Review: Mizzou didn’t follow federal assault rules
ROLLA, Mo. — An independent report released Friday says the University of Missouri failed to follow parts of the federal law that governs sexual harassment on campus when handling the case of a former swimmer’s suicide.
The report concludes administrators on the Columbia campus should have investigated 20-year-old Sasha Menu Courey’s 2011 death after her parents raised questions about the events leading to her suicide. Menu Courey alleged she was sexually assaulted during her freshman year by as many as three football players, 16 months before she died.
The school previously said it didn’t act sooner under the 40-year-old Title IX law or more recent U.S. Department of Education instructions because neither Menu Courey nor her parents sought a police investigation and didn’t respond to a later request for information. The case was referred to Columbia police in late January after ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" raised numerous questions about the university’s response.
The report makes no specific recommendations for possible changes but instead provides a detailed accounting of the university’s response. Among its primary findings: The university lacked a policy advising employees of their obligations to report suspected sexual assault and harassment, which federal law suggested.
University President Tim Wolfe took action on that very issue Tuesday with an executive order that requires all university employees other than those legally bound by confidentiality to report such claims to the university’s Title IX coordinator.
"It became clear to us that we needed a stronger, more transparent policy," he said at a news conference Friday.
The Title IX coordinator and local police should have been alerted to Menu Courey’s claims in November 2012 after a public records request by her parents produced documents alluding to a possible attack, the report determined. The Title IX coordinator also should have been told about the possible assault nine months earlier when athletics department employees learned about it in a local news story, the law firm concluded.
University curators received the report, by the Dowd Bennett law firm of suburban St. Louis, during a closed-door session in Rolla on Friday. After the meeting, Wolfe apologized to Menu Courey’s "family, friends and teammates."
"We’re truly sorry for this heartbreaking tragedy and apologize for whatever shortcomings may have occurred on our part, and our treatment of her while she was one of our students," he said. "You remain in our thoughts and prayers as a university community."
Wolfe also said the report shows that "our university employees acted in good faith with the best interests of Sasha Menu Courey and her family in this matter. There was no attempt to cover anything up."
Other sexual assault cases have been linked to Missouri’s athletic department, including former running back Derrick Washington’s 2010 conviction for sexually assaulting a tutor in her sleep. Basketball player Michael Dixon transferred in 2012 after two sex assault claims against him went public, though he was never charged.
The report’s release also follows a turbulent week for Missouri athletics, in which transfer Zach Price was kicked off the men’s basketball team Thursday after two arrests and star receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from the football team moments after the curators’ meeting Friday following an investigation into a suspected burglary. No charges were filed against either man.
Menu Courey, who grew up outside Toronto, killed herself at a Boston psychiatric hospital after withdrawing from classes midsemester and being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a disease her family said she struggled with before college but which went undiagnosed.
The Associated Press normally doesn’t name alleged victims of sexual assault, but Menu Courey’s parents have publicly discussed the case at length, as has the university.
In a diary entry found by her family after her death, Menu Courey wrote she had told an academic counselor in Missouri’s athletic department about the rape while hospitalized in Boston. The report’s five-lawyer investigative team interviewed the counselor, who no longer works for the school, and determined that "it cannot be definitively concluded that a report of sexual assault … was made to any employee or official of the university while Sasha was alive, other than medical personnel."
The ex-counselor told investigators Menu Courey didn’t mention a rape, and that the counselors spoke to her while in a noisy restaurant.
"It is possible that either because of a miscommunication or an inability to hear everything, there was an unintentional disconnect" between the two women, the report said.