For Jameis Winston and Florida State, Friday was a rather interesting day.
While FSU and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback made final preparations for Saturday's game at Syracuse, a trio of stories from major national news organizations came out alleging wrongdoing in the handling of the sexual assault allegations that were made against Winston by a Florida State student.
First came a Fox Sports report from Kevin Vaughan stating that FSU attempted to hinder the investigation in the case.
Florida State responded to the report with a news release declaring that “the continual drumbeat of misinformation about the University's actions causes harm to our students, faculty, alumni, supporters and the FSU community as a whole” and then proceeded to set out its timeline for how the allegations and the case was handled.
Then, a New York Times piece by Mike McIntire and Walt Bogdanich dropped that stated how the Winston case was just a symptom of a larger problem: Tallahassee police consistently and systematically protected Florida State football players in criminal matters that included domestic violence and motor vehicle theft.
Finally, Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com wrote a piece highlighting the fact that Florida State had notified Winston that he will face a disciplinary hearing regarding the sexual assault charges and that he could be charged with up to four violations of FSU’s student conduct code, two of which deal with sexual conduct.
Here’s a look at what we’ve learned from the new reports on the Winston investigation.
Fox Sports report
Friday afternoon, Vaughan, a Fox Sports reporter and legal analyst, released a lengthy story that referenced multiple documents, claiming that Tallahassee police and Florida State officials actively worked to hamper the investigation and coverage of the allegations against Winston.
According to the story, state attorney Willie Meggs claims that FSU “apparently turned copies of the police report over to Winston’s attorney days before his office even knew the allegation existed.
“Then he starts preparing a defense before we even know there's a case,” Meggs told Fox Sports.
Fox Sports showed that on Nov. 8, 2013, the Tallahassee Police Department forwarded reports of the sexual assault allegation that had taken place 11 months earlier to the Florida State campus police. It then sent the report to FSU senior associate athletic director for internal operations Monk Bonasorte.
The story states that “sometime in the next two days” the report made its way to Winston’s lawyer, but it offers no concrete proof when or if it happened.
Fox Sports also quoted an email noting that TMZ.com had contacted the FSU campus police department seeking information on the case and that deputy chief Maj. Jim Russell had responded to it as a “rumor,” one he was “happy to dispel.”
On Nov. 13, Winston’s lawyer sat down with a pair of FSU teammates who were present on the night of the allegations: Chris Casher and Ronald Darby. They prepared notarized statements that remarked how the sexual encounter between Winston and his accuser appeared “consensual.”
Meggs told Fox Sports that there was “a whole litany of things that we would have done (differently) and called the investigation “a bass-ackwards way of doing things.” He said the fact that Winston’s lawyer knew about the case before he did was a “handicap” in the case.
Much of the information in the Fox Sports report was not new: An April New York Times report by Bogdanich laid out the timeline and also stated that Casher and Darby had spoken with Winston’s lawyer before they talked with police.
New York Times report
The Times, meanwhile, dropped another very interesting article on Friday afternoon.
It examined nine criminal cases involving Florida State players over an 18-month period and determined that police have consistently “soft-pedaled” allegations of wrongdoing.
“From criminal mischief and motor-vehicle theft to domestic violence, arrests have been avoided, investigations have stalled and players have escaped serious consequences,” the Times wrote.
It noted a 911 call that stated an FSU player was beating a woman outside their apartment while she tried to leave, claiming the man was “punching” the woman and “grabbing the little baby around the arm.”
The Times found that the complaint was not as thoroughly investigated as domestic violence cases normally are, but the officers did notify Sgt. David McCranie that the man was a Florida State football player. The case was downgraded to a “domestic disturbance” and McCranie signed off on the case, which was considered “unfounded.”
The Times also noted a number of BB gun incidents and battles that involved Florida State players. One, in November 2012, took place from an SUV and injured bystanders. No charges were filed because a suspect could not be identified.
Later that month, 13 FSU players (including Winston and Casher) were involved in a BB gun shootout that shattered windows at an apartment complex that caused $4,200 in damage to 13 windows. The case was investigated as a felony, but no charges were filed after the players paid for the damages.
In June 2013, three FSU football players (Dalvin Cook, Trey Marshall and Jesus Wilson) were involved in a previously unreported BB gun battle that “looked like a drug deal gone bad,” according to a bystander. They damaged tenants’ cars and eventually required the Tallahassee Police Department to use a police helicopter to search for suspects.
TPD investigator Scott Cherry told the state attorney’s office that three suspects were FSU football players and wrote that “the issue would have to be round-tabled with the division chiefs” before proceeding.
The crime was tabled for over two months before the Times inquired in September. The suspects were charged on Oct. 2 with a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief.
