Jameis Winston’s accuser files Title IX lawsuit against Florida State
A woman who accused 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of raping her more than two years ago filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing Florida State University of violating her Title IX rights.
Title IX is the gender-equity law that requires colleges and universities receiving federal funds to conduct prompt and thorough investigations of sexual assaults. The woman, who is identified as Jane Doe in the suit, alleged that Florida State administrators repeatedly failed to carry out their duties.
The suit also alleged that Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher and senior associate athletic director Monk Bonasorte were among those who kept the allegation against Winston secret instead of notifying university administrators so they could launch the kind of investigation required by federal law.
In a statement Wednesday, Florida State president John Thrasher said:
The lawsuit also asserted that a second woman had accused the star quarterback of sexual assault. That allegation was conveyed to the woman by her university-provided victim’s advocate, according to the suit.
“On October 25, 2013,” the woman’s lawyers wrote, “plaintiff’s victim advocate informed her that a second woman had come forward and reported being raped by Winston. The advocate asked if plaintiff would cooperate with and participate in disciplinary proceedings against Winston. Plaintiff stated that she absolutely would do so.”
The lawsuit provides no other details of the second woman’s allegation. She did not file a police report, and a criminal investigation of that incident was not conducted. Documents previously obtained by FOX Sports show that the woman’s victim advocate made the following entry in her records: “This worker let the student know that another victim came forward.”
Winston was not charged with a crime in the incident, which he has described as a consensual sexual encounter.
The suit against the university accuses administrators of violating Title IX from the point in January 2013 that top officials in the athletic department learned that he was named as a suspect in an alleged rape.
“The FSU Athletics Department called meetings involving high-ranking FSU Athletics Department and football officials, Winston, and Winston’s lawyer,” the suit alleged. It contended that Fisher and Bonasorte “became aware of the rape accusations against Winston at that time. The FSU Athletics Department chose to violate school policy and not report to the FSU administration that their star recruit had been identified as the suspect in the December 7, 2012 rape investigation. This deliberate concealment of student-on-student sexual harassment to protect the football program deprived Plaintiff of her rights under Title IX and caused substantial damages.”
“For the next eleven months, FSU did nothing to investigate plaintiff’s report of rape while the FSU Athletics Department continued to keep the incident a secret,” the suit alleged. “Despite plaintiff’s report to the FSU Police and the FSU Athletics Department’s knowledge of the suspect’s identity, no one at FSU conducted any investigation into the matter. Winston, meanwhile, was named starting quarterback of the football team and, in the fall of 2013, led FSU in the pursuit of a national championship.”
Florida State, led by Winston’s sparkling play, went undefeated and then won the BCS National Championship over Auburn. Winston also won the Heisman Trophy.
In the midst of that undefeated run, the alleged rape became public, sparking a firestorm and leading to a new criminal investigation by State Attorney Willie Meggs, the chief prosecutor in Tallahassee.
At the center of it was the woman’s call to police early the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, to report that she’d been sexually assaulted after going out to a popular Tallahassee night spot, Potbelly’s, consuming several drinks and ending up in a cab with three men who took her to an apartment.
At the time, she told detectives she did not know her assailant. Five weeks later, after the spring term began at Florida State, the woman was in a class when she saw the man she believed assaulted her. She listened for a professor to call his name, wrote it down, and called a detective and gave him Winston’s name. At the time, Winston was highly regarded recruit but, as a red-shirt freshman, had yet to appear in a game or throw a football or baseball for the Seminoles.
That was on Jan. 10, 2013.
But a FOX Sports investigation showed that even though police investigators began to dig into the case immediately, they did not attempt to interview Winston until 12 days later. And instead of showing up unannounced to see whether he would answer questions – a typical police tactic – detectives called him and asked him to come in for an interview.
That investigation also found that Tallahassee police forwarded the reports in the case to Florida State’s campus police chief, David Perry, who, in turn, forwarded them to Bonasorte. Those reports then ended up in the hands of Winston’s attorney, Tim Jansen, who obtained sworn statements from two of Winston’s teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, before any investigator ever spoke with them. Casher and Darby both asserted that they witnessed a portion of the woman’s encounter with Winston and it appeared to be consensual.
Winston declined and never spoke to law enforcement about what happened.
Around the same time, the suit alleged that the Florida State official who oversaw student discipline failed to look into the allegations against Winston as required by Title IX.
“Despite being on notice that two women had reported being raped by Winston, on November 12, 2013, FSU Dean of Students Jeanine Ward-Roof … who supervised Code of Conduct proceedings at FSU, emailed Chief Perry and others at FSU stating that no disciplinary proceedings against Winston were going to take place,” the suit alleged.
Ward-Roof, who has since left Florida State, also did not respond to a request for comment from FOX Sports.
Meanwhile, the school is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation into its handling of the allegation against the quarterback, who led the team to a second straight undefeated regular season Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Title IX guidelines issued to all schools by the U.S. Department of Education call for most investigations to be concluded in roughly 60 days, but Florida State administrators have acknowledged that they did not attempt to question Winston until January 2014 – a year after he emerged as a suspect in the incident.
Tallahassee police detectives also have been criticized for failing to take other actions. For instance, they never visited Potbelly’s to seek surveillance camera footage despite the fact the business had more than 35 cameras in its public areas. Detectives failed to identify the driver of the cab that took the group from Potbelly’s to Winston’s apartment, and there are no records showing that detectives ever attempted to interview Casher, Winston’s roommate, despite the fact the woman told detectives she met a freshman football player named Chris at the club in the hours before the alleged assault.
Casher was one of only two freshmen named “Chris” on the football team that year.
The rape allegation was shelved by Tallahassee police in early 2013 amid assertions that the woman was uncooperative – something her attorneys have repeatedly disputed. Meggs then revived the case in November 2013 after his office learned of the woman’s allegations – and his investigation was carried out as Winston was marching the Seminoles to the team’s first national championship since 1999.
Meggs’ investigators matched Winston’s DNA to genetic material found on the woman’s clothing, but in the end he concluded there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges.
Title IX, however, requires that schools investigate alleged sexual assaults irrespective of whether criminal charges are filed – and that led school administrators to attempt to interview Winston last January and then to interview the woman in August. Following that investigation, school administrators notified Winston in October that he faced four charges under the Florida State student code of conduct – two counts of sexual misconduct and two counts of endangerment.
Major Harding, a retired Florida Supreme Court justice, conducted two days of closed-door hearings Dec. 2 and 3 in Tallahassee, then concluded there was not enough evidence to find that Winston broke school rules.
“As summarized in the preceding paragraphs, the evidence regarding the events that unfolded between you and (the accuser) once in your room is irreconcilable,” Harding wrote in his decision. “In light of all the circumstances, I do not find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses. I cannot find with any confidence that the events as set forth by you, (the accuser), or a particular combination thereof is more probable than not as required to find you responsible for a violation of the code. Therein lies the determinative factor of my decision.”
“This was a complex case, and I worked hard to make sure both parties had a full and fair opportunity to present information,” Harding wrote. “In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charged violations of the code. Namely, I find that the evidence before me is insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof.”