A lawsuit filed this week in a U.S. District Court claims that the University of New Mexico interfered with a rape investigation into multiple football players after a woman who was a student at the university reported the incident to police. The lawsuit asserts that the university showed “willful indifference…in the manner in which it responded, or failed to respond” to the woman’s report of an alleged gang rape that involved the football players. It claims that university and athletic department officials violated federal Title IX laws in how they responded to the case.
The lawsuit against New Mexico is at least the third civil suit filed against universities this year over their handling of sexual assault cases involving athletes. A woman sued Florida State University in January, alleging that it failed to properly investigate her claims of assault in the case involving quarterback Jameis Winston. Another woman sued the University of Oregon and its head basketball coach over a case involving three of the school’s former basketball players. Separately, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating dozens of schools over allegations that they have violated Title IX law in investigating and reporting sexual assaults. New Mexico is not among the universities facing an OCR investigation.
The suit, first reported by New Mexico’s KOB Channel 4 (via Deadspin), stems from an incident that occurred in April 2014, in which the student said she was sexually assaulted by at least three football players — including former players Crusoe Gongbay and SaQwan Edwards, who are identified in this suit — another New Mexico student, and a student of another university. The woman did not recall the assault until she learned through social media that video recordings existed and were passed around on Snapchat and other internet services. The lawsuit states that the woman was incapacitated and suffered “complete and total memory loss” because she was “probably slipped a ‘rape drug.’” The attorney for the players has said that there could be as many as 12 videos of the incident; the suit states that in one of the videos the men involved bragged that a “gang bang comin soon.”
According to the suit, University of New Mexico administrators and athletic staff “interfered with the police investigation.” It states that athletic department officials or coaches became aware of the incident but did not report it to the university’s Title IX coordinator, as required by federal law. It also claims that coaches attempted to provide an alibi for one of the players involved, knew that another student was involved but did not inform police, and could have given police more information that would have helped the investigation.
The suit also states that it took nearly a month for the university to acknowledge that it would open a Title IX investigation (after the woman’s request that it do so), and that it didn’t notify the players that such an investigation would take place for more than two months after the original accusation. It also says that the university did not have a Title IX coordinator at the time of her original complaint and only hired one after the investigation began. The players were initially suspended but were reinstated later, and the suit claims that athletic officials “improperly communicated with members” of the investigative team to time “the specific release of detailed press reports of ‘the boys being back on the team’, with the District Attorney’s decision to not prosecute.” It claims the university failed to protect the woman’s safety and to “eliminate the ongoing effect of the assaults on her and other women.”
The Title IX investigation found no probable cause that the players had committed an assault; they were arrested and charged but the district attorney dropped the charges in August. Attorneys for the players have maintained their innocence and told KOB that they are considering filing a suit against the university on the players’ behalf.
The university said in a press release that it “takes sexual violence allegations very seriously. The University’s primary concern is the safety and well-being of its students, as well as ensuring that there are fair processes in place for all involved.”