Florida State University administrators have launched an investigation into a woman’s allegation that she was raped by quarterback Jameis Winston in 2012, FOX Sports has learned.
John Clune, an attorney who represents the woman who alleged that Winston sexually assaulted her at his off-campus apartment, said she was interviewed in early August by Florida State officials as part of an investigation into whether the Heisman Trophy winner violated the school’s student conduct code.
A criminal investigation, which was put on hold by Tallahassee police and then resurrected by the state attorney in Tallahassee, ended last December without any criminal charges being filed against Winston, who subsequently won the Heisman on the way to leading the Seminoles to the BCS National Championship.
This new investigation cannot lead to criminal charges, but if Winston were to be found guilty of a serious violation of Florida State’s student conduct code, it could spell the end of his college football career.
Winston, through his attorney, has contended repeatedly that his encounter with the woman was consensual.
Clune said Florida State officials vowed to thoroughly investigate her assertions about what happened at Winston’s off-campus apartment on Dec. 7, 2012.
“They assured my client and her parents that this code of conduct process was going to go forward,” Clune told FOX Sports.
Browning Brooks, a spokeswoman for Florida State, said she could not discuss the investigation.
“While we cannot comment on any individual case, in general, complainants control the timing in our process,” she said.
David Cornwell, an attorney who is serving as an adviser to Jameis Winston’s family, asserted in a statement that after Clune and the woman’s other attorneys “created a media frenzy alleging that Florida State University failed to comply with its Title IX obligations” she “had to come clean and admit that she previously refused to cooperate with the university’s Title IX inquiry.”
“Now that she has finally done her Title IX interview,” Cornwell said, “this is the fourth time (she) has told her story. We anticipate the same conclusion that followed her previous three statements to the Tallahassee Police Department, Florida’s State Attorney’s Office and in the FSU Code of Student Conduct hearing. Jameis Winston did not sexually assault (her)."
The woman’s attorney disputed Cornwell’s assertions.
“That’s a little backwards," Clune said. "There is only one student who has continuously refused to talk with the school in this process, and it’s not our client.”
The new investigation is being carried out under Florida State’s student code of conduct. It comes as Florida State is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, launched to examine whether the school followed the federal gender equity law known as Title IX in its handling of the case.
Title IX requires that school administrators conduct prompt investigations of alleged sexual assaults involving students and take whatever action is appropriate.
“This is what they’ve been required to do all along,” Clune said. “I guess it’s surprising it took so long. … I guess better late than never and she’s fortunately still willing to cooperate with the process.”
Title IX is often seen as a law that guarantees women equal access to sports as men. However, it is also a powerful tool in the fight against sexual assault. The federal government has more than 50 active Title IX investigations underway, each of them centered on the handling of sexual assault or sexual harassment cases.
“We definitely can tell that there are some good people at this university that want to do the right thing and actually see Title IX complied with, but there’s also a very powerful athletic department that’s housing the No. 1 football team in the nation,” Clune said. “I think we’ll all see pretty shortly who has more clout at the university.”
Guidelines issued by the Department of Education contemplate a 60-day timeline for most investigations. Given that the woman was interviewed in early August, the investigation appears to already be 30 days old.
At the center of the case is the woman’s allegation that she’d gone drinking at a Tallahassee nightspot, downed a shot that someone had purchased for her, ended up in a cab with several people and ultimately found herself in an unfamiliar apartment. There, she said she was raped, then driven back to campus on a scooter by her attacker.
She told investigators she did not know her attacker.
The woman called a detective about a little more than a month later and identified Winston, at the time a freshman who had yet to appear in a game, after seeing him in a class.
Tallahassee police later shelved the case, contending that the woman did not want to pursue a criminal prosecution – something her attorneys have disputed – then resurrected it last November and turned it over to the office of State Attorney Willie Meggs. After conducting a new investigation, Meggs concluded there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges.
By then, Winston had burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman quarterback and taken Florida State to the top of the national polls.
Among the factors that played a role in Meggs’ decision were the woman’s inability to remember portions of the night – some investigators suspect she may have been drugged – and the statements from two of Winston’s teammates, defensive end Chris Casher and defensive back Ronald Darby, who both described the encounter as consensual.
We definitely can tell that there are some good people at this university that want to do the right thing and actually see Title IX complied with, but there’s also a very powerful athletic department that’s housing the No. 1 football team in the nation. I think we’ll all see pretty shortly who has more clout at the university.
John Clune, attorney for Winston's accuser
Casher and Darby were both brought up on code-of-conduct charges after admitting they watched a portion of the sexual encounter between Winston and the woman. Casher, who admitted to police that he taped a portion of the encounter on his phone, was placed on disciplinary probation after being accused of violating student code-of-conduct rules addressing sexual misconduct and invasion of privacy, FOX Sports has learned. Darby, who also said in a sworn statement that he watched part of the encounter, was cleared of wrongdoing.
School administrators carry out code-of-conduct investigations at Florida State, according to a copy of the university’s rules governing such inquiries. Sanctions for a student found to have violated school rules can range from a verbal or written reprimand up to expulsion from the university.
That’s what happened to three University of Oregon basketball players accused of raping a woman. They were not charged criminally but were found guilty of violating the school’s code of conduct. The three were expelled and banned from campus for at least four years – and as many as 10, depending on how long their accuser is a student there.
At Florida State, the student conduct code prohibits everything from alcohol and drug abuse to sexual misconduct, which it defines in several ways. For instance, “any sexual act that occurs without the consent of the victim” constitutes sexual misconduct.