BU reform group “appalled” by damning details in lawsuit filing

(KWTX staff photo/file)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Bears for Leadership Reform Friday renewed its demand for greater transparency after a court filing that detailed potentially damning text messages between former head football coach Art Briles and other athletics officials between 2011 and 2015, which appear to show efforts to conceal accusations of misconduct and crimes involving football players.

"We are shocked and appalled by the information in this court filing, and the fact that the regents, with full knowledge of this information, reportedly paid Art Briles and others millions of dollars in severance is deeply troubling,” the group’s president, John Eddie Williams, said in a statement late Friday afternoon.

“This is part of a much bigger “institutional failure,” – as cited in the university’s original Finding of Facts – that goes well beyond the football program to the administration and all the way up to the Board itself,” he said.

“Full transparency – not an ongoing dribble of select information – is what the Baylor family wants and deserves from its leadership in response to this crisis so it can have confidence that all have been held accountable and that the right changes are being made to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.”

The answer filed Thursday in response to a lawsuit filed by former Baylor Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations Collin Shillinglaw, alleges Briles was shielded from having to deal with many disciplinary problems with his players, but claims that “In those circumstances when information about acts of misconduct bubbled its way up to him, Briles encouraged Shillinglaw and others on his staff to keep the problems internal to the program and not to alert other campus authorities.”

The answer was filed by Houston attorney Rusty Hardin on behalf of three of the regents who are being sued individually by Shillinglaw.

The communications, which were made public for the first time in the filing, were uncovered as the Pepper Hamilton law firm investigated the handling of sexual assaults at Baylor, searching data on 52 laptops and 62 mobile devices.

They were part of the Pepper Hamilton presentation to Baylor board members, according to the filing.

“Why can they have his cell records and we don’t?” Briles’ attorney, Ernest Cannon of Stephenville, said Friday.

“They’ve refused all of request to release Pepper Hamilton and spent hundreds of lawyer hours in the last two months filing every motion they could imagine to avoid any witness making any comment under oath for the record.”

“If these lawyers and regents want to be transparent we would like to see their emails and text messages for the last eight years,” he said.

Baylor has long insisted that the law firm’s presentation to the board in May 2016 included no written report, but Hardin told KWTX late Thursday that his firm had access to the notes and other written materials created as Pepper Hamilton prepared their presentation.

"We were working off the presentation they made to the board, and the supporting documentation that they had that they gathered during their investigation", Hardin said.

Thursday's filing included several text message exchanges between Briles and other officials about alleged player misconduct.

After one football player was cited for illegal consumption of alcohol in 2011, Briles texted another coach “Hopefully he’s under the radar enough they won’t recognize his name…. did he get ticket from Baylor police or Waco? … Just trying to keep him away from our judicial affairs folks.”

When an assistant coach notified Briles in 2013 that a female student claimed a football player had brandished a hand gun at her, Briles responded “what a fool… she reporting to authorities.”

Later that year, Shillinglaw texted Briles about a player who was accused of exposing himself and asking for favors while receiving a massage. Shillinglaw texted “She has a lawyer but wants us to handle with discipline and counseling.” Briles responded. “What kind of discipline… She a stripper?” When Shillinglaw said it was at a spa, Briles texted “Not quite as bad.”

After a player was arrested for assault in September 2013, Briles exchanged texts with Athletic Director Ian McCaw about keeping the charge quiet. Briles texted, “Just talked to [the player] he said Waco PD was there said they were going to keep it quiet Wasn’t a set up deal.” McCaw responded, “That would be great if they kept it quiet!”

In October of 2013, Shillinglaw texted Briles about a player that had been suspended for repeated drug violations. “Bottom line, he has to meet with (Vice President for Student Life Kevin) Jackson tomorrow morning. If Jackson does not reinstate President will”.

In August of 2015, Briles learned from an assistant coach that a player was arrested for possession of marijuana. Briles texted “[expletive] how about that he’s gonna b in the system now let me know what you think we should do… I can get shill (Shillinglaw) to call Sibley (local attorney) or we can… Do we know who complained?” The assistant coach said the superintendent at the player’s apartment complex complained. Briles responded, “We need to know who supervisor is and get him to alert us first.”

The filing also describes Briles’ response when he was told a student athlete accused five football players of a gang-rape. When he was given a list of the names of the players involved, Briles said “Those are some bad dudes. Why was she around those guys?” Briles told the coach the alleged victim should contact police and prosecute. Ian McCaw was told about the accusation, and told the coach it was up to the victim to take action, and said there was nothing they could do if the student didn’t press charges.

Tom Brandt, an attorney for Ian McCaw, who is now serving as Athletics Director at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va, issued a statement in response to Thursday’s filing. “It is important to note that at the time Baylor did not have a Title IX office, provide Title IX education or have policies or procedures for handling or reporting allegations of sexual assault. Mr. McCaw was faced with a complex situation wherein he desired to honor the wishes of the alleged victim, who was unwilling to speak to the police according to her coach”, Brandt said. “Mr. McCaw responsibly directed the head coach to the Office of Judicial Affairs, which handles student conduct matters, and was the appropriate venue to take such an allegation.”

Hardin, the attorney who filed the answer on behalf of Cary Gray, Ron Murff, and David Harper, told KWTX late Thursday night the regents he represented had finally been pushed to release detailed information that had, until this point, been kept quiet.

"They wanted, finally, to say, look, if you're' going to keep saying this stuff about us that is not only misinformed, but it's wrong, misleading, and untrue, that we're going to have to defend ourselves like anybody else does when they're sued. And when we do that, it's 'not going to be helpful to your cause", Hardin said. "These regents did the only thing any reasonable person could have done. And I defy anyone, once they look at the facts, to ever believe that these regents had any choice but to do what they did."

Thursday’s filing comes one day after Briles dropped his own libel lawsuit against Baylor officials.

Shillinglaw, who had been with Briles for almost 30 years, was told on May 26, 2016 that he was being fired, but then was later suspended with intent to terminate.

On the same day, saying they “were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” regents reassigned Chancellor and President Ken Starr, fired head football coach Art Briles and put Athletic Director Ian McCaw on suspension.’

Starr and Briles later reached agreements with the school.

The suit alleges that the Pepper Hamilton review presented to regents in May 2016 included “numerous statements focusing on Mr. Shillinglaw.”

“Not only were these statements false, they were reckless, deceptive and defamatory,” the suit alleges.

The suit claims the statements stemmed from a complaint in 2013 against an athlete about which “Ramsower provided false and defamatory statements” to the law firm and/or regents regarding Shillinglaw’s involvement.

And it claims that in spite of the university’s insistence that no information would be released about the review beyond the 13-page findings of fact document released on May 26, several regents began giving interviews to various outlets including The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, The Dallas Morning News and the Waco Tribune Herald.

The suit alleges that the regents interviewed by the news organizations “continued to make defamatory statements.”

The suit, filed in Dallas County seeks unspecified damages.

Hardin said, after Thursday's filing, he believes the lawsuit should be dropped, saying there is more damning information that could come out if the lawsuit continues. "Our position is it does neither Baylor, the victims, nor the coaches in the football program any good to continue this", Hardin said. "They ought to dismiss the cases like coach Briles did, go off into the future in their own careers, and not subject themselves any more to a closer look at what happened."