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Judge overturns campus rape finding after officials call accused student ‘motherf—er’


Make sure you hang up before demonstrating your bias

It’s hard to overstate the incompetence of some officials running Title IX investigations in America’s colleges.

Just before Christmas, a judge overturned the University of Southern California’s 2016 sexual-assault finding against an accused student, deeming him the victim of a process that was not “fair, thorough, reliabl[y] neutral and impartial.”

One of the errors made by the private institution? The Title IX coordinator and investigator repeatedly called the male student and his adviser “motherfuckers” after they forgot to hang up on a call with them.

Oh, and they called the female student accusing him “a catch.”

USC had a very low threshold to cross in order for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth White to wash her hands of the situation.

She could only review whether the school “proceeded without or in excess of jurisdiction, whether there was a fair trial, and whether a prejudicial abuse of discretion occurred” – in this case, where “substantial evidence” does not back the school’s findings.

USC failed miserably. It wasn’t the first time.

An admission that’s not an admission

White describes the relationship between “John Doe” and the female student as “volatile and complicated.”

They exchanged “several hundred” Facebook messages in less than a week as they rehashed a disputed sexual encounter two months earlier, when they were “dating-ish.” They continued sleeping together for a month after the disputed encounter on Oct. 14, 2015.

The female (“Roe”) alternately claimed 1) Doe held her down during sex and refused her verbal pleas to stop 2) she might not have actually told him to stop. Doe claims they “tried” having sex but didn’t actually do it that night.

There are a couple major factual disputes between the two.

Roe claimed Doe’s roommate “knocked a few times” and then entered the room as she was leaving in tears, and gave her “a confused face.” Doe claimed no one knocked and Roe was gone the next morning when he woke.

USC explicitly refused to interview the roommate – the only person who allegedly saw the two on the same night.

Instead, the administration deemed that Doe admitted to sexual assault because he made an ambiguous apology to Roe. She had texted him to make various accusations about his behavior that night, once more blurring the line of whether Doe actually violated her consent or just pressured her to have sex (“you also tried to guilt trip me into feeling bad and having sex”).

Judge White also notes that Roe herself didn’t immediately refer to the encounter as “rape” because she didn’t want to “make it a big deal.” Her own Facebook messages suggest she was accusing Doe because he continued “hooking up” with others, while she wanted them to be exclusive. (Recall this was a “dating-ish” relationship.)

‘Motherfuckers’: Judge rules USC denied ‘fair and impartial’ Title IX investigation to accused student by The College Fix on Scribd

‘Does that college motherfucker know who I am?’

Investigator Patrick Noonan interviewed 17 “witnesses,” none of whom witnessed the parties that night, and failed to give “any rationale” for not interviewing Doe’s roommate, who was explicitly suggested by Roe.

In his final investigative report, Noonan left out more than 150 pages of communications with Roe provided by Doe. The supposed investigator also made a rookie mistake: believing that two text messages in the communications had been manipulated because they were in “nonsequential order.”

You can see Judge White’s irritation flare up here: She notes that the texts were arranged that way because of the “computer applications” Doe used to retrieve the messages. Noonan cited these nonsequential texts as a strike against Doe’s credibility.

This is a man paid by USC to investigate felony-level allegations that depend heavily on digital evidence.

When Noonan and Title IX Coordinator Gretchen Dahlinger Means provided the findings to Doe and his adviser in a conference call, “neither party terminated the phone call,” White says.

Means and Noonan kept talking to each other on the hot line:

Means asked, “Who do these motherfuckers think they are?” and, “Does that college motherfucker know who I am?” … Both Noonan and Means referred to [Doe] as “motherfuckers.” … Noonan and Means also described Roe as “a catch” and expressed, “[She is] so cute and intelligent. What was she doing with that (referencing [Doe])?”

Means is paid by USC to ensure compliance with “non-discrimination” mandates.

Lame excuses for not interviewing only alleged witness

USC is actually responsible for California case law on the obligations of private educational institutions in student disciplinary proceedings – it screwed over an accused student in an ambiguous orgy – so Judge White didn’t have to look far for guidance.

She cited an “unacceptable probability of actual bias” against Doe, not only because of the “motherfuckers” comment by the officials in charge of the investigation, but because Means was also advising the “purportedly neutral” review panel that issued the decision against Doe:

In this case, the review panel did not issue any rationale for “its” determination and, instead, summarily adopted the findings of [Noonan]. … In sum, the panel is merely a proxy for the Title IX office, which actually rendered the underlying decision.

White rebuked the university for having the chutzpah to claim that its system is “comprised of independent decision-makers”:

[T]he Title IX Office is involved in each stage of the decision-making process. … Thus, it is disingenuous to argue that USC’s review process prevents bias from tainting the outcome when Coordinator Means – a person who has expressed vitriol against [Doe] and favoritism toward Roe – is permitted to advise each purported decision maker …

The judge also showed contempt for USC’s explanation for not interviewing Doe’s roommate, the only person who could corroborate a “material disputed fact” on the night in question.

The university said it was “not appropriate” to interview him, then claimed he was “out of the country … and unresponsive” based on Roe’s “uncorroborated claim.” USC never provided records of even its attempts to reach the roommate.

(Interestingly, White suggests USC may have disingenuously cited federal student privacy law to avoid explaining why it didn’t interview the roommate. The law’s author has said it’s massively abused.)

