As awareness has spread about rape—and pressure has increased on universities to prevent and address it among their students—two justice systems have formed. There’s the one we’ve had for centuries: the cops, the courts, and if it goes to trial, a verdict. Now there’s a second track, one where universities, under the legal weight of having to prevent sex discrimination and provide safe campuses, also investigate and render a decision.
You can see how this second system might provide some hope, with stories about our traditional criminal justice system’s failings feeling like a daily part of the news cycle. Surely universities—without the cash crunch of the legal system, but with an ideological commitment to fairness and openness and the truth—should do better. That’s why it stings so much when you learn of Baylor’s failure of an investigation into a football player accused and now convicted of sexual assault: it’s a betrayal, and not only to the victim. Baylor all but flat-out ignored evidence (which supported the woman’s story), allowed itself to consider evidence that is not allowed in Texas criminal courts (which supported the football’s player story), and in some areas just didn’t trouble itself to seek out readily available information. That’s what happens when a sexual predator can help your pass rush, I guess. And all this ineptitude would never have come to light until the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office gave a damn.
Late last night, Baylor defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of one count of sexual assault, but up until that moment Baylor hadn’t even acknowledged that it had conducted an investigation into what happened on Oct. 20, 2013. When asked why he wasn’t playing football, his defensive coordinator said he had “some issues right now and won’t practice until we get them straightened out.” Two months ago, with an indictment handed down trial looming, the same coach said they expected him back. When I called and ask Baylor last week how they handled Ukwuachu’s allegations, they told me they didn’t want to talk about it.
Now, with the facts laid bare in court, I can see why. The victim was a fellow Baylor student, a freshman excited to play soccer there. Within 24 hours of when she says Ukwuachu assaulted her, the woman went to a hospital, had a rape kit done, and talked to the police. She also went to Baylor administration. How did the university manage to clear Ukwuachu, who would instantly have gone back to football if not for the indictment of a grand jury?
On Wednesday Bethany McCraw, Baylor’s associate dean for student conduct administration, spoke in court, with the jurors removed but reporters still present. It was to decide how much information about Baylor’s investigation could be admissible in court. She said her investigation cleared Ukwuachu based on “a preponderance of evidence,” according to Tommy Witherspoon of the Waco Tribune-Herald. What was that evidence? Here is what McCraw said Baylor had to render its decision, as reported by Witherspoon and Texas Monthly:
- She interviewed the woman and Ukwuachu.
- She saw copies of text messages between the two of them.
- She interviewed Ukwuachu’s roommate, Peni Tagive. She didn’t say what Tagive told her, but prosecutors said the roommate had told Baylor and a grand jury that he was in bed at 12:30 a.m. and heard no calls for help that night. His story fell apart in court, where prosecutors noted that Tagive’s cell phone records showed his phone, at the time he had claimed he was home, was connecting to towers in another part of town.
- She spoke to a friend of the woman.
- She had results of a polygraph test that defense lawyer Jonathan Sibley said Ukwuachu passed. (It’s worth noting that polygraph results, with very limited exceptions, are inadmissible in Texas criminal courts, as well as several other criminal courts across the country.)
Here is what McCraw and Baylor did not have, and did not bother seeking:
- She did not have a report from the nurse who performed the sexual assault exam, which found bleeding and abrasions. McCraw said she asked the woman for a copy of her examination results, but the woman didn’t have one at that moment. McCraw made no mention, according to Witherspoon’s account of her testimony, of trying to get them from the district attorney’s office, or the clinic, or asking the woman to get a copy and give it to her.
- She did not interview a university psychologist, who testified in court about her counseling with the woman and the decision to diagnose her with PTSD. Witherspoon described McCraw’s answer to this as “Baylor officials don’t like to pry into student counseling issues, especially those that might involve mental health concerns.”
- She did not get any records from Boise State, which dismissed Ukwuachu with very little explanation in May 2013. Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor a few weeks later, and was accused of rape in October. Witherspoon described her testimony thus: “McCraw said that records from other schools are difficult to get.”
Those records weren’t nearly so hard for prosecutors or reporters to get. Texas Monthly’s Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon got copies, and they show plenty of reasons why Boise State might have had concerns.
In documents from May 2013 obtained by Texas Monthly, Marc Paul, the assistant athletics director at Boise State University, recounts advising to Ukwuachu’s then-girlfriend in Boise that she stay away from the house the two shared for several nights, after he put his fist through a window while drunk. Paul also makes plans for how to get police protection for the couple’s other housemate, who received threatening text messages from Ukwuachu. Handwritten notes in a document from a Boise State source also refer to times that Ukwuachu would get verbally abusive over “small irritants” like a spilled drink, and note that the woman he lived with acknowledged that she would “probably not” admit it if the abuse were physical. It ends with the words “NOT healthy relationship!” underlined.
Following the incident with the window, Ukwuachu—just a year removed from his Freshman All-American season—was kicked off the team by Boise State head coach Chris Petersen for repeated violations of team rules.
In court Thursday, the ex-girlfriend recounted being hit and punched by Ukwuachu. Perhaps if Baylor had those records, they would have reached out to her. Or perhaps they would have continued to bury their heads in the sand: Texas Monthly added that in August 2013, two months before the rape, Boise State associate AD John Cunningham told Baylor senior associate AD Chad Jackson that Boise State would not support any waivers to get Ukwuachu back on the field.
Ukwuachu was cleared by Baylor and sat his required year due to his transfer. The indictment was the only thing that kept him from returning to the field; he never played a down but remained a student and graduated. The woman, forced to rearrange her class schedule to avoid sections she shared with Ukwuachu, and suffering from PTSD, eventually found her own scholarship reduced and transferred to another school, per Texas Monthly.
On Tuesday, she recounted in detail on the stand how she screamed and yelled no during her assault. Baylor, for close to two years, merely kept its mouth shut, except for when coach Art Briles told the Tribune-Herald: “I like the way we’ve handled it as a university, an athletic department and a football program.”
In a matter of days, close to two years of careful crisis management by Baylor has been undone. The lies told by coaches were exposed as lies. The sham investigation revealed for the piece of trash it was. The school’s motto—For Church, For Texas—appeared a cruel joke. Late Thursday, in a last-ditch effort to look like it cared, Baylor issued this statement:
Acts of sexual violence contradict every value Baylor University upholds as a caring Christian community. In recent years we have joined university efforts nationally to prevent campus violence against women and sexual assault, to actively support survivors of sexual assault with compassion and care, and to take action against perpetrators. We have established and fully staffed a Title IX office that employs a Title IX Coordinator and two full-time investigators. Maintaining a safe and caring community is central to Baylor’s mission and at the heart of our commitment to our students, faculty and staff.
This is a canned statement clearly looking forward to the lawsuits the school will likely face. Anyone expecting a better, purer form of justice in the hallowed halls of learning should know they are no safer there outside the campus gates. In some ways, that’s no surprise. I grew up in college football country, went to an SEC school, and I’d be a fool to say I didn’t know how the balance of power worked. It’s just harder to ignore now, and Baylor is the latest reminder: left to its own devices, football always wins.
Image via Associated Press