As thousands of students celebrated graduation day at the University of Miami two weeks ago, Donna Shalala, taking part in her last undergrad commencement as UM president, did something unusual: She released a public statement in the case of a student accused of beating up another student. An investigation by UM and Coral Gables cops, Shalala said, showed the accusation was “unfounded.”
Only a few hours earlier, UM senior David Jia had strolled to the podium, cap on his head, gown draped over his shoulders, and accepted his diploma, even as dozens of UM students silently protested against him as the student they believed had not only beaten up theater and broadcast major Angela Cameron last month but had also raped her a year earlier.
“Such matters are never easy or convenient to deal with, always being complex and stirring emotions,” Shalala’s statement said. “The results of any investigation can have lifelong repercussions.”
The investigative findings by Coral Gables police last week — which found that Jia wasn’t even in town during the early morning hours of April 6 of this year, when Cameron claimed he grabbed her wrist and neck and threw her into a wall — closed but a single chapter of Cameron’s yearlong quest for punishment of Jia. She also claims he raped her in his off-campus apartment in April 2014.
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After the original rape allegation, Jia was suspended from school for a semester by Dean of Students Ricardo D. Hall, who determined after a hearing that Jia violated student-conduct policy. After Jia returned to school this semester, an on-campus rape survivor’s group took up Cameron’s cause and collected thousands of signatures in an attempt to stop him from graduating. Last month, a judge granted Cameron a restraining order against Jia after she swore out a complaint saying he had beaten her twice.
Shalala’s decision to go public with the school’s finding on the alleged beating comes at a sensitive time for universities around the nation. Public discussion continues to broil over a lengthy New York Times investigation that claimed Tallahassee police and Florida State University botched an investigation into a rape allegation against Heisman Trophy winner and former Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston. And in the past few months a Rolling Stone magazine story on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia unraveled after editors admitted none of the accused were interviewed and that they no longer believe parts of the victim’s story.
Cameron, who openly spoke with several publications and Miami Herald radio partner WLRN about the alleged rape, is no longer speaking to the media. Her attorney, Deborah Baker-Egozi, refused comment for this story, citing a pending case — the restraining order against Jia.
Meanwhile, Jia’s attorney, Lonnie Richardson, refers to Cameron as a jilted ex-girlfriend who lied in police reports and in the injunction, in which she claimed Jia attacked her twice in April 2015, one time supposedly slamming her against a wall, the other time punching her in the eye.
“My client wrote a letter to the Dean saying she [Cameron] violated the rules of the student handbook. My client is the victim, and he’s caught up in bad policy at UM,” Richardson said.
But like most incidents involving college students, sex, advocacy groups and allegations of rape, the story isn’t quite that simple.
A claim of rape
It began on April 11, 2014, when Jia and Cameron — who had been involved in a sexual relationship for more than a month — went to an off-campus party at an apartment complex in South Miami called Red Road Commons. There, Cameron got drunk for the first time, downing between five and seven drinks and agreeing to go back to Jia’s South Miami apartment, according to a statement she later gave police. She got sick and passed out near the toilet, then was helped into bed by Jia.
At some point during the night, she told police, she recalled Jia initiating sex, and her saying no. Later, she said, she woke up and found her panties off and Jia climbing off her. She said she blacked out again. She awoke at 8 a.m., and the two had sex again — this time consensually, according to her statement to police.
Over the next few days, Cameron told an Internet news site called Rise: MiamiNews, she had sex three more times with Jia. Jia’s attorney, Richardson, confirmed that with his client. Richardson said Cameron even invited Jia to a sorority formal, and he accepted. But the relationship soured, the lawyer said, after Jia told Cameron after a dinner at a Midtown Miami restaurant that he didn’t want to get more serious. Richardson said Cameron then took back the sorority invite.
“He told her no, he didn’t want to get more serious, and three weeks later he’s a rapist?” asked Richardson.
On May 3, 2014, Cameron told South Miami police that Jia had raped her in his apartment the night of the off-campus party three weeks before. South Miami, which doesn’t do its own sex-crimes investigations, passed the information on to Miami-Dade police sex crimes detectives, who declined to investigate because of a lack of evidence.
During an interview with WLRN last month, Cameron said the South Miami police officer who interviewed her in her dorm room made an outrageous remark when he shot down her claim, saying, “You realize this isn’t rape because you know the person, right?’”
The South Miami police report identifies the officer as Charles Morejon. South Miami Sgt. Henry Guzman, who spoke with Morejon, told the Herald that the officer denied he ever made that statement.
“Any time there is an allegation of rape, we take it very seriously,” Guzman said.
