LAST SEASON, KAVELL Bigby-Williams, a 6'11", 230-pound transfer from Gillette College, averaged 9.8 minutes for an Oregon basketball team that reached the Final Four. He also played the entire season while under investigation for forcible rape.
School administrators maintain that proper protocols were followed and laws were complied with upon learning of the allegation. But according to analysis of public documents and to Title IX lawyers who examined the police report and Oregon's policies, procedures and explanations, the university violated its obligations under the law and acted at odds with the school's own policies. Title IX, which requires federally funded schools to investigate and respond to reports of sexual violence, is now being reassessed by the Department of Education, and Oregon's handling of the allegation dramatizes its limits. While Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently cited concerns that guidelines deprive the accused of due process rights, the events at UO reveal how little it takes for a campus investigation to stall.
The reigning National Junior College Player of the Year at Gillette, Bigby-Williams decamped to Oregon in the summer of 2016. For a week in September '16, he returned to Gillette to visit friends.
According to a Northern Wyoming Community College District police report, a woman contacted police saying that her friend thought she had been drugged and raped at a party on the night of Sept. 17. According to the report, the alleged victim told NWCCD police officer Brooke Tibbetts that she had blacked out after a night of drinking and woke up the next day naked in her bed with soreness and bleeding in her vagina, bruises on her neck and little memory of what happened. In the report, Tibbetts, quotes the woman as saying she "did not want to get anyone in trouble." (In June 2017, Bigby-Williams told police that the sex was consensual. He was not charged and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
According to the police report, Tibbetts was investigating Bigby-Williams for sexual assault in the first degree, but he returned to Oregon before Tibbetts could interview him. NWCCD police asked the UOPD to conduct a follow-up interview. A UOPD report states that UOPD detective Kathy Flynn "reviewed the police report, texts, and photos," from Tibbetts' investigation and also tried—unsuccessfully—to interview Bigby-Williams. Flynn then notified two Oregon Title IX officials. According to the school's procedures for addressing allegations of sexual misconduct, upon learning of an allegation, the Title IX coordinator is to notify the school's director of student conduct and community standards, in this case Sandy Weintraub, who has the authority to investigate accused students and issue sanctions. Yet this step was not taken, effectively foreclosing any potential discipline or further investigation.
When asked why Weintraub had not been notified, school spokesman Tobin Klinger wrote in an email on July 18 that "the information was insufficient." While not commenting on this matter, Oregon's Title IX coordinator Darci Heroy said, "Sandy doesn't get notified about absolutely every disclosure that comes in." She added, "On a particular case, if it's something that we're not moving forward with, [and] the victim doesn't want to move forward, we don't have enough information necessarily to determine whether or not there's actually an alleged violation of code."
In 2014, three Oregon basketball players were dismissed from the team and suspended by the school following allegations of sexual assault, though no charges were filed. Coach Dana Altman was subsequently criticized for having allowed the players to remain on the team after the school had been informed of the allegations.
According to an Oregon spokesman, Altman knew police were trying to contact Bigby-Williams, but he didn't know what it was about. It is UO's practice not to notify the athletic department of sexual assault allegations against student-athletes. "Our approach is considered by Title IX experts as best practice to preserve the integrity of sexual assault investigations," Klinger wrote. "When these best practices are not followed, institutions put themselves at risk of tainting investigations, and we want to safeguard that from happening."
Bigby-Williams didn't make a statement to police until late June. NWCCD police forwarded the matter to Campbell County attorney Ron Wirthwein, who declined to press criminal charges on July 26, citing "the victim's wishes and some of the circumstances surrounding the case facts." On Aug. 19, Bigby-Williams transferred to LSU. "At this point in my career, it's solely a business decision and was a very important one going forward," he wrote on Twitter.
A month later DeVos made public comments to roll back the "failed policy" of how campuses investigate sexual assault allegations. In response Oregon president Michael Schill and Heroy issued a campuswide email. The subject line: "New Title IX guidelines to have little effect on university policies."
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