"I believe that Mr. Winston cannot be convicted," Florida's chief assistant state attorney tells the Times. "I don't necessarily believe that he's innocent."
This has been the prosecutor's office's stance from the very beginning on the rape investigation of FSU quarterback Jameis Winston: that the truth will never be uncovered because of a baffling series of missteps and delays on the part of Tallahassee police. That Keystone Kops routine is thrown into stark profile by today's Times deep dive into TPD's actions—and inaction—in the hours, days, and months following the alleged assault.
Within hours of the incident, the case was handed over to officer Scott Angulo, with the TPD's special victims unit. (The accuser's attorney would claim Angulo later warned her not to pursue the case, because "Tallahassee is a big football town.")
Angulo had three leads to go on in those early stages. He had the accuser's story that she met three men a local bar Potbelly's; the accuser's recollection that one of the men was a football player named Chris; and the accuser's claim that the four of them took a taxi home. Angulo's first report, filed two months after the alleged assault, show that he had done very little.
- He had not contacted Potbelly's for the contents of their 30 surveillance cameras. (The prosecutor's office would do that, but only after being made aware of the case 11 months after the incident, and by then all the tapes had been reused.)
- He had not sought out a football player named Chris, or even contacted the athletic department. (We reported earlier this month that the player, Chris Casher, took video of the sexual encounter, but by the time authorities learned about it, he had deleted it from his phone.)
- All Angulo had done was to ask the taxi company to email its drivers with a description of the accuser and the three men. There was no response.
Tallahassee police were not able to identify Winston as the suspect until Jan. 10, when the accuser recognized him in class.
Police then made two inexplicable moves.
- They waited nearly two weeks to contact Winston—and did so by telephone. He declined to talk, and retained a lawyer who told police Winston would not be speaking with them. "It's insane to call a suspect on the phone," Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs told the Times.
- Angulo decided against obtaining a DNA sample from Winston, despite specific requests from the accuser's attorney. She claims he told her he did not want to do it because it would generate publicity.
Angulo then declared the case suspended, citing in his report "a lack of cooperation from the victim." The accuser's attorney disputes this, saying she made regular phone calls to see if lab results had come in. Often, she says, her calls would not be returned. Both sides agree on one thing: Police never informed the accuser or her attorney that they had discontinued their investigation.
Eventually, reports of a second incident would emerge:
A month before the rape accusation became public, the university's victim advocate learned that a second woman had sought counseling after a sexual encounter with Mr. Winston, according to the prosecutor's office. The woman did not call it rape — she did not say "no." But the encounter, not previously reported, "was of such a nature that she felt violated or felt that she needed to seek some type of counseling for her emotions about the experience," according to Georgia Cappleman, the chief assistant state attorney, who said she had spoken with the advocate but not with the woman.
The victim advocate was concerned enough about the episode to have alerted Mr. Winston's first accuser.
Ms. Cappleman said that based on what she was told, a crime had not been committed. Nonetheless, Ms. Cappleman said she found the encounter troubling, because it "sheds some light on the way Mr. Winston operates" and on what may be "a recurring problem rather than some type of misunderstanding that occurred in an isolated situation."
Police never interviewed Winston, or the other two players involved in the first incident, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby. Once records requests revealed the moribund investigation to the press, Winston's attorney had Casher and Darby submit affidavits with near-identical accounts of the night in question.
It was only after the prosecutor's office became aware of the case, 11 months after the reported rape, that actual detective work started. The players were questioned, as were taxi drivers. The bar surveillance footage was sought. DNA linking Winston to his accuser was obtained and analyzed. Prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to bring charges, but loudly noted there would have been a lot more evidence had police done their job a year ago.
The university was legally required to investigate sexual assault charges the moment it learned of them, but it's not clear if administrators were told about the situation by the athletic department back in Jan. 2013, or if it found out with the rest of the world in November. FSU's investigation did not begin until after football season, and Winston declined to cooperate. Through his attorney, he declined to answer questions for the Times story as well.
When The Times asked Mr. Winston for an interview, an Atlanta 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." Mr. Cornwell, who has represented major sports figures and the N.F.L., added, "Jameis has never sexually assaulted anybody."