Tuesday, July 22, 2008 Updated: July 24, 9:55 AM ET
Regents reopen investigation into Iowa sexual assault case
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Iowa Board of Regents on Tuesday reopened its investigation of how the University of Iowa handled its inquiry into the alleged sexual assault of a woman by two football players.
The board took action after learning about letters sent by the mother of the woman who claims she was raped on Oct. 14 at a campus dorm. The letters were sent last November and in May to school officials, including University of Iowa President Sally Mason, but were not disclosed to the regents until last week after they were provided to the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper.
In the letters, the mother accuses the university of mishandling its response to her daughter's allegations. She said officials encouraged her daughter, also an Iowa athlete, to pursue a resolution "informally" and within the athletic department. She said the family was told that it would be faster than the "arduous" process of involving police.
Board of Regents President David Miles said Tuesday that he was "dumbfounded" the letters weren't made available, and called it "a serious breach of trust."
"This board owes Iowans a full accounting, and they will get it," he said.
The board appointed Regent Bonnie Campbell, a former state attorney general, to oversee the new investigation. The panel is expected to complete a report on its findings by Sept. 18.
During Tuesday's meeting, Mason expressed her "profound and sincere regret" for not turning over the letters to the regents. She said she believed that releasing them would violate federal privacy laws.
"I apologize for this error and for not making certain that the board had access to all information relevant to this case," she told the board.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Mason defended the university's response. While the decision to withhold the letters from the regents was a mistake with "untenable" legal justification, Mason said school officials had otherwise followed protocol.
She deflected questions about whether school officials should be fired.
"Do I feel like my job is on the line? My job is on the line every day, OK?" she said. "My job is obviously to protect the integrity of the university and to do the best job that I can to make sure that things are the way they should be. I feel very strongly that we did our best under very difficult circumstances.
"There can be disagreements, obviously, about how that worked out."
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta also attended Tuesday's meeting but did not address the board. Speaking to reporters, he defended the school's response, saying repeatedly that school officials had "followed protocol" but declined to answer specific questions.
"As we enter into this next investigation again we'll fully cooperate ... We went through a process," the first time, he said. "We took a very difficult situation and ... we informed the appropriate people and we kept them informed throughout the process."
Barta said he felt as though school officials were under attack but said they would be vindicated.
"It's difficult, you know, especially at a time when my character is being questioned, [football coach] Kirk [Ferentz's], the president's, but eventually we'll have an opportunity to talk about it, first privately with the board and ... ultimately one day share it publicly," Barta said.
Miles said he and other board members only learned about the letters from the university after the school learned that the Iowa City Press-Citizen was planning to publish them. He said the letter should have provided a "roadmap" for the regents' investigation.
"I think the allegations she raised need answers ..." Miles said. "I'm not going to speculate on what we should do if they're true. The allegations absolutely deserve answers, but I'm not going to assume they're all correct."
Last month, the Board of Regents said its investigation had showed the university appropriately handled the allegations. But that was before it had the letters, and Miles said all information in the case must be included as part of any inquiry.
Mason said she welcomed any additional process the regents could launch into the handling of the case. The university also planned to hire outside experts to examine the handling of all sexual assault cases once the regent's inquiry is completed, she said.
"You will have the full cooperation of the U of I faculty, staff and administration," she told the regents.
Abe Satterfield and Cedric Everson, who have left the football team, are accused of sexually assaulting the woman last October. Everson has been charged with second-degree sexual assault and Satterfield has been charged with second- and third-degree sexual assault. Both have pleaded not guilty.