Florida State University responded aggressively Wednesday to a damaging New York Times article, questioning the newspaper’s fairness in reporting about the alleged rape case involving star quarterback Jameis Winston and saying most of the university’s responses “were left out of the story.”
“The university expresses its deep disappointment in today's New York Times story alleging FSU officials did not properly investigate a rape allegation against Winston ‘in apparent violation of federal law,’” the FSU statement began. “It also vigorously objects to the newspaper's characterization of the university as being uncooperative in explaining its actions.”
The 5,100-plus word story, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Walt Bogdanich, identified a number of flaws in the rape investigation involving FSU’s star football player. The story also raised the possibility that the miscues were not accidental, but instead an example of a Tallahassee culture that prizes athletic accomplishments above all.
The Times story mentioned mistakes by both FSU administrators as well as Tallahassee Police. Among its most serious allegations: FSU appears to have violated federal law by not immediately investigating the charges against Winston. The rape is alleged to have happened Dec. 7, 2012 at Winston’s off-campus apartment.
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“Records show that Florida State’s athletic department knew about the rape accusation early on, in January 2013, when the assistant athletic director called the police to inquire about the case,” the Times wrote. “Even so, the university did nothing about it, allowing Winston to play the full season without having to answer any questions.”
In its statement, FSU insisted that no university administrator — other than the confidential Victim Advocate Program — knew about the rape accusation until it became public in November 2013.
“Had there been a complaint, the university would have acted accordingly without regard to athletics or any other extra-curricular activity,” FSU said.
Earlier this month, USA Today reported that the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether FSU violated Title IX law in its handling of the Winston rape allegations. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination at schools receiving federal funds, including athletic programs.
State Attorney Willie Meggs announced last December he had closed the case, saying that the flaws in the accuser’s story made it virtually impossible to bring a conviction against Winston, who had asserted that the sex was consensual.
But prosecutors’ decision did not quite exonerate Winston, as it appeared that police wasted numerous opportunities to build a stronger case against him. Meggs is quoted in the Times story as saying police “just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do.”
Tallahassee police declined comment on Wednesday.
Among the police errors identified in the Times story:
Detectives failed to obtain the surveillance video from the bar where Winston met his accuser. The bar has more than 30 security cameras, and therefore could have provided key video evidence.
Police took the unusual step of contacting Winston by phone, instead of confronting him in person. Winston easily brushed off that phone call, and then his attorney told police he would not be answering any questions.
One of Winston’s friends actually recorded video on his phone of the sexual encounter, but police did not find out about that video quick enough — by the time its existence was known, the friend told police he’d erased it.
Earlier in the week, Tallahassee police gave a written statement to the New York Times, saying the department works “diligently” in investigating sex crimes.
“We take seriously the obligation to respond to any individual who wants to report a crime, regardless of who they are accusing,” the statement said.
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Kathleen McGrory and Herald sports reporter Clark Spencer contributed to this report.