By Julie Montanaro
April 4, 2014
The U.S. Department of Education is now investigating Florida State University's handling of sex assault accusations against star quarterback Jameis Winston.
Jameis Winston hoisted a national championship trophy within weeks of finding out he would not face any criminal charges in a sexual assault investigation.
That decision came nearly a year after the woman first reported the assault to police.
Now, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights wants to know if FSU followed rules under Title 9.
"Once they dropped the case and other things came to light in the situation, I thought it was over with," FSU grad student Valarie Smith said. "I'm not sure what the purpose is."
"I think FSU did everything in their power that was possible to make sure the case was fairly handled," FSU student Gerard Benjamin said.
Most people think of Title IX as guaranteeing parity in women's sports but Title IX rules also demand universities conduct "prompt and equitable" investigation into complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Tallahassee education law attorney Terry Harmon wouldn't comment on the FSU case, but says OCR title 9 investigations -and lawsuits - are becoming increasingly common.
"The purpose of OCR going in, is to look at university or college actions...not necessarily to determine whether a State Attorney's Office or law enforcement agency acted appropriately. In my experience, typically they're looking solely at the college or university," Harmon said.
Complainants can use the OCR findings if they wind up suing a university in court later, Harmon said.
If the OCR ultimately decides a university has violated title 9 laws, it can force changes in university policy or even pull federal funding.
It's not clear when FSU started its Title IX investigation or if Jameis Winston ever faced a grievance or appeared at a hearing.
An FSU spokeswoman says those records are not public.
FSU declined to answer most of our questions, citing privacy laws.
It did issue a statement which said in part:
"State and federal privacy laws prohibit the university from providing details on any individual case. However, it is our consistent practice to inform complainants at numerous steps in the counseling process about their options to pursue either criminal or university proceedings — or both."
"We empower complainants by giving great weight to their wishes about what process to pursue and when. We place no time limits on when an aggrieved student may file a complaint or when new information can be considered. We take seriously the safety, trust and privacy of the entire university community."
We reached out to the Title IX attorneys representing the woman who accused Winston of sexual assault. One responded, but declined comment.
Updated By: Winnie Wright
Updated: April 3, 2014, 10:30pm
Florida State University is now acknowledging that they are being investigated by the U.S Department of Education.
The investigation ties in with how the university handled the rape allegations in connection with Jameis Winston from last year, and if Title IX laws were violated.
This all goes back to December of 2012 when an FSU student said she was sexually assaulted by Winston. The investigation made national headlines as Winston went on to win the Heisman Trophy, and helped bring a National Championship back to Tallahassee.
Winston was never charged with any crime.
According to Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education, universities that receive federal funds must investigate claims of sexual assault in a timely and impartial manner. A USA Today article says school officials met with Winston in late January of this year for an FSU code of conduct hearing, to discuss the alleged assault; over a year after the complaint was filed. The article also says the school attempted to comply with Title IX, but they may have further violated the law by only meeting with Winston, and not the accuser.
FSU confirmed that they have been notified of the OCR investigation, but cannot comment due to federal and state privacy laws.
We also reached out to the attorney representing the alleged victim, but have not heard back.
News Release: USA Today
Updated: April 3, 2014, 7pm
The U.S. Department of Education is now investigating FSU's handling of rape allegations against star quarterback Jameis Winston, that according to USA Today.
USA Today reports the DOE'S Office for Civil Rights is trying to determine whether the school violated title nine laws.
The USA Today reports the woman who accused Winston of assaulting her filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights last month.
That report also indicates the federal probe focuses on the lengthy delay in investigating the sexual assault claims and whether the university met with Winston alone to discuss the allegations.
Winston was not charged with a crime.
The U.S. Department of Education has confirmed it is investigating FSU, but would not comment on the nature of the complaint or the parties involved.