Lawyer Blasts FSU Rape Probe of Jameis Winston

(Photo: Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)

As a federal investigation into the handling of sexual assaults at Florida State is being conducted, the future of star quarterback Jameis Winston is in question.

A state attorney’s investigation concluded in December there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Winston, who was accused of raping a woman in December 2012. In January, Florida State conducted a sexual assault inquiry, in which two of Winston’s teammates were found to have violated the student code of conduct for their role in the incident.

But a lawyer for the woman who said she was raped by Winston said Thursday that he was informed the school suspended its investigation, at least in part, because of Winston’s unwillingness to cooperate. As a result, Baine Kerr, a high-profile Title IX attorney representing the woman, told USA TODAY Sports he wrote a letter to FSU earlier this month stating his objections to their investigation and calling for Winston to be charged under the school’s code of conduct policy.

“The university took the position that since he refused to respond to questions, they could not make any Title IX findings,” Kerr said. “We have objected to that as impermissible reason to delay or terminate a Title IX sexual assault investigation because that would permit any charged party to thwart an investigation simply by refusing to answer questions.”

Experts say Winston declining to answer questions is not sufficient enough to absolve the school of its responsibilities to investigate sexual assaults, which are considered a form of sexual harassment under Title IX. They suggested although it would be possible for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to intervene in the adjudication of a case, it would be unlikely.

“The law is not supposed to operate in a way to reward people who don’t cooperate with either criminal or civil investigations,” said Erin Buzuvis, a professor of law at Western New England University and a Title IX expert. “It’s just bizarre to think that would result in, ‘Oh, I guess we just can’t do anything.’ Who would ever cooperate with anything?”

Through his attorney, Winston has denied any wrongdoing and says the sexual encounter was consensual.

The woman who alleged she was raped by Winston on Dec. 7, 2012, filed a complaint with OCR last month. USA TODAY Sports first reported two weeks ago that the school is under investigation by OCR for its handling of sexual assaults.

Winston met with school officials regarding the alleged assault in late January, after the Seminoles finished their unbeaten season and more than a year after the woman first reported to police. On the advice from his lawyer, Winston refused to answer any questions, said Kerr.

A Florida State spokeswoman declined comment to USA TODAY Sports, citing state and federal privacy laws.

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Rachel Axon

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