FSU official says football players get special treatment in sexual assault cases

26 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Deposition: 20 women accused Seminole football players of sexual assault last nine years.

The former director of Florida State’s Victim Advocate Office said in a deposition obtained by the Associated Press and New York Times that Seminoles football players received special treatment and her office had seen nearly 40 football players accused of either sexual assault or “intimate partner” violence over the last nine years. Fineout also reported that Ashton said “most of the 20 victims who alleged sexual assaults by team members during the past nine years declined to press student conduct charges.” The student who brought the civil lawsuit to the school did so because she said Florida State did not respond to her allegations that she was sexually assaulted by former quarterback Jameis Winston. Earlier this summer the administrator, Melissa Ashton, gave a deposition related to the Title IX lawsuit Erica Kinsman has filed against Florida State.

Winston won the Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to a national title during his college career, but he was often under the public microscope because of these allegations. Her lawsuit against FSU’s board of trustees alleges that the school was “deliberately indifferent” to her report of a sexual assault and that its response deprived her of educational opportunities in violation of her rights under Title IX. Ashton believes that football players got special treatment during the original investigations, in part by those investigating the allegations allowing the players to reach out to “an athletic department official who helps them get access to outside lawyers,” according to the AP.

Winston was cleared of any wrongdoing by Florida State following a hearing, and a Florida prosecutor didn’t press criminal charges and said there wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction. The testimony of Ashton, who left her post in August of this year, was part of what was described as the release of heavily-redacted documents related to Kinsman’s lawsuit.

His 5 1/2-hour deposition included an admission that he was unaware of specific university policy regarding student conduct and sexual assault in 2012-13. A Florida State spokeswoman said the school “could not confirm or deny Ashton’s figures because her ‘communication with victims is confidential,’” per Fineout. The university finally did so today, handing over heavily redacted transcripts to the Times and AP, totally coincidentally late on the day before Thanksgiving.

Kinsman is involved in federal lawsuits against FSU and Winston, and she was also part of a documentary in which she uses her name to tell her story. Florida State was not required to report most of the other 104 cases of sexual battery because they occurred off-campus, thus exempting them from the Clery Act’s requirement to report all incidents of sexual misconduct.

FSU has previously argued in filings in the lawsuit that an “appropriate person” was not aware of the harassment Kinsman alleged and could not take corrective action. Ashton’s testimony further paints the picture of how Florida State fails to hold its football players accountable, and fails to protect its students. The alleged rape of Kinsman occured in December 2012, but it wasn’t until December 2013 that state attorney Willie Meggs announced that Winston wouldn’t be charged, bemoaning how poor of a job the Tallahassee cops investigating the case had done. The next month the retired Florida Supreme Court justice hearing the case found “that the evidence before me is insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof,” and cleared Winston of any violation. Ashton stated that in her nine years at the school she would estimate 20 football players have been accused of sexual violence and that “easily double” that number have been involved in interpersonal violence.

In response to reports of the contents of deposition on Wednesday night, Florida State released a statement that said, in part, “The number of 100, whether accurate or not, would include victims reporting both recent/current experiences and those who may have experienced victimizations long before coming to FSU but are triggered by something and want to talk. We are unaware of the Victim Advocate Program tracking cases to differentiate between these two very different circumstances, nor do they track cases by student-athlete status, much less individual sports. Ashton or anyone, much less verified.” Ashton was also asked about Bonasorte, who she confirmed has served as an advisor for students accused of misconduct going through the student rights and responsibilities process. Asked her sense of Bonasorte’s reputation on campus, Ashton said, “I believe that he has a reputation that — he’s associated with athletes that are in trouble.

That’s my knowledge.” Ashton affirmed that she is concerned that athletes at Florida State get preferential treatment in school investigations of misconduct, noting that she believes Bonasorte “is kind of the connection maybe to help facilitate them getting legal counsel.” Winston was not charged criminally and was not found responsible for violating the school conduct code following a school hearing in December 2014. In a joint motion to amend the schedule filed earlier this month, attorneys for Kinsman and FSU noted “the parties are also engaged in substantiative negotiations.” They were scheduled to participate in mediation on Tuesday.

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