Review planned for U of M's handling of Gophers football sexual assault case

- The University of Minnesota Regents are calling for a review of the administration's handling of the Gophers football sexual assault case.

Ten Gophers players were suspended for their alleged involvement in a Sept. 2 incident in which a woman claimed she was pressured into having sex with multiple football players.

In December, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action recommended the expulsion of Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson, a one-year suspension for Antoine Winfield Jr., Seth Green, Kobe McCrary and Mark Williams and probation for Antonio Shenault.

The punishments were appealed and in February a university panel cleared Green, McCrary, Shenault and Winfield, allowing them to return to school and to the Gophers football team.  The panel also reduced Djam’s punishment to a one-year suspension. The panel upheld the Williams suspension and upheld the expulsions of Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson.

The accuser in the case appealed the decisions on McCrary and Winfield and Williams and Hardin made their own appeals. Earlier this week, attorney Lee Hutton confirmed Winfield, Williams and McCrary won their appeals and will be able to return to the team this season. The expulsion of Hardin was upheld, as was the one-year suspension for Djam.

Board Chairman Dean Johnson introduced the resolution at the end of the Board of Regents meeting in Duluth on Friday. The review will be completed in May and will be managed by the university's chief auditor, he said. 

“Allegations of sexual assault are serious and we are committed to insuring student safety across all of our campuses as well as an appropriate process for all parties involved,” Johnson said. “When we encounter challenging situations, we must take a step back and learn so we can do better in the future.”

Ryan Pacyga, Winfield's attorney, told Fox 9 he hopes the Regents look to improve the university's due process protections for accused students.

"The very nature of such allegations warrants equal protection for both the accuser as well as the accused," said Pacyga. "Otherwise, the same blunders will occur again and again. I hope the University has the courage to honestly examine how it can provide a more thorough and fair process for future accused students."

Before the review was announced, at least one regent was ready to introduce a resolution calling for an independent investigation:

             REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA RESOLUTION TO
             Initiate an Independent Investigation

WHEREAS, one of the fundamental roles of the Board of Regents is to oversee the administration of the University of Minnesota’s operations; and

WHEREAS, the University of Minnesota is a public institution committed to transparency and accountability; and WHEREAS, an incident between a female University student and members of the University of Minnesota football team led to a report of sexual assault to the Minneapolis Police Department and to the University, resulting in suspension of four football players from the team; and

WHEREAS, the police investigation yielded admissions by five members of the football team of behavior that at a minimum reflected a lack of University values and an utter disregard and disrespect for the reporting student; and

WHEREAS, despite the admitted behavior, when the Hennepin County Attorney announced no charges would be made against the players on October 3, 2016, the administration lifted the suspension of the four players despite an ongoing University EOAA investigation and despite the Hennepin County Attorney’s opinion that the players should remain suspended; and

WHEREAS, the lifting of the suspensions compelled the reporting student to seek a protective order against the four players; and

WHEREAS, after the regular football season concluded, the same facts and admissions were cited to re-suspend the four players in contrast to the October 3, 2016 decision, with six additional players being suspended. The administration’s reversal on the initial suspensions and addition of individuals not alleged to be directly involved in the sexual assault led to confusion and concern among the remaining football players; and

WHEREAS, in response to their confusion and seeking clarification, team leaders announced a boycott of a pending bowl game, leading to a national and international story detrimental to the University’s reputation and standing in Minnesota and beyond; and

WHEREAS, inconsistent statements and descriptions of the events have been provided regarding the timing and basis for actions and decisions by the administration; and

WHEREAS, the lifting of the original suspensions during the EOAA investigation and the impact on the reporting student of doing so appear inconsistent with the Regents’ commitment to addressing the issue of sexual assault on campus and protecting those who report sexual assault.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Regents shall commission an independent investigation to review and assess the facts and processes related to the above events. The report shall cover the time period of September 2, 2016 through March 24, 2017. The investigator shall provide a completed report directly to the regents no later than May 5, 2017 to clarify and confirm accountability for actions taken and to identify areas of improvement to address matters that may arise in the future.

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