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Florida State University finally speaks out in Jameis Winston case

Jameis Winston was accused of sexual assault in Jan. 2013.
Jameis Winston was accused of sexual assault in Jan. 2013.
Published Oct. 10, 2014

Update 10:52 a.m.: Attorneys for the woman who accused Jameis Winston of sexual assault issued this statement in response to FSU's letter:

"Florida State knows that there is a big story about to break from the NY Times and their PR team is trying to do a little preventative damage control. The obvious news in this statement is that senior athletic department officials met with Winston and his lawyer one month after the rape occurred then decided to hide it from the Title IX office.

"The statement's timeline is full of errors but it shows that we can add both FERPA and the victim-advocate privilege to the list of laws Florida State is willing to break to protect this football program.

"What else can the school do wrong in this mess? The whole country is moving toward improving the response to campus rape while Florida State still backpedals the other way."

Original story: In the midst of an investigation by the federal government and intense scrutiny from multiple attorneys, Florida State University sent a letter to supporters outlining its actions in the Jameis Winston sexual assault case.

After FSU Title IX officials first learned about the case just before it became public in November 2013, they provided his accuser with support and tried to get her to speak with investigators, according to the letter — an advanced copy of which was obtained Thursday night by the Tampa Bay Times.

"We did not want you to confuse our silence with idleness, a lack of caring or, as some have alleged, an institutional conspiracy to protect a star athlete," the letter said.

According to the letter, FSU's athletic department first heard about the case in January 2013, soon after a then-FSU female student identified Winston as a suspect to the Tallahassee Police Department. The athletic department interviewed the eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and two teammates about the encounter, and they described it as consensual.

Because the police investigation stalled and resulted in no charges, the athletic department didn't file a formal report with FSU's Title IX administrator or its Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the letter said.

FSU campus police and the victim's advocate department knew about the incident soon after it happened in December 2012 but also didn't initiate a Title IX investigation. Campus police referred the off-campus incident to Tallahassee police, and state law prohibits victim's advocates from breaking confidentiality.

FSU's policies rely on the victim's advocates to guide complainants through the process and tell them how to pursue criminal or conduct charges.

Title IX requires a school to investigate sexual assault or harassment if a responsible employee "knows, or reasonably should know," about an incident. Whether FSU's actions comply with the federal law is the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. About 70 other schools are under similar investigations. Winston's adviser and attorneys for the accuser have all expressed concerns with FSU's handling of the case.

When FSU administrators found out about the incident — after inquiries from the media to Tallahassee police — the university provided more security for the woman's sorority and locked down her public contact information.

The university's letter said it first initiated a Title IX investigation in November, but the woman's then-attorney told FSU to "cease all contact with her client." The attorney, Patricia Carroll, said Thursday night that she told FSU to stop communicating temporarily with her client until they sorted through the quickly evolving situation.

Winston declined to speak with FSU's Title IX office in January 2014. Because neither the woman nor Winston cooperated, the letter said, the school suspended the investigation a month later.

The woman spoke with university investigators Aug. 6 about the encounter. FSU's letter said the interview came after multiple attempts to speak with the woman. One of her attorneys, Colorado-based Baine Kerr, said Thursday night that FSU was told repeatedly that the woman would do "anything and everything to assist the investigation."

Winston was never arrested or charged after investigations by Tallahassee police and the State Attorney's Office. He has denied any criminal wrongdoing through his attorneys, but FSU is continuing its Title IX investigation into whether he broke the school's code of conduct.

Federal guidelines call for most cases to be resolved in about 60 days.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com.