Feds review how Notre Dame handles assault claims

The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing how the University

of Notre Dame handles allegations of sexual assault in the wake of

a student from a neighboring women’s college who reportedly accused

a Notre Dame football player of sexual battery and later committed

suicide.

The inquiry is looking broadly at the university’s policies,

procedures and responses to complaints of alleged sexual

harassment, department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said Friday.

University spokesman Dennis Brown said the school is cooperating

and noted that the review is not related to any particular

case.

The school has come under criticism from the family of

19-year-old Elizabeth Seeberg, a St. Mary’s College student who

died of a suspected drug overdose Sept. 10. Authorities said

Seeberg accused a student-athlete of touching her breasts on Aug.

31.

The president of the university has said campus police conducted

a thorough investigation, but her family said the school’s

investigation was superficial. They also questioned why a timeline

they received from Notre Dame shows it took police two weeks to

interview the football player their daughter accused.

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Mike Dvorak decided not to pursue

charges, saying there were conflicting witness accounts and some of

Seeberg’s statements would likely be inadmissible in court.

The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday that the family of another

woman who attended St. Mary’s was upset at how Notre Dame had

handled their daughter’s report that she was sexually attacked in a

residence hall on Sept. 5. Authorities said the woman initially did

not want to press charges, which the Tribune said she denies.

That woman’s family also questioned why it took four days after

she and her parents met with Notre Dame police Sept. 11 and told

them she wanted to press charges before police tried to locate the

accused student, then didn’t question him until the next day.

Dvorak informed the family Monday that he would not be

prosecuting the case, saying there wasn’t enough evidence. He said

the speed in which campus police investigated the case didn’t play

a role in the decision. He said some statements by friends of the

St. Mary’s students didn’t match what she told police.

Dvorak said the fact that Notre Dame police waited to hear back

from the student before investigating wasn’t unusual.

”The protocol says you don’t compel the complaining witness to

prosecute,” he said. ”They did what was reasonable. They waited

for her to get back to them.”

He said he did have a ”small concern” that it took police four

days to try to talk to the Notre Dame student after the St. Mary’s

student decided to press charges. But he said he has confidence in

how the department handles sexual assault cases.

”There’s nothing they did or didn’t do that jeopardized our

prosecution,” he said.

Notre Dame said in a news release that it takes seriously its

obligation to thoroughly investigate every allegation of sexual

misconduct.

”We regret that some are critical of our handling of sexual

misconduct allegations, and we understand the pain these families

are experiencing,” the university said in its statement. ”At the

same time, we stand behind the thoroughness, integrity and

objectivity of our investigations, as well as the comprehensive

services available to students who are subjected to sexual

misconduct.”