Men accuse UT of unfairly punishing them for sex assault allegations

Two men who University of Texas officials have recommended be disciplined after being accused of sexual assault are suing the school to prevent the punishment. They say the school is using them as scapegoats to build a reputation for being tough on sexual assault.

Neither of the men faces criminal charges, and they have denied committing sexual assaults. The men — each called “John Doe” in the lawsuits filed this month — are seeking an undetermined amount of money and list the university, UT President Gregory L. Fenves and two UT employees who investigated the allegations as defendants.

Their attorney, Brian Roark, also represented former Longhorn football player Kendall Sanders, who was acquitted last fall of sexual assault but was expelled by UT before the trial. Sanders had sex with a female UT student; jurors said it was unclear whether the woman had given her consent.

One plaintiff is a 24-year-old recent graduate; the other is a 21-year-old student who is one semester away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physics, their lawsuits say. In the graduate’s case, he faces being banned from any UT System campus, being denied a shot at a UT graduate degree and having a notation put on his transcript. The undergrad faces expulsion in addition to the same punishments.

The graduate said he became aware in December 2014 that a woman he had sex with on Aug. 31, 2014 — called “Jane Roe” in the suit — had accused him of sexual assault, his lawsuit says. The Austin police and the Travis County district attorney’s office investigated the incident and closed the case without charging him.

UT investigators later decided “that the evidence supported a finding that (he) had sexually assaulted Ms. Roe, the opposite of the conclusion reached by the more experienced detectives of the police department,” the lawsuit says. The dean of students then recommended he be expelled.

The undergrad’s lawsuit says he had sex with a woman who was not a UT student after leaving a house party near campus sometime after midnight on March 6, 2015. About a month later, the woman’s father called UT police and accused the man of sexually assaulting his daughter.

According to the lawsuit, the woman texted her friend the next day, saying she didn’t remember the sexual encounter: “I don’t remember throwing up, or coming home, or having this random (expletive) guy in my bed. … I didn’t want this guy. At all. This guy wanted me and got me when I wasn’t conscious.”

The friend said she thought the woman was conscious because, when she saw her kissing this man, she was awake and talking, the lawsuit says.

University police never spoke to the woman the undergrad was accused of assaulting and no criminal charges were ever pursued, his lawsuit says. The father’s report was referred to the UT dean of students.

UT is not obligated to tell police of alleged sexual assaults, except in “extreme cases” such as an assault involving a minor, said Paul Liebman, UT’s chief compliance officer. That policy is “consistent with the premise that someone who’s come forward as a victim should be able to control their own destiny,” he said.

On Nov. 5, UT contacted the male student and told him that the dean of students was recommending his expulsion and that he has a right to contest the findings at a hearing.

Both lawsuits argue that UT has sought to gain a reputation for being tough on sexual assault and that the UT employees who conducted the investigation are biased as a result.

“The university has been placed under enormous political pressure to appear tough on those accused of sexual assault and as a result have adopted a practice of expelling males from the university without regard to the rights of the accused student of the evidence,” each lawsuit says. “The university has furthermore sought publicity and prestige by portraying itself as a national leader in the effort to curb on-campus sexual assaults.”

UT investigates more than 100 allegations of sexual assault a year, and that number is growing, Liebman said. Liebman’s office also investigates many other alleged code of conduct violations spelled out in UT’s General Information Catalog.

“The police follow the Texas Criminal Code,” Liebman said. “We have the General Information Catalog. One of those policies is a prohibition against sexual assault. When someone comes to us (with an allegation of sexual assault), we look at our policy. … We’re not finding a crime; we’re just trying to figure out whether someone has violated our policy.”

The same goes for any alleged violation of any policy, not just sexual assault, Liebman said.

“If we had a person indiscriminately punching people, regardless of whether criminal charges are brought, we probably wouldn’t want that person on campus,” Liebman said.

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