Florida State defends how it handled Winston case

Florida State released a document Friday defending the university’s handling of an alleged sexual assault investigation of quarterback Jameis Winston.

The university did not name Winston in the letter, but referred to allegations against “a prominent athlete.”

FSU issued the letter to Seminoles supporters outlining the steps it took in response to the allegations against Winston. The letter said the school remained mostly silent for about 20 months to protect its students.

FSU detailed a timeline of events as it continues to be part of an ongoing investigation by the federal government. In April, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights had launched its own investigation into the way FSU handled the case. The federal law requires schools to immediately investigate any sexual assault allegations made by a student regardless of the status of any criminal investigation.

According to the letter, the 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. After interviews with Winston and two other football players, Florida State did not file a formal report to the university’s Title IX administrator because no charges were filed by the police following a stalled investigation.

“The University has remained silent for one reason: To protect our students, who are after all our highest priority,” the letter from Florida State stated. “But as we expect other stories to appear, it is abundantly clear that the continual drumbeat of misinformation about the University’s actions causes harm to our students, faculty, alumni, supporters and the FSU community as a whole. Because of this, and within the constraints of state and federal privacy laws, we want to share with you more detail to set the record straight.”

A Title IX investigation was launched in November 2013, after the allegations became publicly known. That investigation stalled when Winston and the accuser denied an invitation to speak with those investigating the case.

“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.

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.

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, according to the letter. Campus police referred the off-campus incident to Tallahassee police, and state law prohibits victim’s advocates from breaking confidentiality.

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, told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday night that she told FSU to stop communicating temporarily with her client until they sorted through the quickly evolving situation.

According to the university letter, 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, according to the letter.

An attorney for Winston’s accuser said FSU’s letter is filled with errors, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

John Clune, a Title IX attorney representing the woman, has argued previoulsy that the university did a poor job of handling the investigation.

“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,” Clune wrote in a statement to the Orlando Sentinel. “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 (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) 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.”

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