Weeks after leading the Florida State Seminoles to a national championship, quarterback Jameis Winston was quietly interrogated by university administrators, and two of his teammates were brought up on school conduct charges related to allegations that Winston raped a fellow student, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. It had not previously been known whether FSU had initiated what's called a Title IX investigation. Now we know.
The two teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, were recently charged with five violations of the university's code of conduct, according to the source, who spoke with Deadspin on condition of anonymity because the university's proceedings were confidential. Winston doesn't currently face any conduct charges.
Like most universities, FSU has a conduct code separate from municipal criminal systems, under which students can be sanctioned for misconduct. At Florida State, a student need not be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but merely "responsible" or "not responsible" for the misconduct alleged in the charges.
Winston allegedly raped the woman at an off-campus apartment in the early morning of Dec. 7, 2012, though it was nearly a year before Tallahassee police forwarded the case to the state attorney's office, which decides whether to file criminal charges. In statements given to investigators late last year, Casher and Darby both said they'd witnessed Winston having sex with his accuser. Casher also said he'd walked into the room "to see if the female would agree to allow Casher to participate in the sex acts that were occurring." Denied, he filmed the two having sex on his cell phone. He told investigators he'd deleted the video and discarded the phone.
Both Casher and Darby face FSU charges of "conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for another person" and "acts that invade the privacy of another person." Casher faces an additional charge of "recording of images without consent." If found responsible in a university hearing, they could receive punishments ranging from a letter of reprimand to expulsion from the university.
Casher, Winston's roommate and a fellow Alabamian, is a reserve defensive end who played in spots last season before sitting out the final three games. Darby, a defensive back, was voted the ACC's defensive rookie of the year in 2012 and had two tackles in the Seminoles' title-winning game over Auburn in January. Both are still listed as students and members of the team, but could face interim sanctions while awaiting a hearing on their conduct charges.
A big question throughout Winston's saga had been whether the university ever held a code-of-conduct investigation into the allegations, as required under Title IX. This is the first evidence that FSU did indeed investigate—after the football season had ended in triumph.
The criminal case against Winston fell apart last December—a week after FSU had won out its regular-season schedule—when the state attorney investigating the case, Willie Meggs, decided there was insufficient evidence to charge Winston with a crime. In making that announcement, Meggs expressed regret that the university and the local police had not done a thorough enough job of investigating the allegations out of the gate.
A week later, Winston, a redshirt freshman, won the Heisman Trophy; a month later, he and his teammates were unbeaten national champs.
In late January—after the season had ended—Winston was summoned to a meeting with administrators conducting the university's Title IX investigation. Present were Jeanine Ward-Roof, FSU's dean of students and its Title IX coordinator; Rachel Bukanc, director of the university's Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities; and Francis "Monk" Bonasorte, a senior associate athletics director and former FSU player who has acted as a sort of consigliere to the team's current players, according to Deadspin's source.
At the meeting, Winston "basically took the fifth," the source says. Winston was asked if he was aware of the allegations against him. He replied that his legal counsel had advised him not to answer any questions.
According to the source, Ward-Roof later said that she would have asked Winston if he had obtained consent for sex on the night of the incident, if he knew about alcohol impairment, and if he knew what "consent" meant. But the star athlete declined to cooperate.
Instead, the meeting became "an educational conversation" in which Winston was advised of the university's definition of consent, its alcohol policies, and its code of conduct.
The administrators concluded that without Winston's cooperation there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of a Title IX violation at that time, but that "conduct code charges could be issued" if additional information about the incident became available.
If such a scenario came about, Winston could face a hearing at the university about what happened that morning in December 2012, and his accuser could participate and offer evidence against him.
While very different from a criminal trial, the ultimate outcome of such a university hearing could impact Winston's attendance at FSU and his athletic eligibility.
Bukacs and Bonasorte did not respond to requests for comment on the report late Wednesday.* Reached by phone, Ward-Roof declined to comment and referred Deadspin back to FSU.
Several weeks after the reported meeting with Winston, Ward-Roof left her post as FSU's lead Title IX coordinator for a similar job at a public college in Michigan about a third the size of Florida State.
A university spokesman responded to Deadspin in an email: "State and federal privacy laws prohibit Florida State University from being able to comment. The institution takes seriously its duty to protect the privacy and trust of the university community."
When contacted by Deadspin, the Winston accuser's current attorney, Baine Kerr, said the new information was "too little too late."
"We're pleased that the university is finally attempting to meet its Title IX obligations, but it shouldn't be well over a year" after his client's assault, Kerr said. He added that he was investigating potential claims on the accuser's behalf.
"If Mr. Winston continues to refuse to discuss what happened that night, it's difficult to see how the university can avoid taking action," he said.
Winston, meanwhile, has kept busy. Also a star on the Florida State baseball team, he took time out of his schedule on Tuesday to trek to the Florida State Capitol, where he addressed the House of Representatives and showed off his team's championship trophy. It was Florida State Day.
Photos via AP