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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)
By Walt Bogdanich
New York Times
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.

Early on the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, a freshman at Florida State University reported that she had been raped by a stranger somewhere off campus after a night of drinking at a popular Tallahassee bar called Potbelly's.

As she gave her account to the police, several bruises began to appear, indicating recent trauma. Tests would later find semen on her underwear.

For nearly a year, the events of that evening remained a well-kept secret until the allegations burst into the open, roiling the university and threatening a prized asset: Jameis Winston, one of the marquee names of college football.

Three weeks after Winston was identified as the suspect, the storm had passed. The local prosecutor announced that he lacked the evidence to charge Winston. The quarterback would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Florida State to the national championship.

In his announcement, the prosecutor, William N. Meggs, acknowledged a number of shortcomings in the police investigation. In fact, an examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation, either by the police or the university.

The police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA.

The detective handling the case waited two months to write his first report and then suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser. By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared.

"They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do," Meggs said in a recent interview.

Even so, he cautioned, a better investigation might have yielded the same result.

The Times' examination - based on police and university records, as well as interviews with people close to the case - found that, in the Winston case, Florida State did little to determine what had happened.

University administrators, in apparent violation of federal law, did not promptly investigate either the rape accusation or the witness's admission that he had videotaped part of the encounter.

Records show that Florida State's athletic department knew about the rape accusation in January 2013, when the assistant athletic director called the police to inquire about the case. Even so, the university did nothing about it, allowing Winston to play the full season without having to answer any questions.

After the championship game, in January 2014, university officials asked Winston to discuss the case, but he declined.

When The Times asked Winston for an interview, a lawyer advising his family, David Cornwell, responded, "We don't need an investigation, thorough or otherwise, to know that Jameis did not sexually assault this young lady."

Winston has previously acknowledged having sex with his accuser but said it was consensual. His account has been supported by two friends from the football team: Chris Casher, who took the video, and Ronald Darby.

On Feb. 13, Rachel Bukanc, an assistant dean who oversees student conduct issues, said she knew of no student who had secretly videotaped sex. After The Times questioned that response, the university began an inquiry and charged Casher with a student-code violation for taking the video. Darby has also been cited.

The police investigator who handled the case, Scott Angulo,

had three solid leads to identify the suspect: the name Chris, which the victim remembered; the bar's security cameras; and a cab where a student identification card had been used.

His first report, filed more than two months after the encounter, includes no mention of trying to find Chris or looking at Potbelly's videotapes. He did contact the cab company, without success.

Angulo, who had told his superiors that he "had no real leads," suddenly got a big one Jan. 10, a little more than a month after the encounter. The accuser called to say she had identified the suspect - Jameis Winston - after seeing him in class and hearing his name called out.

Again, Angulo hesitated. Nearly two weeks passed before his backup investigator contacted Winston - by telephone, records show.

The police did get a response - from Winston's lawyer, Timothy Jansen, who said his client would not be speaking to anyone.

Meggs said he was shocked that the police investigator's first attempt to contact Winston was by telephone.

"It's insane to call a suspect on the phone," Meggs said.

 

April 16, 2014
 
 
 

 

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