PHCC president Milton Jones has called for the case to be reopened. The school attorney said she will recommend that the college develop procedures to handle such cases in the future. No procedure currently exists.

Jones also worries that the affair will weaken support for PHCC's fledgling intercollegiate athletic program, opposed from the outset by some of the school's biggest backers.

In interviews last week, college officials defended their handling of the case. They said they did not think they were investigating a rape. They point out that, despite her allegations, the young woman admitted that she was drunk the night of the incident and remembered little of what happened.

"The incident you are looking at swings on the fact that she absolutely refused to go to police," said Jones. "She did use the word rape a couple of times and that's why we got concerned about it. But, then she didn't remember what happened.

"We couldn't go any further when the girl says she wants this kept quiet and didn't want to go to police."

College officials said they tried to satisfy the woman by handling the matter discreetly, and providing her with a quick transfer to another PHCC campus.

The young woman tells a different story.

"I told them that two of the boys raped me," the woman, 19, said in a recent interview. "I told them that I thought it wasn't fair to talk to the boys and not talk to the girls."

If college officials had investigated further, they would have heard some compelling details from three young women who saw what they describe as a rape.

The incident took place late on a Friday night in September at the Chasco Woods apartments in New Port Richey. Because community colleges have no dormitories, the apartments near the campus house most of PHCC's scholarship athletes.

There was a party that night, and several witnesses said there was plenty of drinking. Although it's unclear how the 19-year-old woman got from the party to the young men's apartment, at some point her friends noticed she was gone and became concerned. They went to the young men's apartment.

"We heard her crying from the outside," one of the woman's friends said. "She was saying "Get off of me. Get off of me.' "

"So we went to get her," said another friend.

One of the young woman's friends took her home to her mother. At about 4 a.m. Saturday the mother called PHCC athletic director Bobby Bowman.

In an interview last Friday, Bowman recalled that the mother told him: "One of your players was doing a number on my daughter." She told Bowman that one of the witnesses said she "had to tell (the young man) to get off."

Before sunrise, several high-ranking PHCC officials knew of the incident. They later said they were satisfied with the way the case was handled by Bowman, although Bowman later said he felt the investigation was a "team effort."

Here's what Bowman did:

Early Saturday morning, he spoke individually with the two athletes, and he said their stories were identical. The young men said they had sex with her but that it was consensual.

In an interview last week, one of the men spoke openly of the incident.

"She came into the room and she took off her clothes and we had sex," the young man said. "She was saying, "Come on. Come on.'

"And when (the witnesses entered the apartment) she wanted it to seem like we forced her into it," he said.

Said athletic director Bowman: "I'm totally satisfied and convinced they were telling the truth." His inquiry went no further.

On the Monday after the incident, the young woman mentioned the incident to college officials before an English class she attended with the two men.

"I can't remember her exact words, but that some student had raped her," said PHCC English instructor Karen Davis. "She seemed very upset and was crying. She told me, "I don't want to stay in class with those boys.' "

Davis took the woman to Marion Bullock, director of the department of arts and science.

"(She) started to tell the story of the assault," Bullock said. "I think her word was rape."

Bullock notified PHCC West Campus provost Omar Ergle, who quickly called a meeting. Attending were the young woman, Bullock, Davis, Bowman, and dean of student affairs Sylvia Thomasson.

After hearing of the young woman's allegations, Ergle said he offered her a telephone to call police. Ergle and the other officials said the young woman declined to make that call.

"I wanted her to have every opportunity to pursue rape if she thought that's what occurred," Ergle said. "It was very vague what she had to say, quite frankly."

Bowman said he looked into the matter and reviewed his findings.

"I had serious doubts that a rape had occurred," said Ergle. He said he based his opinion on Bowman's report and the woman's clouded memory.

"As a matter of fact, I felt very reassured," Bullock said, referring to Bowman's report. "It sounded to me like he was doing a very thorough investigation. It seemed Mr. Bowman talked to everyone, both the fellows and the girls."

In fact, Bowman had spoken only with the two young men.

"My responsibility was to check the facts out with the athletes and report back," Bowman said. "I didn't think to talk to 100 people. I had no thought to talk to anyone else." He said he felt other administrators were asking questions, too.

The woman says she was discouraged by Bowman's conclusions and was grateful to get a quick reassignment to another campus.

The administrators largely based their actions on the woman's unwillingness to call police.

But that, says a nationally known sex educator, is not surprising.

"She doesn't want to be victimized again," said Jay Friedman, director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, who was in Orlando recently teaching community college officials how to handle rape allegations. Friedman said that nine of 10 campus rapes are not reported to police.

In some important ways, the PHCC case seems similar to events at USF in the Marvin Taylor case.

Taylor was a star player on USF's basketball team. Over 18 months, six women complained that Taylor had harassed or assaulted them. One of the women reported that Taylor raped her, an accusation Taylor denied.

An investigating committee of the state Board of Regents was sharply critical of the university's handling of the rape complaint. Among other things, the regents:

Reiterated that rape allegations should be reported to a state attorney regardless of the student's wishes. (At PHCC, school administrators never contacted authorities.)

Noted that someone responsible for athletics has at least the appearance of a conflict of interest if he or she investigates a rape allegation involving an athlete. (At PHCC, there was no official investigation, and the principal inquiries made into the student's complaint were made by the athletic director.)

_ Staff writers Rick Gershman and James Harper contributed to this report.