Florida State faces investigation over handling of Jameis Winston case
A federal query into whether Florida State University adequately investigated whether Heisman Trophy-winner Jameis Winston sexually assaulted another student could result in the school losing federal funding, but history suggests a settlement will be reached instead, officials said Friday.
The woman who accused the quarterback of raping her in 2012 filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which decided the university should be investigated for possible Title IX violations over the way it responds to sexual violence complaints. After an investigation by Tallahassee police and prosecutors, officials announced in December that Winston would not be charged.
Title IX is a federal statute that bans discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The department in 2011 warned schools of their legal responsibilities to immediately investigate allegations of sexual assault, even if the criminal investigation has not concluded. Winston’s accuser said FSU did not do that.
Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw said Friday it has been more than 10 years since a school has lost federal funding for failing to comply with Title IX or needed other enforcement measures. He said if a problem is found, an agreement is usually reached with the university to take measures to ensure compliance with legal standards and improve procedures.
He said there is no set format for a civil rights investigation and the scope varies depending on the circumstances. The investigation could look at multiple reports of sexual assault at a university to see how they were handled. The department normally requests copies of policies, procedures and other paperwork to review and also conducts in-person interviews.
Florida State officials have confirmed the federal investigation but have declined comment, citing federal and state privacy laws.
Erin Buzuvis, a professor at the Western New England University School of Law who specializes in Title IX, said the threat of losing federal funding is what forces schools to comply.
Last year, the State University of New York agreed to several guidelines, including having a Title IX coordinator at each of its 29 campuses and conducting sexual assault investigations promptly instead of waiting for the conclusion of a criminal investigation.
Also last year, the University of Montana in Missoula agreed to revise its policies, procedures and investigative practices. It is also agreed to a monitoring program in which it provides copies of annual assessments and other required documents. The agreement lasts three years.
Buzuvis said the Montana case is the blueprint for most agreements.
”It’s not meant to be comfortable,” Buzuvis said. ”There’s some level of intrusion that comes with having to venture into one of these agreements.”
The woman who accused Winston told university police investigators she had been at a bar with friends, had several drinks and her memory of what happened next wasn’t clear. She said she got into a cab with a man, went to his off-campus apartment and, over her objections, he had sex with her. She couldn’t remember where the apartment was. The campus police turned the investigation over to the Tallahassee police.
A month later, the woman identified her alleged attacker as Winston. Her family accused Tallahassee detectives of delaying the investigation and discouraging her from going forward with the case because of the public attention it would receive at the university in the city.
The department has defended its handling of the case, but didn’t turn its evidence over to Willie Meggs, the local state attorney, until mid-November, about the same time journalists began looking into rumors that Winston had been accused of rape.
On Dec. 5, Meggs announced that Winston would not be charged, saying he couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt the woman’s allegations.
It is unclear if woman will pursue a civil case against Winston or the university. She can still sue after the investigation. Buzuvis said her case could be stronger depending on the Department of Education’s findings.