White accuser was ‘bragging’ about the sex days earlier, suit claims
A private university in Ohio expelled two black athletes following a “24-hour sham investigation” into rape allegations by a white female, and tried to force witnesses to change their stories using threats and coercion, according to a lawsuit against the school.
The University of Findlay also publicly identified them as rapists while they were still appealing their expulsions, says the federal complaint on behalf of Justin Browning, who played on the football team, and Alphonso Baity, who played on the basketball team.
It’s the latest lawsuit by students of color accusing their institutions of depriving them of due process in rape investigations.
The Churches of God-affiliated university has a history of “discriminating against African-American males in allegations of sexual assault by Caucasian females,” the plaintiffs claim. The suit is saturated with references to race, including the paucity of black people in the town of Findlay and in the student body (both around 2 percent), and it notes that every named individual defendant is white.
In addition to the board of trustees, Browning and Baity sued the head of student affairs, assistant athletic director, Title IX investigator, housing director, safety and security director, assistant dean of students, the female accuser (“M.K.”) and her resident assistant, and unknown others who were involved in the investigation. The suit was filed Dec. 23.
Interview the white girls but not the black guys
According to the complaint, Browning and Baity were accused of sexual assault by M.K. 10 days after their “consensual sex” with her in their house – shared with two other student athletes – in September 2014. Witnesses heard her “vocalization” during the sex, which “demonstrated her consent,” the plaintiffs claim.
M.K. herself changed her story from an initially positive recalling of events – “bragging” about the sex to friends and describing its particulars – to accusing Browning and Baity of assault “for some reason, unknown by Plaintiffs,” they said.
Vice President for Student Affairs David Emsweller rushed the investigation to get the potentially bad exposure behind the school as soon as possible, the complaint states. It was so fast that M.K. herself wasn’t questioned, despite her reference to “existing videos” from the evening in question.
The school only interviewed one of three black male witnesses, showing “intentional racial discrimination” against the other two because the first claimed the sex was consensual, the suit states.
It interviewed two white female students who were in the house when the alleged assault occurred, but they ended up corroborating the plaintiffs’ account, according to the suit. One was fired from her campus job and the other was “threatened with expulsion” for their testimony.
Publicly branded while appeal was pending
Echoing a lawsuit against Georgia Tech for its own investigation of an alleged assault, the Findlay suit claims the investigators wrote “summary statements” and threw away their handwritten notes from the witness interviews. The school also failed to wait for Browning to track down videos from the night that he claimed would exonerate him, expelling him first, the suit claims.
The plaintiffs believe that M.K. filed a criminal complaint with the local police department, and that it then forwarded the case to the Hancock County prosecutor, but thus far neither plaintiff has been charged.
Just hours after Browning and Baity filed appeals of their expulsion, the school sent a “defamatory” email to the entire campus community identifying Browning and Baity as rapists – “a blatant breach of the confidentiality” of the investigation, the suit states.
The public shaming stung. “Browning and Baity were good students with good reputations,” according to the suit. “They were also important members of their respective sports teams. They were well-liked by the campus community.”
According to WFIN, President Katherine Fell said she hoped the expelled students would learn from the incident, and Emsweller said the investigation was so fast because of “the nature of the incident.”
Another black athlete accused of rape and expelled a month later
The plaintiffs weren’t the last black athletes kicked out of the school that fall. The administration expelled football player Laceem McCall the following month on different rape allegations just a week after he was accused, according to The Courier.
While it’s not known whether any colleges have categorized sexual misconduct investigations by the race or ethnicity of accuser and accused, some lawsuits by accused students note their ethnicity. An Asian student accused Amherst College in one high-profile case of targeting “male students of color” in investigations.
Harvard Law School Prof. Janet Halley, who has served both accusing and accused students in campus sexual-misconduct investigations, has said in congressional testimony that male students of color are accused and punished at “unreasonably high” rates.
The University of Findlay’s media relations office did not respond to a request for comment from The College Fix. But Joy Shaw, the school’s media relations coordinator, told Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner: “The university conducted this process with integrity and fairness. We will vigorously defend the process and our decision.”
According to Schow, Shaw didn’t respond to her question about any racial element in the investigation.
— Ashe Schow (@AsheSchow) January 6, 2016
UPDATE: The university’s media relations coordinator gave a comment to the Washington Examiner, which has been added.
IMAGES: Andrey Popov/Shutterstock, Alvin Trusty/Flickr, 13 ABC/Internet Archive