Attorney: Regents try to make Briles scapegoat for broader failures

(KWTX staff photo/file)
(KWTX staff photo/file)(KWTX)
Published: Nov. 1, 2016 at 10:46 AM CDT
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Baylor University regents are trying to make former football coach Art Briles the scapegoat for broader Title IX failures while he’s bound by agreements that don’t allow him to defend himself, Briles’ attorney said Monday.

And the Baylor Line Foundation, a local lawyer who represents 10 women in lawsuits against the school stemming from alleged sexual assaults, and an attorney who represents the school’s former Title IX coordinator, all have questions about the regents’ decision to talk to major media organizations about details the school has maintained for months it could not release.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting regents who heretofore haven’t commented publicly about specific findings, reported Friday that the scandal that engulfed the school’s football program involved 17 women who reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 players including four gang rapes since 2011.

Baylor has maintained since May that it couldn’t provide any details about the specific cases in which Pepper Hamilton found university and athletic department failures, but five months later, apparently acting on advice of the Los Angeles PR firm G.F. Bunting+Co., made selected regents available for interviews with the Journal, the New York Times, USA Today and Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports.”

“The Wall Street Journal article is a narrative and storyline created by Baylor University's newly hired public relations firm G.F. Bunting+Co. working behind the scenes to place ideas in the media to make Coach Briles a scapegoat for much broader Title IX failures when Coach Briles cannot publicly defend himself because of confidentiality agreements demanded by Baylor,” Stephenville lawyer Ernest Cannon said in an email Monday.

“The public relations firm invented a number of "sexual assaults" and "gang rapes" falsely attributed to Baylor football players is consistent with the…firm’s obvious attempts to smear the reputation of not only Coach Briles, but also the reputations of former Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford, the Waco Police, and Baylor Police Departments,” he said.

“How ironic from an institution that is promoting transparency,” said Cannon, who represented Briles in settlement negotiations after regents voted on May 28 to fire Briles, reassign Chancellor and President Ken Starr and suspend athletic director Ian McCaw.

Briles and Starr have since reached settlements with the school.

McCaw remains on the Baylor payroll, but is no longer working.

One prominent regent who was present when attorneys from the Pepper Hamilton law firm briefed the board in May about the findings of its investigation of the school’s handling of sexual assault complaints says only a handful of the allegations were proven.

“The vast majority of those allegations presented did not have facts to support them,” the regent said.

The regent spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Baylor Line Foundation, formerly the Baylor Alumni Association, also raised questions Monday about the claims made in the Wall Street Journal story.

“Some members of the board of regents have given media interviews that seem to be a part of a carefully orchestrated public relations campaign to validate their staffing decisions rather than explaining what happened directly to the Baylor family,” the organization said in a statement Monday.

“The Baylor Line Foundation has long believed that a full accounting must be given directly to the Baylor Family, not just selected news media (no matter how credible they might be). We agree that the privacy of those who have filed complaints must be protected, but there are many unanswered questions that have nothing to do with the primary goal of protecting the survivors,” the group said.

The foundation also questioned the timing of the release of the information to the newspaper.

“Some regents chose to disclose details about the numbers of sexual assault complaints and the number of football team members accused just hours before a key road game,” the group said.

Baylor lost to Texas in Austin 35-34 Saturday, a day after the article was published.

Rogge Dunn, the Dallas-based attorney representing former Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford, also believes the regents’ comments are an attempt to appear transparent, while offering little.

"Baylor has changed its PR strategy and is now allowing select members of the board of Regents to comment,” Dunn told KWTX Monday.

“What is needed is full transparency. The public will never get the full story until the decision makers at Baylor are forced to testify under oath and Baylor's computers are examined by a forensic expert."

On Friday two more women were added to a sexual assault Title IX lawsuit against the university.

Waco attorney Jim Dunnam is representing the 10 plaintiffs and said the allegations of about eight of them have nothing to do with the school’s football program, leaving him to wonder why the administration isn’t focused on itself.

"It is clear this is not a just a football problem,’ Dunnam told KWTX.

“If the regents pulling the strings are right, (and) 18 football players represent 10 percent of the assaults, then do the regents really believe the other non-football 160 assaults are acceptable?” Dunnam said.

“Are other young Baylor victims relevant? Who is responsible for the other 160?" Dunnam asked.

Briles is not named in any of the suits that Dunnam has filed to date.

“We’ve made no specific allegations against him, at this time," Dunnam said.

To date three players have been charged with sexual assault.

Two have been convicted and a fourth has been charged with stalking in an incident involving a former girlfriend.

No one has been charged in any of the four gang rapes to which the regents referred in their interview with the newspaper, and none of the regents to whom KWTX has talked over the past months ever made any mention of four gang rapes.

The Wall Street Journal article cited one case in which regents told the paper that Briles knew about an alleged incident and failed to alert police, the university’s judicial affairs staff or a Title IX officer, but sources with knowledge of the situation say that incident didn’t involve a sexual or domestic assault, but instead a freshman recruit who was cited after he was found walking with an open can of beer.

KWTX has been able to find documentation in only two cases characterized as gang rapes, in neither of which did the women involved want to press charges.

