Star athlete accused of rape; botched investigation precludes charges
Report on investigation into Florida State star QB reveals flaws, oversights
An appallingly bungled police investigation and inexcusable Florida State university mishandling of a rape accusation broke into the spotlight Wednesday following a New York Times report.
The report dragged the reprehensible institutional failure into the mainstream, bringing conversations on college sexual assaults and the near deification of star student-athletes to the collective fore. Whether a crime was committed - that the accuser and accused engaged in sexual activity is near certain - may never be legally confirmed. Public attention is now focused on the indefensible conduct of Tallahassee, Fla., police and Florida State.
Rightly so, as after the flawed investigations into the alleged 2012 rape by star quarterback Jameis Winston, a trial into the rising star's alleged actions appears unlikely. The alleged rape occurred Dec. 7, 2012. Once a sufficient investigation by local prosecutors was conducted nearly one year later, crucial evidence was lost, precluding a trial.
Reasons for police and university failures are debatable, though not for lack of reasonable motives. The impunity of student-athletes has become a common issue across campuses. Whether for money or prestige, preferential treatment amounts to a travesty of injustice.
That both institutions failed the accuser, student body and general public is clear.
Dec. 7, 2012, the victim alerts police to a rape early that morning. DNA was collected from her while she was bruised and distraught, and details were given on the attack. The victim identified Winston as the attacker after seeing him in class a month later. Two weeks later, police followed up - with a phone call - but nothing came of it. More than two months after the incident, the investigator closed the case, without an interview with Winston and without collecting his DNA, citing "lack of cooperation" from the victim.
The police work was mishandled - inexcusably so. Adopting a generally blasÃ© attitude toward the accusations by failing to follow reasonable leads and adequately question the suspect, the Tallahassee Police Department demonstrated incompetence if not negligence.
Nearly a year after the events, a local media storm over the case erupted, sparking prosecutors to delve into the case. DNA was collected from Winston and matched that collected off the victim many months ago. Since January, however, vital evidence was lost to time - a video of the sexual encounter erased, videos from the bar where Winston and his accuser had met no longer available and memories sketchy at best.
The failings and misconduct of the police department disallowed correction and a fair trial to reveal the truth.
The media attention dragged out the worst side of a college campus. Social media flared with students defending Winston, condemning the accuser as a liar. It was revealed the athletic department knew of the rape allegation in Jan. 2013 and conducted no investigation.
Vilifying the victim is a troubling trend on its face, indicative of a dangerous culture in how we approach rape that begs change. The failure of university administrators to report the sexual assault, in violation of federal Title IX, could cost it federal funding, and should cost at least a loss of respect.
Whether Winston committed a crime is, regrettably, a moot point in lieu of an adequate investigation and possibility for trial. The university and police department, however, should be held accountable. Athletes, no matter their stature, are not above the law.
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