UM investigation of alleged gang rape by football players nears completion

2012-03-18T09:30:00Z 2014-11-06T12:29:14Z UM investigation of alleged gang rape by football players nears completionBy GWEN FLORIO Missoulian The Billings Gazette
March 18, 2012 9:30 am  • 

A University of Montana investigation into an alleged gang rape by members of the Grizzlies football team in December 2010 is nearing completion, according to the woman who made the allegations.

That investigation is the last remaining piece of the university’s review of nine sexual assaults between September 2010 and December 2011, said President Royce Engstrom.

Engstrom said he’s writing the final report on the investigation begun in December by former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz. “What I intend to do is review the outcome of the whole investigation in a collective sense,” he said.

He’ll likely do that in a public forum, he said, announcing that “in ‘X’ of these cases, the students are no longer part of the campus community.”

However, his report will not include the names of any students sanctioned as part of Student Code of Conduct procedures, because the code demands confidentiality, he said.

The victim of the alleged December 2010 attack says Dean of Students Charles Couture told her two of her purported assailants have left the state. The woman’s name is being withheld by the Missoulian because she is a rape victim.

“In some cases,” Engstrom said, “the perpetrator sees the handwriting on the wall and says, ‘I’m outta here.’ We still have the ability to put in place sanctions. That may or may not have a lot of meaning to it, depending on that individual student’s plans.”

The woman said Couture told her that students who have left Montana would not be able to re-enroll at UM. As to the others, she said, “he’s looking at getting them expelled.” Couture declined comment.

The December 2010 allegations are being investigated under the Student Conduct Code. Although the woman — who suspected she was drugged before the alleged assault — went to the hospital and filed a police report immediately after the incident, no charges were filed. Police cited a lack of evidence, and notified Montana football coach Robin Pflugrad when their investigation was complete.

The case lay dormant for a year, until the university hired Barz after two other students allegedly were drugged and gang-raped by male students in December 2011. At that point, the woman said she went to Couture, who took her medical records and began the Conduct Code process.

Couture told her he wrote letters to all five men and also to a female student who was at the off-campus house party where the alleged assault occurred, the woman said. He told her he’s scheduled a meeting with some of the men Tuesday, she said.

“He said that with all of the evidence, these boys will not prevail,” she said.

She’s happy with how UM has handled the case, she said. And she said she’s considered going back to the Missoula Police Department after UM concludes its process.

Police Detective Sgt. Bob Bouchee said last week that people can request that police reopen an investigation.

“I’m ready for some justice,” the woman said. “I’m done crying about it. I’m done feeling scared. I’m done feeling like it was my fault. I’m ready for them to get expelled.”

The Missoula Police Department’s notification of Pflugrad about those allegations was referenced in the report Barz filed Jan. 31:

“Police provided limited information about allegations to a University employee. The situation was addressed with the students allegedly involved. UM does not have guidelines and procedures requiring reporting of information of the nature received in the manner this information was received.”

Engstrom said last week that “the athletic program took some action with respect to the involved students.”

However, he would not detail that action, nor name the students. “I think we need to abide by what we see as our limitations,” he said.

“I understand the frustration,” he said. But “as long as they’re not in the legal system, we are really obligated to abide by student confidentiality.”

As to whether Pflugrad would face any repercussions for not reporting the allegations to university administrators, he said, “we have not taken up that matter at this time. We’re trying to get clarity on federal law on mandatory reporting.”

The present conduct code for student athletes says that “within 24 hours of any violation of team rules, the UM Student Conduct Code, or state of Montana and federal civil and criminal laws ... the offending student-athlete shall notify the head coach of his/her violation.”

The coach then must immediately notify the athletic director or associate athletic director, who then must conduct an investigation and inform, “as appropriate,” the head coach, the dean of students and the faculty athletic representative.

Engstrom said at a Board of Regents meeting earlier this month that the student-athlete conduct code is being revised to include “a separate body who will do the disciplining of a student who finds him or herself violating the code.”

He hasn’t signed off on the proposed revisions, he said last week.

At a public forum in January, Engstrom attributed part of UM’s problem with sexual assaults to a small number of UM athletes.

Griz running back Beau Donaldson was charged in January with sexual intercourse without consent in connection with a September 2010 incident listed in Barz’s report.

On March 9, a woman received a temporary restraining order against starting quarterback Jordan Johnson, alleging that he sexually assaulted her. Johnson has not been charged with a crime. He did not return calls seeking comment, but his attorney, David Paoli, said Friday that a February incident did not involve a sexual assault.

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