Florida State Faces Federal Inquiry for Jameis Winston Sexual Assault Allegation

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

Florida State quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston speaks Tuesday April 1, 2014 on the floor of the House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida legislature honored the football team during Florida State Day at the Capitol for winning the BCS National Championship last January. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
Phil Sears

Updates from Friday, April 18

Rachel Axon of USA Today reports that Winston's accuser's attorney says that the school should have continued their investigation:

"The university took the position that since he refused to respond to questions, they could not make any Title IX findings," Kerr said. "We have objected to that as impermissible reason to delay or terminate a Title IX sexual assault investigation because that would permit any charged party to thwart an investigation simply by refusing to answer questions."

Experts say Winston declining to answer questions is not sufficient to absolve the school of its responsibilities to investigate sexual assaults, which are considered a form of sexual harassment under Title IX. They suggested although it would be possible for the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to intervene in the adjudication of a case, it would be unlikely.

"The law is not supposed to operate in a way to reward people who don't cooperate with either criminal or civil investigations," said Erin Buzuvis, a professor of law at Western New England University and a Title IX expert. "It's just bizarre to think that would result in, 'Oh, I guess we just can't do anything.' Who would ever cooperate with anything?"

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston avoided criminal charges late last year stemming from a rape accusation, but the star Seminole may not be out of the woods yet.  

According to Adam Weinstein of Deadspin.com, Winston and teammates Chris Casher and Ronald Darby were investigated in the weeks following Florida State's national championship triumph over Auburn in accordance with the university's code of conduct.

Winston, Casher and Darby were part of a Title IX investigation stemming from the alleged rape. While Casher and Darby have reportedly been charged with five code-of-conduct violations, Winston has yet to be charged with anything.

On Thursday, Rachel Axon of USA Today reported that Florida State is now under federal investigation for how it handled the case:

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation of Florida State University into whether its handling of the Jameis Winston rape allegations violated Title IX laws, according to a letter confirming the decision that was obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

According to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Winston's accuser claimed he raped her on Dec. 7, 2012. The allegations put the Heisman Trophy winner in jeopardy of missing the BCS National Championship Game, but he ultimately wasn't charged.

David J. Phillip

Per Schlabach, Florida state attorney Willie Meggs didn't feel as though there was enough evidence to lead to a conviction at the time:

We've carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be filed against anyone in this case. ... We have a duty as prosecutors to determine if each case has a reasonable likelihood of conviction. After reviewing the facts in this case, we do not feel that we can reach those burdens.

Both Casher and Darby admitted they saw Winston having sex with the accuser, and Casher said that he took video of the sex act on his phone, although he eventually deleted it, according to Weinstein.

With that in mind, the university charges against Casher and Darby are as follows:

Both Casher and Darby face FSU charges of "conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for another person" and "acts that invade the privacy of another person." Casher faces an additional charge of "recording of images without consent." If found responsible in a university hearing, they could receive punishments ranging from a letter of reprimand to expulsion from the university.

While Casher and Darby came forward with their side of the story, Winston was advised by his legal counsel to refrain from answering questions, per Weinstein. That resulted in no charges being levied against him, although the door isn't shut provided new information becomes available.

According to Weinstein, the accuser's attorney, Baine Kerr, believes Winston should face repercussions if he doesn't speak up:

We're pleased that the university is finally attempting to meet its Title IX obligations, but it shouldn't be well over a year (after my client's assault). ... If Mr. Winston continues to refuse to discuss what happened that night, it's difficult to see how the university can avoid taking action.

Winston is set to enter his redshirt sophomore season at Florida State, which means he will be eligible to enter the 2015 NFL draft if he so chooses.

Chris O'Meara

After a spectacular freshman campaign, Winston is the odds-on favorite to be the top prospect in the 2015 class. Should anything come of this investigation, that could affect Winston's decision to enter the draft and also affect how NFL teams view him.

Winston was able to effectively block out distractions last season and lead his team to a national title, so there is reason to believe he can do the same this season.

Even so, it seems as though these accusations will continue to loom over Winston's head for as long as he stays at Florida State.


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