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Utah State says it didn’t cover up wrongdoing, will make changes to how it handles sexual assault

First Published      Last Updated Oct 06 2016 01:43 pm


Utah State’s probe finds no athlete favoritism, but school vows closer cooperation with police, better communication and monitoring.

Utah State University is vowing to improve its relationship with local law enforcement after four women told Logan police they were sexually assaulted by the same student in 2015.

This was one of several recommendations made at the conclusion of an internal investigation by the university into its sexual assault policies and allegations first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune in July.

The inquiry also found that USU officials did not discourage victims from reporting or hide any evidence of wrongdoing by the school, and that athletes did not receive preferential treatment, according to a statement on the school's website.




In 2015, four women — who did not know one another — separately went to Logan police and made official reports naming Torrey Green, a former USU linebacker, as their attacker. Three of those women were students and told The Tribune they also informed the school.

USU's recommendations, released Wednesday, did not address the allegations of the three students specifically, and it's still unclear whether the university fully investigated the allegations against Green.

Under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination, higher education institutions have an obligation to swiftly respond to and resolve complaints of sexual assault. Citing federal privacy laws, USU denied a records request for communication between police and university coaches and officials that mention Green. The Tribune has appealed that decision to the State Records Committee, which has set a hearing for Oct. 13.

Green played all 13 games during the 2015 season, was able to graduate and remained on campus through spring 2016. No charges were filed, but Cache County prosecutors began re-evaluating the cases in July.

The three women who reported to USU say the school did not contact them for the inquiry.

Steven Healy, co-founder of Margolis Healy, a company that manages high-profile higher education cases that often deal with Title IX compliance, said students should be involved in discussions about potential policy changes — especially those who prompted the inquiry.

"If an investigation into how the institution handles a complaint of sexual harassment is conducted, the students that are involved in it have to be interviewed," he said. "I can't imagine how they wouldn't be."

USU spokesman Tim Vitale would not say why no one spoke to the three women, but said students have been involved in the school's broader review of its sexual assault policies. He added that students will continue to be involved as the school moves forward with these recommendations.

The university began its investigation in July, led by in-house counsel Mica McKinney. Vitale said McKinney spoke with all university staff involved, and added that they "looked closely at all the information we had available, including at allegations listed in the media."

Healy said an internal investigation isn't the wrong move, but it certainly bucks the trend of hiring outside consultants to look into allegations of sexual assault.

With an outside investigation, "on the surface you probably get more objectivity and you probably have more subject-matter expertise because you're hiring someone who does this for a living," Healy said. "And then, for the most part, you avoid the potential for a conflict of interest."

Vitale said Wednesday that McKinney "has received specific legal training about Title IX processes."

He added that the university opted to do an internal investigation so the review would be completed quickly and the school could "begin making additional changes immediately."

School officials might bring in "outside expertise" as they move forward with the planned changes, Vitale added.

The sexual assault allegations against Green are not the first high-profile accusations Utah State has dealt with in recent years. Charges were filed last year against two different men at two different Utah State fraternities. Both men received jail sentences and the fraternities, Pi Kappa Alpha and Sigma Chi, were sanctioned.

According to the Wednesday news release, the school will be communicating better with law enforcement and plans to ensure employees follow mandatory reporting responsibilities.

A committee also will be created to make sure investigation and adjudication processes, faculty and staff training, student education and efforts to prevent sexual assault are implemented.

The recommendations also include better linking of records among offices such as Title IX, housing and student conduct, as well as providing an online sexual misconduct reporting option. Additionally, the school will work on a standardized process for anonymous sexual misconduct reports: where they are recorded, who responds and how they're received.

The school also plans to better educate students about consent, as well as reporting options at USU, and create a forum to "encourage candid discussion about USU's efforts to address the issues of sexual assault."

"The university is committed to swiftly implementing needed changes. We also ask for the commitment and support of our entire campus community to help us in this important effort," the statement said.

The Atlanta Falcons, who signed Green as a free agent in April, cut him from the NFL team in August after learning of the multiple sexual assault allegations against him.

What we know

Under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination in education, schools must take action if there is a potential continuing threat to students. It also mandates that universities investigate credible reports that a student has sexually abused multiple students.

USU asserts that it cannot answer questions about specific students or Title IX cases and its handling of them, saying that state and federal law protect student records as private and that the law prevents the school from releasing information on Title IX matters.

However, Title IX does not say that schools may not release records, and courts have differed on the definition of student records. USU denied a records request for communication between police and university coaches and officials that mention Green. The Tribune has appealed that decision, asserting that communication does not qualify as a student record, to the State Records Committee, which has set a hearing for Oct. 13.Below are the questions we still have about USU's involvement in these cases.

The Tribune generally does not name sexual assault victims. Anna agreed to the use of her first name; the other three women requested pseudonyms.

Catherine, the first woman to report being raped by Green last year, informed both her dorm's resident assistant and supervisor. Under school policy, it's mandatory that they report allegations of sexual assault to the Title IX office — did they?

The Tribune does not know. The university has refused to speak about the situation, citing privacy concerns.

Catherine dropped out of Utah State about two weeks after reporting her rape.

Mary, the second woman to report being sexually assaulted by Green, informed the school's Title IX office but later asked them to stop investigating. Did they continue investigating, or inform coaches and university officials?

The Tribune does not know. The university has refused to speak about the situation, citing privacy concerns.

Anna, the third woman to report, informed someone at the school — in the Title IX office, she believes — making her the third woman to inform school officials. Was anything done?

The Tribune does not know. The university has refused to speak about the situation, citing privacy concerns.

Fearing retaliation from the athlete, Anna left Logan and moved back home to the Salt Lake City area after she decided to report.

Debbie, the fourth woman to report, was not a student and informed Logan Police. Did Logan Police tell the school of this or any of the previous incidents?

The Tribune does not know. In response to a records request, Logan police told the Tribune the department did not have any correspondence with university officials or coaches mentioning Green. Police have repeatedly refused to respond to requests for comment, so it's unknown whether phone calls were involved.

The three female students — Catherine, Mary and Anna — went to the Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information office before reporting to police. Did Jenny Erazo, office coordinator, inform the school about those three allegations?

Erazo told The Tribune she would inform the Title IX office if she received multiple reports against the same individual, citing the Clery Act. She would not say if that's what happened in the case of Green.

Did the university fully investigate any of the allegations or discipline Green?

University officials will not discuss Green or the four cases, citing privacy concerns. However, he played in all 13 games during the 2015 season.

Did Utah State's athletic department or coaches know about the allegations?

Head football coach Matt Wells said Aug. 4 that he had heard about the allegations from the university within the previous week.

He said such issues usually "go through the chain of command" before they're brought to his attention.

"Those are issues that don't concern me until they get to me," he said during a news conference that was part of the team's media day. "I can react when I find something out."

On Aug. 3, Wells had tweeted "good luck" to Green for training camp. The tweet was removed the next day.

Did USU officials ever talk Green?

Green told The Tribune last month the school talk to him about an incident, but did not specify which one. Utah State officials will not discuss Green or the cases, citing privacy concerns.

astuckey@sltrib.com

Twitter @alexdstuckey

 

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