Yesterday, this news outlet reported exclusively on the release of a heavily redacted investigative report from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) regarding allegations of sexual assault on the campus of Furman University – a private, liberal arts school located in Greenville, South Carolina.
The report was released six weeks after S.C. thirteenth circuit solicitor Walt Wilkins announced that his office was declining to press charges in connection with the case – which involved allegations against members of the university’s football team.
Based on the report, we concur with Wilkins’ decision. There is no way a prosecutor would ever have been able to bring criminal charges related to this case. Even if the alleged victims (and witnesses) had been cooperative with investigators – and even if Furman police hadn’t made a mess of the inquiry – this would still have been an incredibly difficult case to prosecute.
Given the lack of cooperation – combined with incompetent police work and institutional resistance from Furman – it quickly became an impossible case.
So … Wilkins made the right decision.
Also, to be perfectly clear: No one but those individuals directly involved in the events which led to this investigation know exactly what happened. And based on the levels of impairment involved – including allegations that women were drugged – recollections are obviously imprecise, at best.
Accordingly, what truly transpired in the early morning hours of October 6, 2019 on the Furman campus will probably forever remain a mystery.
We do know this, though: Furman has a serious problem.
And rather than taking steps to address it, the school seems intent on sweeping it under the rug.
Certainly we understand this impulse. No university wants bad publicity. Particularly for something like this. And the sexual assault allegations became public at a time when the school’s athletics programs – including its football team – were
But before its botched handling of the current sexual assault investigation, Furman had a preexisting problem on this front – one that led directly to the filing of legislation at the state level.
As we noted in a previous post, state representative Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster, S.C. has been pushing for the past year to require campus safety and security departments at private colleges and universities to serve as the “legal custodians” of records related to criminal inquiries – and to “make these records available for inspection.” Last March, Norrell introduced a bill – H. 4208 – that would specifically provide for the disclosure of “records related to criminal investigations and criminal intelligence.”
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(Via: Travis Bell Photography)
“Private colleges should be subject to the same rules as public colleges when it comes to disclosure of sexual assaults they investigate,” Norrell (above) told this news outlet back in December. “Parents and students should have this information easily available when they’re evaluating the relative safety of a college. I understand that no college wants prospective students and families to think of it as unsafe, but they deserve that information. As the mom of a daughter who is applying to colleges right now, that’s something I would want to know.”
We agree …
What we didn’t know at the time, though, was that Norrell’s proposed legislation stemmed from previous issues regarding the reporting and handling of sexual assault allegations at Furman – issues that were raised in a March 2019 report by Matt Moore of WYFF TV 4 (NBC – Greenville/ Spartanburg, S.C.).
According to Moore’s report, multiple students claimed that “Furman University mishandled their sexual assault investigations.” One of those led to a federal lawsuit.
The descriptions contained in Moore’s report are every bit as disturbing as the details contained in the SLED report we covered yesterday.
In one reported sexual assault case, it was alleged Furman “botched the investigation … buried key evidence, ignored witness testimony and rushed the investigation.”
A freshman at the school told Moore that Furman “drastically undermined” her case, and that its campus police department “gravely mishandled” the allegations.
“I can’t imagine how many people there are – that they did this to,” the student told Moore.
Meanwhile a former Furman student – Haley Clevenger – went on the record with Moore, telling him she was “pressured to sign a document stating (she) would not pursue criminal prosecution.” Her signature on that document allowed Furman to handle the investigation internally rather than reporting it to the police.
“If you’re going to report it,” Clevenger told Moore, “go straight to the Greenville Police Department. Do not report it to the Furman police.”
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(Via: Travis Bell Photography)
Sadly it appears what was past … was prologue.
This news outlet has already criticized Furman for mishandling the most recent case (including a months-long delay in notifying students of the latest on-campus allegations). And we have been criticized ourselves for taking the school to task.
Based on the SLED report, though, our criticisms were justified.
Specifically, the report noted that with respect to the most recent allegations, Furman police told the alleged victims “they could go to either the hospital or (to) jail.”
Also, one of the football players at the center of the latest inquiry had independent contact with Furman police personnel while the SLED investigation was ongoing. After this contact, the player changed his story about what happened.
Most ominously, the SLED report makes mention of multiple interviews related to the case that were recorded using “Furman University’s interview room cameras.” These cameras which were later found to be “defective,” and at least one of the witnesses whose interview was conducted using these “defective” cameras refused to be interviewed a second time.
“How convenient,” we noted.
This news outlet has heard from several sources close to this investigation who have spoken of other “issues” related to the Furman police department – which we are digging on for future reports. In the meantime, we will continue to do our best to hold this school accountable – while supporting lawmakers like Norrell in their efforts to do the same.
But something is clearly rotten at Furman … and no one at the school appears interested in lifting a finger to stop it.
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