Both occurred before the university established its Title IX Office in 2014.

The first, in 2012, involved a female athlete who reported the incident nine months later, in May 2013, to her head coach.

Sources with knowledge of the Pepper Hamilton presentation to the board say the firm’s lawyers discussed that incident in great detail.

The woman’s coach first told Athletic Director Ian McCaw and then on McCaw’s advice, advised Briles, and then informed Judicial Affairs at Baylor, which told the coach nothing could be done because the woman did not want to pursue the incident further.

The woman left Baylor the next day without ever filing a police report or formal complaint.

Four players were allegedly involved in the incident, but by the time it was reported three had left the school and the fourth had been suspended for an unrelated incident and never played another down, KWTX has learned.

The woman’s coach later said in a statement that KWTX obtained that Briles urged him to tell the player to report the incident and hold players responsible if they were guilty of such a crime.

“I think Coach Briles handled the matter honorably and with the serious attention it deserved,” the coach said in the statement.

The second incident occurred in April 2013, and allegedly involved two players. It was reported to Waco police, who interviewed the woman involved and collected evidence.

But, according to police reports obtained by KWTX, the woman, whom a police investigator said was “highly intoxicated” and “very elusive in her answers,” was initially “adamant that nothing had happened and that she had not been sexually assaulted.”

Two days later she told an investigator “she did not wish to press charges against the two,” whom she identified as Shamycheal Chatman and Tre’Von Armstead.

The Waco police reports show that an investigating officer contacted Baylor about the incident shortly after it occurred, but KWTX has learned that Briles wasn’t told about the incident until Sept. 11, 2015, after Pepper Hamilton investigators discovered it.

Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Reagan Ramsower, who oversees the Baylor Department of Public Safety, told “CBS 60 Minutes Sports” that the report about the incident was in the hands of campus police for more than a year.

By that time, Chatman was gone.

Armstead never worked out with the team or played again, but remained in school until he transferred at mid-term.

Neither player was ever charged.

Offense reports on the school’s website involving incidents on and off campus show five forcible sex offenses in 2013, five rapes and one case of fondling in 2014 and 23 rapes and 3 cases of fondling in 2015.

The school does not include data from 2012, but a Department of Education report shows one off-campus rape was reported that year, and that none was reported in 2013.

Simple assaults and domestic violence incidents are included in the data, but during the four-year period, the school reported a total of 11 aggravated assaults, according to the offense data.

The university told the paper that football players were involved in 10.4 percent of Title IX reported incidents in those four years, which suggests that members of the team were linked to only four alleged sexual offenses.

Tevin Elliot was convicted of two counts of sexual assault, for assaulting a former Baylor student in 2012. Elliot was kicked off the team shortly after the team learned about the first sexual assault allegation, in April of 2012, three days before he was arrested and charged with the crime.

Sam Ukwuachu was convicted in 2015 of assaulting a former Baylor soccer player in 2013. Ukwuachu transferred from Boise State to play football at Baylor after he was dismissed from that team in May of 2013.

Rami Hammad, offensive lineman for the Bears in 2015, was accused by a student of sexually assaulting her in his apartment early in the fall semester of that year.

Sources close to the football team said that Rami was cleared by Title IX in that case.

After the season, Hammad was charged with felony stalking in an incident involving his ex-girlfriend.

And former Baylor football standout Shawn Oakman, whose hopes of being picked up in the NFL draft were derailed by his April 13 arrest on a sexual assault charge, was indicted in July by the McLennan County Grand Jury.

No other players or former players have been charged.

Board of Regents Chairman Ronald Murff and Regent J. Cary Gray, a Houston lawyer, talked to the newspaper.

Gray has refused to talk to KWTX previously and when asked earlier to comment on KWTX reports, hung up on the reporter.

Murff suggested to the newspaper that he had a “fiduciary duty to uphold the mission of the university, adding it was not just to win football games.”

KWTX has learned that the university has paid out millions in settlements with former employees, including an estimated $15 million to Briles, as well as with some of the plaintiffs who filed lawsuits stemming from the sexual assault allegations.

WACO, Texas (KWTX)—Apparently as part of its stepped-up public relations effort to answer criticism about a lack of transparency about the sexual assault scandal that engulfed the school’s football program, Baylor University rolled out a new website titled simply “The Truth.”

“Both the Administration and the Board of Regents are taking this step because we came to understand that, in order to heal, the Baylor family needs more information about what happened and why,” interim President David Garland said in a statement posted on the site.

“We will disclose important facts, provide a clear accounting of past Title IX incidents including sexual assaults on our campus, report about developments on a timely basis and respond to media coverage when appropriate.”

Garland’s message says the Pepper Hamilton investigation was not intended “to determine whether the underlying assaults occurred or to create a comprehensive catalogue of all sexual assaults.”

He reiterates that Pepper Hamilton neither produced nor delivered a written report.

The site includes information about the school’s support for its Title IX Office and victims of sexual assault, information about the Title IX Office, a link to the school’s Sexual Violence Website, and links to Garland’s statement and “articles of interest.”

The only articles posted on the site Tuesday were last Friday’s Wall Street Journal story and a commentary by Regent Mark Lovvord that was published Tuesday in the Dallas Morning News.