Friday, February 18, 2011
Dept. of Ed. reviewing Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing how the University of Notre Dame handles allegations of sexual assault in the wake of a student from a neighboring women's college who reportedly accused a Notre Dame football player of sexual battery and later committed suicide.
The inquiry is looking broadly at the university's policies, procedures and responses to complaints of alleged sexual harassment, department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said Friday. University spokesman Dennis Brown said the school is cooperating and noted that the review is not related to any particular case.
The school has come under criticism from the family of 19-year-old Elizabeth Seeberg, a St. Mary's College student who died of a suspected drug overdose Sept. 10. Authorities said Seeberg accused a student-athlete of touching her breasts on Aug. 31.
The president of the university has said campus police conducted a thorough investigation, but her family said the school's investigation was superficial. They also questioned why a timeline they received from Notre Dame shows it took police two weeks to interview the football player their daughter accused.
St. Joseph County Prosecutor Mike Dvorak decided not to pursue charges, saying there were conflicting witness accounts and some of Seeberg's statements would likely be inadmissible in court.
The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday that the family of another woman who attended St. Mary's was upset at how Notre Dame had handled their daughter's report that she was sexually attacked in a residence hall on Sept. 5. Authorities said the woman initially did not want to press charges, which the Tribune said she denies.
That woman's family also questioned why it took four days after she and her parents met with Notre Dame police Sept. 11 and told them she wanted to press charges before police tried to locate the accused student, then didn't question him until the next day.
Dvorak informed the family Monday that he would not be prosecuting the case, saying there wasn't enough evidence. He said the speed in which campus police investigated the case didn't play a role in the decision. He said some statements by friends of the St. Mary's students didn't match what she told police.
Dvorak said the fact that Notre Dame police waited to hear back from the student before investigating wasn't unusual.
"The protocol says you don't compel the complaining witness to prosecute," he said. "They did what was reasonable. They waited for her to get back to them."
He said he did have a "small concern" that it took police four days to try to talk to the Notre Dame student after the St. Mary's student decided to press charges. But he said he has confidence in how the department handles sexual assault cases.
"There's nothing they did or didn't do that jeopardized our prosecution," he said.
Notre Dame said in a news release that it takes seriously its obligation to thoroughly investigate every allegation of sexual misconduct.
"We regret that some are critical of our handling of sexual misconduct allegations, and we understand the pain these families are experiencing," the university said in its statement. "At the same time, we stand behind the thoroughness, integrity and objectivity of our investigations, as well as the comprehensive services available to students who are subjected to sexual misconduct."