University officials clarify sexual assault investigation process after two separate incidents

By Abbey Nickel

After two separate sexual assault investigations at the University of Findlay during the fall semester, University officials are working to help educate more students about how the investigation process works and what the student body can do to help prevent more cases.

The latest investigation at the University of Findlay led to the dismissal of a third student-athlete, Laceem McCall, on Nov. 7. McCall appealed his dismissal, and it was rejected.

On Oct. 3, junior Alphonso Baity and sophomore Justin Browning were dismissed following a separate investigation. Both appealed their dismissals, and they were also rejected.

Baity and Browning were both named in the email that was sent to UF students announcing that they were expelled from the University.  McCall was not named in the email that announced his dismissal, and Dave Emsweller, vice president for student affairs, says he made that decision for a particular reason.

“In the first case, the media was getting ready to name them, and we decided to name the names because we thought that the media would not try to track them down that way,” said Emsweller. “This time, the media hasn’t really picked up on anything yet, and my gut told me that we didn’t want to put the name in the email.  I knew I was going to have to release it, but I didn’t see a reason to put it in the email.”

Emsweller said that the University is required by law to release the name in cases such as sexual assault, but it’s not necessarily a law that he agrees with.

“Right now we are doing everything as they are instructing us to do it.  I just wish the names didn’t have to be so public,” said Emsweller.

In both cases, Emsweller said that a “preponderance of evidence” led investigators to the decision to dismiss all three students.  A preponderance of evidence is a legal standard that the University is instructed to use in investigations such as this to make a decision.

Matt Bruskotter, assistant dean for environmental, safety, security and emergency management, explained to the Pulse what exactly a preponderance of evidence is.

“Basically, what it means is more likely than not,” said Bruskotter.  “It’s a similar standard of evidence that you find in a civil case, but I’m reluctant to compare the two because the process we have to follow at the University is very much separated from any kind of criminal or civil court action.  The federal government makes it very clear that we have to take action as a University outside of what the court system may or may not do. You gather all of the evidence that you have, and preponderance of the evidence is the decision that a reasonable person would make based on that evidence.”

Emsweller added that there is confusion about what all a preponderance of evidence entails.

“He-said-she said is not a preponderance of evidence.  A preponderance of evidence is when you’ve talked to enough individuals and you’re hearing the same type of thing from multiple people that this indeed happened,” said Emsweller.

Bruskotter said that while there may not be physical evidence that a crime was committed – evidence is still collected based on witnesses.

“Certainly there isn’t going to be any physical evidence, but the evidence is based on interviews and witness statements,” said Bruskotter.

When explaining the investigation process, Bruskotter said that the initial investigation must begin with a report.  Victims are allowed to participate in the investigation or not participate, but the University is still required by law to conduct a full investigation, according to Bruskotter.

Bruskotter said that the investigation then primarily revolves around witness statements and interviews, and the investigators have to determine if they have enough evidence to make a decision.

When it comes to determining whether or not alcohol was involved in the alleged incident, Bruskotter said that can also be determined through witness statements.

“We have to do whatever we can to determine what level of intoxication that person might have been under, but you would be surprised how much information you can gather from witness statements,” said Bruskotter.

Emsweller said that time is not necessarily a factor when it comes to determining whether or not an individual was intoxicated at the time of an incident.

“Even if it was months ago, but if a witness can clearly remember that a student was incoherent, unable to walk, etc., that’s all we need.  And remember, it’s not just one person – we have to hear multiple people hear it,” said Emsweller.

Bruskotter said that right now, accusing and blaming victims seems to be one of the biggest issues on campus.

“I’m a little concerned about the victim blaming that has been going on,” said Bruskotter. “We have to be aware that choices we make as individuals have consequences. But that doesn’t give someone the right to do something horrific to you because you made a poor choice.”

Emsweller said that he sent an email to parents of UF students addressing the recent cases and how the University has handled them and plans on continuing to educate students in the future.  He said that educating others about consent, the choices we make, and how victims can seek help still remain to be top priorities for University officials.

Both Bruskotter and Emsweller said that they don’t believe having two sexual assault investigations this semester is an indication of a trend, but rather a sign of the fact that victims have more freedom to report incidents and seek treatment following recent legislation.

But they also both agreed that no matter what, these type of investigations will always be hard to conduct, and are hopeful that students will learn from these cases and will become more aware of the consequences that can come from a split-second decision.

“Nobody likes doing these investigations, it tears at our souls a little bit every time we have to do it,” said Bruskotter. “We don’t like having to make these types of decisions because we truly feel like these students are a part of our family.”

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