In perhaps her most stinging rebuke of the university, White said Doe’s purported “admissions of wrongdoing” (his ambiguous apology message to Roe) was not remotely a confession. What had Doe actually told Roe? That he was sorry for making her “upset,” “distressing” her, making a “mistake” and maybe for having “crossed a line” physically.

In fact, Doe categorically denied Roe’s claims when she finally accused him in plain words, not her ambiguous guilt-trip language: “I have never said that I sexually assaulted you and I maintain that to this day.”

The judge also rebuked Noonan for claiming Doe had “opportunities” to question his accuser, when the investigator wouldn’t even let Doe “take notes” during his interview – the only opportunity to submit questions for Roe.

Unfortunately for Doe, he’s probably stuck going through the star chamber again. White told the university to “conduct a new fair and impartial investigation.” Given USC’s trip through the California courts in the preceding years, that seems unlikely to pass.

CORRECTION: The original article gave the incorrect date for USC’s finding against John Doe. He was expelled in 2016 based on allegations from 2015. The article has been amended accordingly.

MORE: USC denied ‘fair hearing’ to accused student in orgy

IMAGE: Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” Previously he led media and public relations at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a free-market think tank. Greg is developing a Web series about a college newspaper, COPY, whose pilot episode was a semifinalist in the TV category for the Scriptapalooza competition in 2012. He graduated in 2001 with a B.A. from Seattle Pacific University, where he co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon.

Add to the Discussion

  • John1838

    USC explicitly refused to interview the roommate – the only person who allegedly saw the two on the same night.

    Ah, the “Let’s hang him and then have a trial” approach to justice.

    • old doc

      Think it’s more like the old Westerns – we’ll give you a trail before we hang you!

      • atwood6

        big difference between trial and trail…no, I’m not from the spelling police

      • Vic Bell

        Send him down the road, then hang him?

  • OC21

    Good enough reason to fire them both for incompetence. And remember you can’t spell “sucks” without USC.

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  • Dusty Thompson

    In a society where liberalism prevails among the academic elite, the more education you get, the more of a hopeless fool you become.

    It’s easy to be an American liberal. Just close your eyes, close your ears, and close everyone’s mouth who disagrees with you. It’s a formula for smug self-satisfaction.

    • NWBill

      Dusty, those two sentences are the best ones I’ve read in a long time! Well done!

      I sometimes wonder why people even bother with college anymore, when 90%+ of the people teaching you are just as likely to be indoctrinating you, based on their political positions. Why pay the government to be indoctrinated?

      In the Internet Age, giving an institution thousands of dollars a year to learn things you can easily locate and study yourself seems to me to be more and more of a waste of time. Diplomas, it seems, are worth less and less than the paper they’re printed on. Where will it all end? With the eventual destruction of the degree institution, I think.

  • Pashley

    Trying to force a reformation of a college administration is a task that would drive Hercules to tears. He only had the clean out manure out of stockyards.

    Let the college beatings continue. Call them “Title IX lottery tickets”; available for anyone, student, professor, passer-by, who gets caught in the madness.

    And where is Sessions in all this? What a missed opportunity.

  • wGraves

    Queen of Hearts:
    Now… are you ready for your sentence?

    Sentence? But there has to be a verdict first…

    Queen of Hearts:
    Sentence first! Verdict afterwards.

    But that just isn’t the way…

    Queen of Hearts:
    All ways are…!

    …your ways, your Majesty.

  • wGraves

    Penn’s demand

    to know under which law he was charged

    Penn: I desire you would let me know by what law it is you
    prosecute me, and upon what law you ground my indictment.

    Rec.: Upon the common-law.

    Penn: Where is that common-law?

    Rec.: You must not think that I am able to run up so many
    years, and over so many adjudged cases, which we call common-law,
    to answer your curiosity.

    Penn: This answer I am sure is very short of my question,
    for if it be common, it should not be so hard to produce.

    Rec.: The question is, whether you are Guilty of this Indictment?

    Penn: The question is not, whether I am Guilty of this
    Indictment, but whether this Indictment be legal. It is too
    general and imperfect an answer, to say it is the common-law,
    unless we knew both where and what it is. For where there is no
    law, there is no transgression; and that law which is not in
    being, is so far from being common, that it is no law at all.

    Rec.: You are an impertinent fellow, will you teach the
    court what law is? It is “Lex non scripta,” that which many have
    studied 30 or 40 years to know, and would you have me tell you in
    a moment?

    Penn: Certainly, if the common-law be so hard to understand
    it is far from being common.

    Trial of William Penn. 6 How. St. Trials (1670) 951, 958.

    Penn was refused admittance to the Quaker Meeting Hall and in
    protest began to preach in the street. He was indicted under the
    common law for taking part in an unlawful and tumultuous
    assembly. The jury refused to render a verdict of guilty and
    were taken into custody.

    Historical note: In 1681 King Charles II of England gave the Pennsylvania
    region to William Penn. Pennsylvania means
    Penn’s Woods. Penn, a Quaker, established the Pennsylvania colony
    so that Quakers and other faiths could have religious freedom.

    In this case the prosecution didn’t just do away with the law, they did away with the court as well. I doubt that the University Brain Trust had even heard of the law of criminal procedure.

  • Dr. Donny

    Means is proof that only the dumb, ugly, and incompetent work for colleges as administrators.