The twisting and turning case of alleged sexual assault at the University of Minnesota that led to the suspension of 10 Gophers football players has left questions and confusion among readers. Here are our answers to some of the most common questions:
How did this start?
A female University of Minnesota student told police she was sexually assaulted by several men the night of Sept. 1 in the off-campus Minneapolis apartment of Gophers football player Carlton Djam.
The woman said she had five or six shots of vodka before accompanying Djam to his apartment, and she did not remember parts of the night when she spoke to police. At some point, they began having sex, but the police report said “she doesn’t have a recall about how the sex acts started.”
According to that police report and the student’s testimony, more men came into the room and became involved in the sex acts. She estimated that at least a dozen men took turns assaulting her. “I was shoving people off me,” she told police. “They kept ignoring my pleas for help.” She said she wasn’t forced to stay but didn’t feel like she could leave.
Police interviewed Djam and four other football players, who all said they had consensual sex with the student. A Minneapolis police investigator who viewed videos provided by Djam said “the sexual contact appears to be entirely consensual.”
No arrests were made. On Oct. 3, the Hennepin County attorney’s office said it would file no criminal charges in the case.
Weren’t the players cleared?
In criminal cases, guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. A statement from the county attorney’s office said, “There is insufficient, admissible evidence for prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either force was used or that the victim was physically helpless as defined by law in the sexual encounter.”
Prosecutors may have believed merely that the evidence would have left reasonable doubt in the minds of a jury — not necessarily that the players were innocent of the charges.
If the criminal case is closed, why is the university still investigating?
The university is required to investigate reports of sexual assault — whether or not police conduct their own investigation — under federal guidelines that apply to schools that receive federal money.
At the University of Minnesota, a complaint triggers an investigation by the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action to see whether the school’s student code of conduct was violated. The office can recommend suspension or expulsion from school.
In this case, according to the players’ attorney, Lee Hutton, five players — Djam, Ray Buford, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — were recommended for expulsion. Seth Green, Kobe McCrary, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr. face one-year suspensions from school. Probation was recommended for a 10th player, Antonio Shenault.
According to the university’s procedure for enforcing the student conduct code, students are entitled to a hearing and have the right of appeal.
But this happened at an off-campus apartment.
Schools are required under federal guidelines to investigate allegations of student-on-student assaults that occur off-campus, because off-campus harassment has “continuing effects” in the school environment.
Weren’t the players already suspended?
While the criminal investigation was underway, four players — Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — were suspended from the football team for an unspecified violation of team rules. They were reinstated in October, after the county attorney’s office declined to file charges.
Why is the burden of proof different?
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education directed schools to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard when investigating sexual assault, meaning only that it’s more likely than not that an assault occurred. That’s a much lower standard than reasonable doubt.
Also, last year the University of Minnesota adopted an “affirmative consent” policy, meaning both parties have to clearly agree to the sexual contact; otherwise, it’s sexual assault. In other words, it’s not enough that she didn’t say no.
The policy says consent cannot be given when one person is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.
Schools that fail to take reports of sexual violence seriously risk violating Title IX, the federal law against sex discrimination in education. They could lose millions of dollars in federal funding.
Staff writers Maura Lerner, Brandon Stahl and Joe Christensen contributed to this report.