Report: Missouri failed to follow law

Updated: April 11, 2014, 9:06 PM ET
By Tom Farrey | ESPN.com

High-ranking University of Missouri officials were required to report to authorities their knowledge of rape allegations involving Tigers football players and failed to do so on multiple occasions long before ESPN disclosed evidence about the possible crime, independent investigators have concluded.

Their 23-page report, commissioned by the governing body for the University of Missouri system, was released Friday and came in response to an "Outside the Lines" story in January about Sasha Menu Courey, a former swimmer who committed suicide after alleging she had been assaulted by players.

St. Louis attorney Edward Dowd rejected arguments made by athletic department and other university officials at the time that they had properly investigated the matter. Instead, Dowd and his team of six attorneys concluded that they shirked their duties by not sharing the information they had with police, or with the campus Title IX compliance officer responsible for launching investigations.

"I think it was a fair, accurate and in-depth report, and the recommendations were spot on," Timothy Wolfe, president of the four-campus University of Missouri system, said at a news conference. "We're going to get working on them so this doesn't happen again."

After the report was released, Wolfe called the Toronto-based parents of Menu Courey, whose daughter committed suicide in June 2011 and had written about the incident in her journal and other materials.

"He finally found us," said Lynn Courey, who told ESPN she was pleased with the report. "I'm glad it's out. It's been an emotional three months. I hope we're the last family that has to go through this."

Athletic director Mike Alden later told The Associated Press that he hadn't read the report but listened to the news conference.

"From what I heard, there are probably going to be a number of things that all of us can be able to take from that, to be able to learn and be able to grow," Alden said.

The report drew three conclusions:

University officials should have acted on information they had in November 2012. That month, in response to a records request by Courey and her husband Mike Menu, a university custodian of records discovered a chat transcript that had been saved as a draft in the email system of the swimmer in which she alleged a sexual assault by multiple football players. Also unearthed was a medical questionnaire in which Menu Courey wrote that she had been "raped by an acquaintance in February 2010."

Under federal law, campus officials are required to pass along any allegations of sexual assault to the campus Title IX administrator. Instead, once alerted to the records by the records custodian, university assistant general counsel Paul Maguffie contacted "several people within the MU athletic department" -- none are named -- and informed them of the documents indicating a sexual assault. He also discussed the records with a campus student conduct official to consider what actions, if any, they should take.

Their only action was to write a letter more than two months later to Courey and Menu asking if they had any information about the alleged rape. The parents did not respond, lacking faith in the university's sincerity to investigate.

"Nothing more was done," the independent report said. "The (Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights) calls for a 'reasonably diligent inquiry.' These limited steps do not qualify as a 'reasonably diligent inquiry' when there were other reasonable, and likely more fruitful, steps to consider.

"The Assistant General Counsel suggested that concern for Sasha Menu Courey's confidentiality was a reason for not going forward with an investigation in 2012. However, the then-known facts do not justify this disproportionate concern regarding confidentiality. First, no one asked the University to maintain confidentiality -- the Assistant General Counsel merely surmised Sasha Menu Courey's desire for confidentiality based on uncovering no report of the alleged assault from their limited inquiry. Second, the victim's confidentiality became less of an issue because she was deceased. She could not be embarrassed or humiliated or harassed because of the start of an investigation."

Under Title IX, the report said, Missouri "had the obligation to assess, even if Sasha didn't want an investigation," whether other students were at risk, in case the perpetrators were still on campus.

A local newspaper article that mentioned the assault should have been provided to the Title IX coordinator. A Feb. 21, 2012 article in the Columbia Daily Tribune on Menu Courey quoted her parents as saying she had written in her diary about a sexual assault "at the end of her freshman year." The article did not offer any other details or cite the name of the attacker. Under Title IX law, allegations revealed in a public forum such as a newspaper also needs to be treated as information to be shared with the Title IX administrator, which was never done.

Among those made aware of the article was Mike Alden, Missouri's athletic director, according to ESPN's investigation. The independent report does not mention Alden or other officials by name.

The article was again passed around among university officials in November 2012, after the chat transcript was making the rounds and causing consternation. An email from the Deputy Custodian of Records stated, "The article mentions her diary and a sexual incident from her freshman year."

Still, nothing was done. The independent report paints a picture of university officials who were incurious at best, and determined not to pursue evidence of a crime at worst.

"There were a number of steps which could have been taken without exposing any more information about the reported sexual assault than was already within the public domain," the report concluded. "First, as the Assistant General Counsel and the Student Conduct Senior Coordinator discussed back in 2012, the University could have interviewed members of the football team. Second, though not discussed in 2012, the University could have interviewed Sasha's friends and her teammates. Each of these interviews could have been done using the February 21, 2012 article from the Columbia Daily Tribune and thereby without exposure of possible confidential information.

"Third, the University could have put out requests to limited groups of students and student athletes seeking information through anonymous tip lines. Fourth, the University could have followed up with the parents to determine what information they had. Fifth, because at the same time they found the chat transcript they also found the (medical questionnaire), which indicated Sasha Menu Courey had told at least one healthcare professional that she was raped, the University could have sought medical releases from her parents to talk to other healthcare professionals. Sixth, as discussed between the Assistant General Counsel and the Custodian of Records in 2012, the University could have reached out to law enforcement and requested that law enforcement conduct an investigation.

"The University could have done what ESPN did to acquire information."

The university failed to have Title IX policies in place for its employees. Here's where Dowd's team cut athletic department and other university officials some slack. They said the university did not properly inform staffers of their reporting requirements under Title IX, or implement a campus plan created earlier in 2012 designed to introduce policies encouraged by the Department of Education.

"The University's lack of the necessary policies to ensure compliance with Title IX is significant and appears to have contributed in large part to the University's failure ... to conduct an appropriate inquiry," the report said. It added: "While we do not conclude that the University 'violated the law,' we do conclude with certainty that the University, as set out above, acted inconsistently with the Department of Education's guidance about the requirements of Title IX and did not act in accordance with what would be expected of a university with a robust Title IX compliance program."

Investigators interviewed 60 people, including Meghan Anderson, a former athletic department official who had a conversation with Menu Courey shortly before her death. In that call, according to Menu Courey's journal, she told Anderson that she had been raped at Missouri. As Anderson did with ESPN, she denied to Dowd's team that Menu Courey mentioned a rape.

That phone call is the only time a university official allegedly had knowledge of the assault, with the exception of medical personnel with whom Menu Courey had shared the information. Those health professionals, however, are bound by confidentiality rules and cannot disclose that information.

"There is no evidence suggesting Sasha fabricated the details of her diary entry," the report concluded. "However, considering all available information, it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion as to how exactly (she) described the sexual assault, or conversely, to determine what Meghan Anderson heard. In fact, though this is not a conclusion, because Anderson was participating in the telephone call while at a restaurant, it is possible that either because of miscommunication or an inability to hear everything, there was an unintentional disconnect between what Menu Courey said and what Anderson heard during the call."

A Columbia, Mo., police investigation into criminal implications is continuing, which Dowd's team is supporting where they have relevant information, Missouri officials said.

Menu Courey's parents said they hope the Dowd report prompts other sexual assault victims around the country to come forward, and that universities respond to their needs. The alleged rape destabilized Menu Courey, who later was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

"People are suffering right now," Menu said. "They need to be supported. It's not just about prevention, but supporting the current victims who are going through mental health issues. We need to take care of these people so that this doesn't happen again."

ESPN producer Nicole Noren contributed to this story.

Tom Farrey | email

Writer, Reporter

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