Education

UM student sues school over handling of rape allegations

The University of Miami campus in Coral Gables.
The University of Miami campus in Coral Gables.

Two and a half years after a fellow student accused him of rape, University of Miami graduate David Jia has filed a lawsuit against the student, the university and two former UM employees.

In the lawsuit, filed last week in federal court, Jia argues that the rape allegations were false and that the university’s investigation was “flawed and discriminatory,” resulting in Jia being suspended for a semester.

“From the very beginning, David Jia was treated unfairly as the guilty party because of the complete disregard to his side of the story or his witnesses,” the suit states. Jia is suing the student who accused him of rape, Angela Cameron, the university, a former UM administrator named Tony Lake and a former UM lecturer, Katharine Westaway, claiming he was defamed, suffered emotional distress and that his rights under Title IX — a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex — were violated.

“David Jia has suffered through over a year of extreme emotional stress, anguish, and embarrassment, for actions he did not commit,” the suit states.

The case dates to April 2014, when Jia and Cameron went to an off-campus party at a South Miami apartment complex and Cameron got drunk for the first time, according to a statement she later gave police. Jia and Cameron had been involved in a sexual relationship for more than a month, and Cameron went back to Jia’s apartment after the party. Cameron told police Jia initiated sex at some point during the night, and she said no. Cameron said she woke up later to see Jia climbing off her. When Cameron woke up around 8 a.m., the two had sex again, this time consensually, Cameron told police.

Cameron and Jia continued to see each other, having sex three more times over the next few days, according to statements Cameron made to an internet news site that were previously confirmed to the Herald by Jia’s attorney, Lonnie Richardson. Cameron also delivered cookies to Jia as a way to thank him for not leaving her alone at the apartment on the night of the alleged sexual assault, according to the suit. One of Jia’s roommates at the time of the alleged rape provided written testimony attached to the suit saying that he overheard Cameron initiating sex with Jia that night.

Cameron later invited Jia to be her date at a sorority formal, and he accepted, but then Jia started to have second thoughts about continuing his relationship with Cameron, the suit says. On April 20, 2014, a few hours after Jia published a Facebook event page about a party at his apartment, to which Cameron was not invited, Cameron emailed a letter to UM claiming that Jia had sexually assaulted her the night of the off-campus party, according to the suit. Shortly afterward, Cameron also reported the alleged rape to South Miami police. South Miami passed the information on to Miami-Dade detectives, who decided not to investigate, citing a lack of evidence. In a Facebook message, Cameron declined to comment for this article. She has publicly discussed the rape allegations on previous occasions.

After what the suit claims was a biased investigation conducted by then-UM administrator Lake, who no longer works for the university, Jia was charged with sexual assault under the student-conduct policy and suspended for one semester. The suit claims Lake showed a disregard for Jia’s side of the story, including typing up a written letter of charges before Jia had presented all of his evidence. Lake could not be reached for comment.

“The University took all appropriate measures to protect the interests of all involved parties and is confident that it followed all applicable policies and laws,” Eric Isicoff, an attorney representing UM, said in an email.

When Jia returned to UM in the spring of 2015, Cameron accused him of roughing her up on two occasions that semester, allegations that were discredited after surveillance camera footage and other evidence showed that Jia was not at the scene of the alleged incidents.

Meanwhile, an on-campus rape survivor’s group collected thousands of signatures for a campaign to keep Jia from graduating. The campaign was supported by Westaway, a lecturer in the English Department who taught some Women’s and Gender Studies courses and also oversaw a rape survivor’s group on campus. Reached by phone, Westaway declined to comment.

Although the petition was unsuccessful, Jia graduated as dozens of students silently protested with “IX” signs on their mortarboards, a reference to Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law. A few hours after the graduation ceremony, then-UM president Donna Shalala released a public statement confirming that an investigation by UM and Coral Gables police had concluded that Cameron’s accusation of battery was “unfounded.”

Now living in California, Jia has not been able to escape the stigma of Cameron’s allegations, Jia’s attorney, Richardson, said. “He’s getting rejected from jobs and social things involving dating because he’s Googled every three seconds,” he said, adding that Jia has also been rejected from graduate programs because of his record at UM.

The suit illustrates tensions over how colleges and universities nationwide handle rape allegations. The Obama administration has led a campaign to end sexual violence on college campuses and pushed colleges and universities to seriously investigate allegations of sexual assault and punish perpetrators. More than one in four female college seniors reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact since entering college, according to a 2015 Association of American Universities survey. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that sexual assault allegations are made up in between 2 and 10 percent of cases, and advocates say fear of not being believed keeps real survivors of sexual assault from going to the police.

But some argue that many college campuses have gone too far, making it difficult for young men to defend themselves against false allegations of sexual assault.

“It’s reverse discrimination and it’s systemic throughout the whole country and it is becoming the thing that we were trying to protect in the first place,” Richardson said. Universities, he said, should not be put in the position of acting as judge, jury and executioner. Referring to Jia’s case, Richardson asked: “How are these people the criminal court when no one wants to prosecute and there’s not a drop of probable cause?”

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Katharine Westaway as a women’s and gender studies professor at UM. She was a lecturer in the English Department who taught some Women’s and Gender Studies courses.

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