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Scrutiny follows 2nd rape allegation

Three months after two Pasco-Hernando Community College athletes were accused of rape, a third scholarship athlete was accused of sexually assaulting another woman _ in the same apartment.

A Pasco sheriff's deputy looked into the latest allegation and decided the charge was unfounded.

The athlete went to Athletic Director Bobby Bowman and told him that he had been questioned and cleared. He apparently did not tell Bowman the nature of the allegation.

Bowman, according to PHCC Vice President Robert Judson and school attorney Christy Hessler, never asked.

In the wake of questions about the college's handling of the first rape allegation, and about Bowman's failure to ask questions about the second allegation, school officials Friday promised that the college athletic program would be scrutinized.

"We're going to look into what's happening with our athletic program," Judson said. "We're going to look into all facets of our athletic program, to see if we need to shore up some holes."

Judson said he didn't want to comment about what particular areas might need to be shored up. Though PHCC has existed for 20 years, this is its first full year of intercollegiate athletics.

Ed Armstrong, a member of the PHCC board of trustees who is a director of the booster organization that raises money for athletics, agreed with Judson on the need for action.

"Even prior to this conversation," Armstrong told a reporter Friday night, "in light of the other accusation, it has become a priority to look at the issue of student athletes and how we monitor them . . . . This is a front-burner issue."

The college's handling of the allegations has caught the attention of high-ranking officials who are considering statewide guidelines for handling such matters.

State Rep. Elaine Gordon, D-North Miami, said Friday that she plans to raise the issue at a meeting next week of the Women's Legislative Caucus, a group of legislators who promote women's issues.

"This kind of thing is institutional. We've had these discussions before with the (University of South Florida) case," said Gordon, referring to that university's mishandling of a rape allegation against a star basketball player. "Now another example. Again, these crimes against women are treated in a cavalier fashion."

In the newest PHCC rape allegation, college attorney Hessler said Bowman, who is also the men's basketball coach, was unaware of the seriousness of the charge.

"The coach didn't ask for any details because he was told there was no basis for the allegation," said Hessler, the PHCC attorney, speaking for Bowman. "He did not inquire about the nature of the allegations."

"It would surprise me," said Armstrong, "if coach Bowman did not ask for more details. That would be a logical question to ask."

Despite repeated requests Thursday and Friday, Bowman refused to talk to Times reporters.

Bowman "acknowledges that you have given him the opportunity to respond," Hessler said Friday.

A police inquiry

Unlike the first rape allegation, in September, the second allegation in January was handled by law enforcement officers.

Although the 19-year-old woman told police she had been raped, the investigation showed the woman asked the athlete if she could sleep with him and they had consensual sex, according to the detective's report.

Both incidents took place at the same apartment in Chasco Woods, an off-campus complex in New Port Richey where the college had arranged for scholarship athletes to live.

In the September case, the complainant, also 19, said she was raped by two PHCC scholarship athletes. She said she was drunk and remembered little of the incident. She based her accusation on information she got from three friends, who said they witnessed some of the incident and referred to it as a rape.

The accuser's mother called Bowman hours after the incident. Bowman questioned the two young men. They admitted having sex with the woman but insisted it was consensual.

The woman, who also was a PHCC scholarship athlete, never reported the incident to police. She says she was discouraged by Bowman, who took the word of the two male athletes that no rape occurred. Neither he nor anyone else at PHCC talked to the three witnesses at the time.

In two interviews with Times reporters two weeks ago, Bowman said that after his conversations with the two athletes, "I'm totally satisfied and convinced they were telling the truth."

He also said "they didn't carry her (to the apartment), drag her or twist her arm."

And, he said, the complainant was "a big girl, as big as the two . . . players. If she wanted to, she could have thrown them out the door."

Armstrong, the PHCC trustee, was asked to react to Bowman's comments.

He paused. "Bowman told you this . . . a direct quote from Bowman? I'm not going to comment on that."

But Armstrong repeatedly emphasized that "it would be premature to judge coach Bowman" without hearing directly from Bowman. "It would not be fair."

County, state questions

Since news reports of the college's handling of the September allegation, PHCC officials have come in for some criticism.

"When a young lady says she's been raped, that's the beginning right there," said Pasco Sheriff Jim Gillum, referring to the September incident. "If somebody says they've been robbed, it's a robbery investigation until you check out all the evidence.

"There are some universities that have police departments. There are others that don't. Those (such as PHCC) that don't should call law enforcement when they have an allegation of a crime."

While law enforcement has not played a role in the September incident, some state officials say it should have.

Clark Maxwell, executive director of the state's community college system, said last week that he asked the staff attorney to recommend whether statewide rules are needed. Education Commissioner Betty Castor said she would ask Maxwell to put the matter on the agenda for the next meeting of the Board of Community Colleges.

Before that meeting in April, Maxwell can expect to hear from Rep. Gordon and the Women's Legislative Caucus.

"Higher education is supposed to be the place where young adults learn a value system _ the highest value system we can teach them," Gordon said. "Not a system where you try to make sure you're not going to get thrown in jail, and now you guys can keep putting balls through hoops."