FSU investigating Jameis Winston

ByJared Shanker and Mark Schlabach via ESPN logo
Friday, September 5, 2014

Florida State has begun conducting a required investigation into Jameis Winston in relation to 2012 accusations of rape by a female student despite the state's declining to charge the quarterback in the matter.

An attorney representing Winston's accuser says FSU is following through with its Title IX investigation and that school officials interviewed the woman for the first time in early August. She initially reported the alleged rape to police in December 2012.

It was a development Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said wouldn't serve as a distraction for the top-ranked football team.

"No, this team moves on," Fisher said Thursday. "I have no idea how that'll go, what it's about. That's for other people to find out. We're just here playing ball."

John Clune, the woman's attorney, said in interviews with USA Today and ESPN.com that they were surprised by the timing of the investigation but that it was what the school was "required to do all along."

Clune said an Aug. 7 interview between his client and the school "went pretty well."

"I think it was a positive experience, and everyone felt like the university was taking it very seriously,"Clune told USA Today.

The school also interviewed two other people, Clune said, but the attorney does not know whether Winston was interviewed.

"I'm confident that they told us it's going to be more than window dressing," Clune said. "That's about the best I can say. Time will tell."

Fisher said he had been kept in the loop and abreast of the situation.

"We're just going to coach ball just like we are," Fisher said when asked whether the team was prepared in the event Winston was found responsible and missed time.

Title IX mandates schools investigate and adjudicate sexual harassment and violence cases separate of any criminal investigation, and says schools should not wait for any criminal investigation to conclude.

The state attorney's office began investigating Winston in November 2013, but no charges were filed because of insufficient evidence.

Willie Meggs, the state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, whose office declined to pursue criminal charges against Winston in December, said he wasn't aware of any new evidence in the case.

"My understanding is what they're looking at is much different from what we were looking at," Meggs said. "The standards for criminal charges and student conduct are different animals."

Meggs did say he was surprised FSU officials took so long to investigate the woman's claims.

In a statement, Winston family adviser David Cornwell reasserted that Winston did not sexually assault the accuser.

"The real story here is that after her Colorado attorneys created a media frenzy alleging that Florida State University failed to comply with its Title IX obligations, [the accuser] had to come clean and admit that she previously refused to cooperate with the university's Title IX inquiry,"Cornwell said in the statement. "Now that she has finally done her Title IX interview, this is the fourth time [the accuser] has told her story.

"We anticipate the same conclusion that followed her previous three statements to the Tallahassee Police Department, Florida's State Attorney's Office and in the FSU Code of Student Conduct hearing."

FSU's ruling will be based on a "preponderance of evidence" -- a standard set forth in the "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights.

Two of Winston's teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, faced school code of conduct charges this summer. Only Casher, who told police he recorded the incident on his phone but later deleted it, was found responsible, and he received a year of probation, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Clune said he expects the university to charge Winston with violating the school's conduct policy.

"If somebody doesn't want to give his side of the story, I don't see how that could be the basis for not being charged," Clune said. "It's up to any student if they don't want to cooperate with an investigation, but it shouldn't work to their advantage to not give their side of what happened."

Florida State spokeswoman Browning Brooks declined to comment on the specific investigation, citing federal privacy laws, when contacted by USA Today.

"While we cannot comment on any individual case, in general, complainants control the timing in our process," she said.

Title IX suggests a school's investigation into any report of sexual misconduct should be completed within 60 days, but Florida State did not meet with Winston until January 2014, which was more than a year after the alleged assault.

Baine Kerr, another Title IX attorney representing the woman, told USA Today in April that FSU had suspended its investigation into Winston partly because he refused to cooperate.

Clune said it was "unfortunate" the university's investigation took so long to begin and after the woman already left Florida State, but he is "encouraged that they seem to be taking this seriously, and she'll certainly help with whatever they need."

Winston last season won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman and led the Seminoles to their first national championship since 1999.

Florida State currently is ranked No. 1 in both polls after starting its season with a 37-31 win against Oklahoma State.

Clune said he feels the football team's success has caused a "power struggle" within the university.

"I think the issue is there are definitely some people at this university that really want to do the right thing and want to comply with the law," Clune said in the interview with USA Today. "But it seems like there's a power struggle between those folks and people that would be just fine to just see this go away.

"We're dealing with one of the most powerful athletic departments in the country with the No. 1 football team in the nation, and I think we'll know very shortly how much control that athletic department has."

Winston did not talk with the Tallahassee Police Department or the state attorney's office during the criminal investigation. He said, through his attorney, that the sex was consensual.

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