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Accuser's attorney slams investigation into FSU's Winston

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Kevin Vaughan

Kevin Vaughan is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post. He is the co-author of "The Ledge: An Inspirational Story of Friendship and Survival." Follow him at kevinvaughan.net and on Twitter.

 
   
 

The attorney for a woman who alleged she was raped by Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has called for an independent investigation of how the case was handled by Tallahassee police and local prosecutors.

Attorney Patricia Carroll on Friday questioned the work of Tallahassee detectives – pointing to delays in submitting forensics evidence to the state lab and the failure to attempt to obtain surveillance camera footage that could have aided in the investigation of a December 2012 allegation.

“It was very obvious as this progressed that we didn’t feel we were going to get a proper investigation,” Carroll said, speaking at a press conference at a park in Zephyrhills, 30 miles northeast of Tampa. “We didn’t feel we were going to get justice.”

State Attorney Willie Meggs announced on Dec. 5 that he would file no criminal charges against Winston, the redshirt freshman who has dazzled the college football world with his play and led the Seminoles to an undefeated season, a No. 1 ranking and a spot in the Jan. 6 BCS national championship game.

Winston is also widely believed to be the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, which is set to be awarded Saturday.

“This case has been closed by the state attorney’s office, and we continue to support him in his endeavors,” said David Northway, a spokesman for the Tallahassee Police Department.

He declined to comment further.

Winston asserted that his encounter with the woman was consensual and that two of his friends who were in the apartment that night recently told investigators they saw part of the incident and backed his version of events.

The woman in the case, also a Florida State student, called police early the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, after she said she was sexually assaulted at an off-campus apartment.

It was not clear Friday whether an investigation would be undertaken by Florida attorney general Pam Bondi. A statement released by her spokeswoman, Jennifer Meale, said that no formal request had yet been filed with Bondi’s office.

The accuser had told police she’d gone out drinking with friends, that someone she did not know bought her a shot of liquor and that she ended up in a cab with three men and was taken to an apartment. She told detectives she had only broken memories of the incident but that she found herself in a bedroom, where she was undressed and sexually assaulted.

Afterward, she said the man who assaulted her dressed her, put her on a scooter and drove her back to campus. She called a friend, who convinced her to call police. She told detectives she did not know the man.

About a month later, the woman called police and identified Winston as the suspect after seeing him in one of her classes. At the time, he was a highly-prized recruit but had not yet appeared in a game.

But Tallahassee police closed the case in February, contending that the woman did not want to press charges. Carroll has disputed that.

The case was reopened in November by Meggs after several news outlets requested the police report. Investigators from Meggs’ office conducted numerous interviews but were also thwarted in the search for evidence and witnesses by the passage of nearly a year, FOX Sports 1 has previously reported.

For example, in November an investigator went to the bar where the woman had been drinking with friends, hoping that video surveillance footage could help identify the person who bought the woman a shot and that it might help identify others in the establishment. But although the bar has more than 30 surveillance cameras, the images from them are “recycled” every 30 days – so by the time the request was made, that footage was long gone.

There was also an attempt to identify the cab driver who drove the woman, Winston and two of his friends from the bar to his apartment.

In the early weeks of the investigation, a police detective said in a report he sent an e-mail to all the city’s cab drivers, asking them if they remembered picking the group up. No one responded.

In November, state investigators went back to the cab company, seeking records that would identify drivers who were working that night. Those investigators ultimately interviewed 37 cab drivers, but by then more than 11 months had passed and none recalled picking up the young woman and three men at a bar.

In addition, one of the city’s cab companies recently adopted a new system for tracking drivers and passengers and had destroyed all of its records from 2012.

Carroll raised numerous questions about the way Tallahassee police detectives handled the case in the early days:

-- Why did police wait more than five weeks before submitting the “rape kit” – evidence collected from the woman just hours after the incident – to the state’s crime lab for testing?

-- Why didn’t detectives go to the bar in the initial days of the investigation, when they would have likely been able to obtain the images from video surveillance cameras?

-- Why did police obtain a search warrant for the woman’s phone – but not Winston’s or those of his two friends who were there that night?

-- Why didn’t detectives go to Winston’s apartment, after he was identified as a possible suspect, to corroborate the woman’s description of the place where she alleged she was attacked – and, possibly, to collect forensic evidence?

In addition, Carroll said she believes the woman was drugged and questioned whether Tallahassee police took proper steps to test her blood and urine to rule that out.

And, finally, she asserted that the investigation was focused on the victim – not the suspect.

“If victims are subjected on an ongoing basis to what this victim has been subjected to, there’s a serious problem in the state of Florida,” Carroll said.
 

Tagged: Florida State, Florida

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