'The Hunting Ground' puts a face on Jameis Winston's accuser

FSU star Jameis Winston was never charged after three separate investigations. But two of them didn’t fully vindicate him, either, at least not in the eyes of some.
FSU star Jameis Winston was never charged after three separate investigations. But two of them didn’t fully vindicate him, either, at least not in the eyes of some.
Published March 3, 2015

One of the first public images of Jameis Winston's accuser comes more than an hour into the documentary The Hunting Ground. Zephyrhills native Erica Kinsman appears as a little girl in a photo, wearing a garnet and gold Florida State University cheerleading outfit.

By the end of her scene, Kinsman is in tears.

The controversial film — which the Tampa Bay Times viewed Monday in an advance screening — reveals little new information about the 2012 sexual assault allegations against FSU's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. But it does put a name and face on the woman at the other end of the accusations and shares a candid comment from a Tallahassee prosecutor.

Though Winston has never been arrested or charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing, the film spends about 15 of its 90 minutes on the case and the role of athletics in campus sexual assaults across the country.

Kinsman first appears onscreen after a montage of highlights from FSU's national championship season and looks at the camera as she details her recollection of what happened in December 2012. She suggests that someone — she doesn't say who — slipped something into a shot of alcohol she took that night at a Tallahassee bar, although no drugs were found in her system.

"I'm fairly certain there was something in that drink," Kinsman said.

She acknowledges a spotty memory, which the State Attorney's Office cited in choosing not to charge Winston. She alleges that Winston raped her, first in his bedroom then in a bathroom, dressed her and took her to a false residence she provided.

"I wanted to get out of there," Kinsman said.

As Kinsman tells her version of events, the filmmakers — Oscar nominees Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering — show scenes of Winston winning the Heisman and ESPN personalities calling the allegations "unfair" for Winston.

Her father also appears in the film, recalling a 3 a.m. drive from Pasco County to Tallahassee and crying in a hospital room with his wife and daughter.

"I kind of just want to know, why me?" Kinsman says in the documentary, wiping away a tear. "It doesn't really make sense."

The most notable revelation comes from State Attorney Willie Meggs. He defends his December 2013 decision not to file charges against Winston, whom the Bucs are targeting as a potential No. 1 overall pick in next month's NFL draft.

"I think I did not have sufficient evidence to prove he sexually assaulted her against her will," Meggs said. "I think things that happened that night were not good."

Kinsman is one of many students at universities across the country, from North Carolina to Harvard to UC Berkeley, who tell their stories. Since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the film has been praised as a piercing look at on-campus sexual assaults and criticized by universities that said they were not given fair and timely opportunities to respond.

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"The filmmakers interviewed Erica Kinsman, but no one representing Florida State," FSU president John Thrasher said in a statement. "This provides the viewing public with an incomplete and erroneous view of what the University did to investigate Ms. Kinsman's allegations. This distorted presentation is all the more egregious in light of the fact Ms. Kinsman has filed a lawsuit against the University over the case."

That lawsuit, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights investigation, remain ongoing. In January, Kinsman sued the school under the pseudonym Jane Doe, alleging FSU violated the federal gender-equity law Title IX in handling the case.

Last month, Kinsman replaced the pseudonym with her actual name, and FSU filed a motion to move the case from Orlando to Tallahassee.

Although the film says little about FSU's actions in the case, Kinsman repeated claims that police told her Tallahassee was a "big football town" and that she should carefully weigh her decision to pursue the case.

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.