No evidence of beating
At the advice of friends, Cameron said she approached UM administrators around the same time as she went to South Miami police. In June 2014, after interviewing Cameron and Jia, Dean Hall suspended Jia, banning him from school for the 2014 fall semester. UM wouldn’t comment about the suspension, citing student confidentiality. But Richardson provided the Herald a portion of a letter his client received from UM in which the school wrote that Jia was responsible for “violating relationship, and/or, intimate partner violence and sexual assault/battery.”
Jia returned to campus in January 2015 for the spring semester. Last month, Cameron said her worst fears came true: Twice in April, she said, Jia found her alone in a dance studio on campus and physically beat her.
The first alleged incident took place on April 6. According to court and police records, Cameron said that around 2 a.m., after wanting to burn off some calories from a pizza, she made her way from her Eaton Hall dorm room to the dance room at Hecht Residential College. There, she said, Jia showed up, stared her down, grabbed her by the wrist and neck, and threw her against the wall.
Cameron went to police two days later. After an investigation, Coral Gables police released a seven-page report last week that cleared Jia. Detective Octavia Bridges said police looked at student electronic pass keys, credit card statements, computer signatures — and UM’s extensive surveillance camera system, which never showed Cameron leaving her dormitory that night. Police said they couldn’t put Jia anywhere near the alleged crime scene. In fact, they believe he was out of town at the time Cameron claimed the incident took place.
In the report, Bridges said that when she confronted Cameron with the evidence of an attack not lining up, Cameron began to cry and said she was telling the truth. When the officer told her that Jia wasn’t seen anywhere near the theater room that night, Cameron said she no longer wanted to proceed with the investigation and signed a non-prosecution form. Still, the police continued to investigate.
Investigators also spoke with Miami-Dade County’s deputy chief medical examiner, Emma Lew, who determined Cameron’s injuries weren’t consistent with the described attack.
Of the alleged attack, Bridges wrote: “The classification of this report is changed from simple battery/aggravated kidnapping and false imprisonment to UNFOUNDED.”
Altered pregnancy tests?
Coral Gables police also questioned a former friend of Cameron’s who claimed that on three separate occasions she tried to trick him into believing she was pregnant by altering pregnancy tests. According to the report, Cameron and Hunter Stewart Binh, 20, who graduated last year, were involved in a sexual relationship.
Interim Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak confirmed Saturday that police have impounded three pregnancy tests and the pencil Cameron allegedly used to change negative test results into positive ones. Binh told police he met Cameron in the fall of 2014 and said they were friends who often had sex. Calls and texts to Binh were not returned.
“He stated after confronting her about the deception, she had admitted to the fabrication. Binh stated he questions Cameron [sic] honesty,” the police report reads.
On April 21, Cameron was the main speaker at an on-campus event called Canes Consent, sponsored by the university to raise awareness of sexual assault. The event was promoted by the school’s Women’s and Gender Studies Department. During the speech Cameron slammed UM, saying, “Every resource I tried to use they referred me off campus.”
The speech caught the attention of Katharine Westaway, a lecturer at the school who also oversees a rape survivor’s group. Westaway began a petition drive called “Justice for Angela,” with the set goal of stopping Jia from graduating. The online petition gathered more than 5,000 signatures, most from non-students.
On the petition, Cameron tells briefly of her alleged April 2014 encounter with Jia, claiming it damaged her physically and emotionally.
“As a result,” she wrote, “I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe depression, anxiety, and chronic pain from physical trauma. A piece of my T7 vertebrae has been cracked off and a disk is protruding causing spinal stenosis plus my pelvis is misaligned. ... I have flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and I have not slept through a night since it happened.”
Two days later, on April 23, Cameron went to a judge and swore out a complaint against Jia, saying that, in addition to attacking her on April 6, he had assaulted her a second time, in the same dance studio, on April 9, punching her in the eye. The judge issued the restraining order. Coral Gables police said Cameron never told them about the second attack.
On graduation day, at Westaway’s urging, some students wore “IX” signs on their mortarboards in protest against UM’s treatment of Cameron. The IX refers to Title IX, the federal law created in part to foster a safe and fair environment for women on campus.
Westaway told the Herald she became so involved in Cameron’s case she stayed away from the graduation ceremony.
“It was a little too painful to be there,” she said.
With all the public attention on the case, Miami-Dade police, who originally declined to investigate the original rape accusation, now say they want to take another look.
Said Maj. Eleasa B. Thompson, head of the Miami-Dade police’s Special Victim’s Bureau: “In light of the additional information, we’re attempting to re-engage with the victim and investigate the matter further.”