One of the suspects, Wilson, was charged in June with operating a stolen motor scooter. He claimed he had borrowed it from a student named “Drew” but didn’t know the owner’s last name. This was not true, according to the scooter’s owner.
The Times said the case “languished for weeks” and that the TPD had filed an internal affairs inquiry into the fact that a citizen might have been asked not to file charges in a potential felony.
“It didn’t seem like they were pursuing the case much and were waiting to see if I would just forget about it or let it be,” the student told the Times.
In July, Wilson was charged with grand theft auto after admitting he’d taken the scooter with the keys in the ignition. He pleaded no contest and served 30 days on a sheriff’s work detail. He paid $1,000 restitution to the owner and has been reinstated to the team.
Gonzalo Bellini, the student's father, told Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat that there was "no pressure" from FSU or local police to file charges. However, he did say that Wilson's attorney, Tim Jansen, contacted him to see if the case could be resolved quickly "without it getting out of hand."
While much of the information released Friday had been disseminated elsewhere, an overarching sentiment remains: This is not good for Florida State or Winston, and the story that refuses to go away.
ESPN.com Student Conduct Hearing report
Later Friday, ESPN.com reported that Winston had been notified via letter that he’ll face a disciplinary hearing regarding the sexual assault charges that were made against him as part of FSU’s Title IX investigation into the case.
Winston could be charged with up to four violations of FSU’s student conduct code, two of which deal with sexual conduct.
Per FSU student conduct policy, ESPN.com reported, Winston has five business days to schedule an informational hearing that would inform him of his rights and the student conduct hearing. After that, FSU officials will determine whether he will face charges in the case.
Winston has been told that three outside individuals are willing to hear the case. He and his accuser will both have a chance to “strike,” or remove, one of the individuals from hearing the case.
FSU spokesperson Browning Brooks told Schlabach that an independent hearing officer is allowed under FSU rules.
To ensure an absolutely fair and impartial process, and to avoid any conflict created by the ongoing federal investigation and threatened civil litigation, the University will appoint an independent hearing officer to investigate and make findings regarding this matter. The use of an outside hearing officer is allowed under FSU procedures. Out of fairness to the students involved, we are exercising this option to remove any doubt about the integrity of the eventual outcome.
Winston played as normal at Syracuse. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told ESPN’s Quint Kessenich on College GameDay that Winston’s status is “an issue that’s been ongoing for a while. We’re here to play a game, that’s what we’re concerned about.”
Florida State University response
Florida State did not respond specifically to any of the stories but laid out its own timeline as “we expect other stories to appear.”
It said that following the original complaint, it did not file a report with the university’s Title IX administrator (considered a necessary step) because Winston and his teammates described the incident independently as consensual.
When news of the investigation broke in November 2013, FSU said that it “took steps to protect the complainant’s privacy and safety,” advising her of news stories, putting her contact information on lockdown and persuading the FSU student newspaper not to publish her name.
It then also conducted a Title IX investigation and reviewed “voluminous documents connected to the case,” but says it was told by the accuser’s attorney "to cease all contact with her client."
The investigation was originally shelved in February 2014 but reopened in August, and FSU says it is “committed to investigating this matter in accordance with our Title IX obligations” and is cooperating with the U.S. Department of Education investigation in the matter.
It added that “we have begun enhancing our training and examining our policies while putting into place concrete changes” into how it handles sexual assault charges by "strengthening" its response to such charges.
“We did not want you to confuse our silence with idleness, a lack of caring or, as some have alleged, an institutional conspiracy to protect a star athlete,” the statement concluded. “We hope what we've shared with you establishes otherwise.”
It is unclear what discipline would await Winston if he was found culpable in FSU's Title IX investigation, but nearly two years after it occurred and 11 months after the star quarterback was cleared of criminal charges in the matter, the case and Florida State's involvement continue to make news.
ESPN autograph report
Monday afternoon, ESPN.com's Darren Rovell and Mark Schlabach reported that FSU's compliance department is examining how approximately 340 Winston autographs were authenticated by James Spence Associates, the same company that had approximately 500 authenticated autographs connected to suspended Georgia tailback Todd Gurley. ESPN reported that Jimbo Fisher approached Winston following the Syracuse game and asked him if he signed autographs for money, per a source: Winston told Fisher that he did not. ESPN reports that FSU has not been contacted regarding the matter by the ACC or NCAA.
Winston's eligibility for a team fighting for a berth in the initial College Football Playoff has to be a concern for Fisher and the Seminoles, and more importantly, FSU's national reputation has taken a major hit. While the university is taking steps to repair its image, how effective it will be both locally and nationally remains to be seen.