Two University of New Mexico football players and another student plan to sue the school for how it investigated sexual-assault allegations against them.
At a press conference last week, the students said the sex with their accuser was consensual, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Their lawyer, George Bleus, said the suit would focus on the university police’s “alarming level of investigation – or lack thereof.”
It’s a double whammy for the university: The Justice Department said Dec. 5 it was investigating how the University of New Mexico handles reported sexual assaults and harassment, in response to “multiple complaints.”
In April, SaQwan Edwards, Crusoe Gongbay and Central New Mexico Community College student Ryan Ruff were accused of kidnapping a female student, identified in legal papers as “CS,” from an off-campus party and sexually assaulting her.
The affidavit for Ruff’s arrest gives the accuser’s account of what occurred that night – that Edwards, Gongbay and Ruff abducted CS and coerced her into performing multiple sexual acts with them.
The district attorney’s office dismissed criminal charges in June without entirely dropping the case, KQRE News 13 reported. The players were allowed to rejoin the team in August, the Journal reported.
The lawsuit against the school concerns the initial stages of the investigation, conducted by the University of New Mexico Police Department, which led to criminal charges.
Lawyer Bleus told The College Fix in a phone interview the university police investigation was “shoddy and deficient.”
In a case that revolves around kidnapping and “criminal sexual penetration” in a vehicle, Bleus said university police made no effort to secure the vehicle and search it for physical evidence. “A total lack of forensic evidence in the vehicle,” said Bleus, “would have cleared my clients.”
The alleged victim also claims Ruff threatened her with a gun while she was in the vehicle. According to Bleus, university police made no effort to find this gun.
On these and other issues where factual disputes would have arisen, Bleus said, university police “just took the victim’s word for it.”
“Civil rights violations” will be among the claims the accused students bring against the university and its police, Bleus said, but couldn’t state exactly what claims they will file.
The university released a statement last week saying it has “received no notice” of the forthcoming lawsuit, but that it “stands by the investigation” by its police. Its police department declined to comment on its handling of the investigation.
Bleus and the accuser’s lawyer, Brad Hall, began publicly squabbling in June after Bleus showed videos to the media that he said exonerated Ruff, whom he represented at the time. Edwards and Gongbay had separate legal representation during the criminal proceedings.
“Publicly branding the victim a ‘liar’ and releasing videos of unconsented sexual activity while the investigation is still ongoing sends a strong message to other rape victims, and deter them from coming forward,” Hall wrote in a statement that called Bleus’ action “unprofessional and morally reprehensible.”
“The video clips apparently shown to the media by a criminal defense attorney are proof of drugged behavior, not consent,” Hall wrote.
Bleus shot back that Hall alleged the use of a “date rape drug” months after the accuser made her initial allegations, as listed in Ruff’s arrest warrant. The defense lawyer suggested that the accuser was only belatedly claiming memory loss when her version of events “was put to the test.”
Bleus told The Fix that he intentionally “tried his case in the media” in June. He decided to “put all his cards on the table” by releasing videos of the incident and allowing the public to come to their own conclusions.
College Fix reporter Stephen Edwards is a student at Furman University.