MICHIGAN—Three Michigan State University football players have been charged in a sexual assault case that has been shrouded in secrecy by the university.
The university announced in May that it would sue ESPN for a declaratory judgement in response to the network’s pursuit of documents of the university police’s reports and investigation into the incident and a contradictory letter from Ingham County Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McCormick.
A few weeks later it denied The Lansing State Journal’s request for access to a review of how the university handled Title IX complaints between 2014 and 2015, specifically denying them a description of the changes to policy – if there were any – that were made as a result, according to the Journal.
The request for specific policy changes made as a result of the review does not pertain to any student privacy concern, so the reasons why the university would not release to the public the results of a contracted job paid for with the public’s money are unclear.
In 2015 the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, known for penning the Dear Colleague letter of 2011 that required universities to address sexual assault and harassment as gender discrimination or face federal penalties, found that MSU was in violation of federal Title IX compliance.
The federal investigation found that the university had improper procedures, poor documentation of reports and that students were confused about how to report sexual harassment or assault, according to the Journal.
Foreshadowing future misconduct, the OCR found particular issue with MSU’s Athletic department.
The Journal reported that OCR, “found confusion among the athletic department staff about who should report sexual assault claims to the university’s investigation office.”
MSU paid law firm Pepper Hamilton $115,152 for its review, formed the Office of Institutional Equity, and reached an agreement with OCR to end the federal investigation.
The university cited attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product doctrine in its denial of the results and the invoices which detail the specific work done by the firm, according to the Journal.
Though the university could not say what changes came to the university as a result of the Pepper Hamilton review, it did contract with the firm again – to represent MSU when four women filed a federal lawsuit against it alleging Title IX violations.
The university said it will conduct another similar review, motivated by the revelations about former university employee Dr. Larry Nasar, who is accused of sexually assaulting dozens of people in his university office, and the four football players who have been charged with sexual assault this year alone.
ESPN’s request for records is nothing unusual, especially since it followed the university’s public announcement about the incident.
“We typically would take those records, redact them appropriately per the FOIA statute and then release them,” MSU spokesman Jason Cody said. “In this specific case, we have a media outlet that’s asking us to do that and we also have the chief law enforcement officer in the county…telling us that the release of any information, even in redacted form, could potentially threaten the case.”
The university maintains that it is seeking more answers from a judge about appropriate action to take when a public request interferes with direction given by law enforcement.
Because the investigations into the students were concluded and the cases were heading to public court proceedings, it is uncertain how release of these documents would interfere in the prosecution’s argument or investigation.
Following their suspension, football players Joshua King, Demetric Vance, and Donnie Corley Jr. were charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct or coercion on Tuesday for an incident that happened at a party in an on-campus apartment on Jan. 16.
MSU Police Detective Chad Davis told the court that King, who is also charged with first degree criminal sexual conduct, pulled the victim into the bathroom, forced her to perform oral sex on him, and then pulled down her pants before forcing sexual intercourse.
Police later found a recording on King’s phone of him assaulting her.
Vance and Corley entered the bathroom separately after King assaulted the woman and forced her to perform oral sex on them before she eventually collapsed, according to Det. Davis’ testimony.
A recent review by the Jones Day law firm for the university regarding Title IX compliance concluded that the head football coach and other higher-ups in the athletic department responded properly to the incident.
According to The Lansing State Journal, the report found that a football staff member, later identified as Curtis Blackwell, had talked to the player who reported the incident, then talked to the three players involved, and even talked with one of the parents about the incident, but never reported anything to the university.
SPLC staff writer Marjorie Kirk can be reached by email or (202) 974-6317
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