Report shows officials’ roles in investigations

Sarah McKenzie

Independent investigators determined that athletics officials were involved in at least 12 sexual misconduct investigations involving student-athletes since 1993, but failed to find systematic interference, according to a report released Friday.
In only one instance, investigators documented that an athletic official interfered with a criminal investigation involving an athlete, the report concludes.
However, investigators did find “a pattern of favoritism” among athletic officials toward student-athletes accused of sexual misconduct, according to the report.
The evidence from the six-week investigation did not indicate that University officials routinely intervened in criminal sexual misconduct cases that were never forwarded to prosecutors, according to concluding remarks.
“(Investigators) found a string of incidents … of insensitivity to the alleged victims,” University President Mark Yudof said Friday. “And what I would call some errors of judgment.”
The player and school official involved in the one instance of unethical intervention are no longer at the University, Yudof said.
The report did not contain the names of the coaches, players or victims involved in the alleged misconduct; several pages in the report’s appendix were blank.
In response to the 110-page report, Yudof issued a series of policy changes Friday, namely prohibiting the athletic department from participating in future criminal investigations involving Gophers student-athletes.
In a letter to the Board of Regents, Yudof writes: “While the evidence of actual interference in police investigations is, as I have noted, minimal, the report describes a series of incidents that are troubling to me.”
The investigators, led by Minneapolis attorney Don Lewis, interviewed 80 individuals and analyzed more than 50,000 documents, including newspaper articles and police records, to determine whether systematic interference took place, according to the report.

The findings
After the exhaustive analysis, attorneys pinpointed 40 incidents of athletes accused of sexual and domestic assaults, according to the report. Of the 37 victims, 10 consented to interviews with investigators.
At least 10 cases involved basketball players and 22 incidents involved football players, according to the report.
Athletic officials were involved in 12 incidents through contact with police and the victims, or by arranging informal discipline contracts with players. Investigators found five instances where officials negotiated resolutions internally, according to the findings.
In the only instance of intervention, investigators found that an athletics official might have dissuaded a victim from pursuing criminal charges.
“In that incident, a football player (no longer a student) allegedly assaulted a female student in a University dormitory, causing severe injuries,” the report states. “At least one assistant football coach, and possibly others, spoke with the victim after her initial report to the police, when she indicated she wanted to press charges.”
The football player allegedly committed five assaults in a nine-month period, according to the report. Coaches might have known that the player had been accused of a sexual assault while he was recruited, according to the investigators’ concluding remarks.
Investigators reiterated throughout the report that athletic officials often lacked sensitivity towards the victims of the alleged misconduct.
“Although the Athletics Department has consistently stated a policy of zero tolerance for sexual abuse and harassment, several witnesses described their perception of a culture of indifference and, on occasion hostility, to the rights of women,” the report states.
Investigators largely exonerated the University Police Department, finding no evidence to support allegations of racial bias. The concluding remarks also denounced reports that University detectives appeased athletics officials by not referring sexual assault cases for prosecution.
Former University Police Chief Joy Rikala and retired detective Larry Anderson, whose travels with the men’s basketball team during the 1997 NCAA tournament games came under scrutiny, did not compromise criminal investigations involving some players, the report also states.
However, the investigators did advise the department to consider “initiatives to control and manage the Athletics Department’s advocacy for student-athletes charged with violent crimes.”
The practice of allowing police interviews to take place at athletic offices instead of the University station was also criticized in the investigators’ concluding statements.
Yudof said he was pleased with most of the findings involving the University Police, but stressed the importance of avoiding potential conflicts of interest in the future.
Therefore, the president has asked Steve Johnson, acting University police chief, to review police procedure regarding sexual assault complaints. He is expected to report his findings Oct. 1.
The president has also asked Johnson to propose new guidelines for officers who serve as security for campus events while off-duty.

New policies
Yudof said several of the reported incidents represent critical lapses in judgement on the part of coaching staffs and other officials in men’s athletics.
“In my view the coaches should never meet with the victims or the victims’ parents, except under the most strict circumstance,” Yudof said.
The president implemented the following measures Friday in response to the findings:
ù Men’s athletic officials are prohibited from contacting victims of any alleged sexual misconduct or domestic abuse without the consent of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.
ù Members of the coaching staff and other athletic officials are prohibited from participating in criminal interviews involving complaints against student athletes.
ù The Office of the General Counsel must approve any informal mechanisms designed to resolve sexual misconduct complaints.
ù Any student-athlete arrested for or charged with sexual assault or domestic abuse is automatically suspended from team activities.
Yudof has also appointed a four-member task force to determine if changes are necessary in current student disciplinary procedures addressing sexual misconduct. Committee members include attorneys from General Counsel, a grievance officer and a faculty member.
The new task force is expected to report their findings Oct. 1, Yudof said, one month after investigators complete the men’s athletics academic fraud investigation.
All legal fees associated with the investigative work will come from men’s athletics funds, the president said. The total cost of the investigations is unclear at this point, he added.
Yudof, who alluded to further management changes after the resignation of former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins on June 25, said he will wait for the completion of investigations in the fall before examining that option.
“I don’t see any point in speculating before I have the evidence,” he said.
The president, who left Saturday for a 22-day trip to Belgium, the Netherlands and Israel, said he is confident that the allegations have not seriously harmed the University’s reputation.
“You don’t make excuses, you investigate and you perfect your systems,” Yudof said. “But you don’t write off the University of Minnesota.”

Boston pleased by report
McKinley Boston, vice president for the Department of Student Development and Athletics, said he was concerned about the report’s findings, but relieved that the report did not contain any “smoking guns.”
A former academic tutor accused Boston of urging her to change her story after she reported that a football player masturbated in front of her during a tutoring session in a May 21 news report.
Boston denied the allegation and said he believes the report cleared him from that charge.
However, he admitted Friday that the investigators and other victim advocates have raised legitimate concerns.
Boston said he welcomes further analysis of policies addressing sexual misconduct.
“Communication between coaches and administrators will certainly be enhanced,” Boston said of Yudof’s recommendations and the new task force.

Booster club policy changed
In addition to implementing new policies addressing the findings of “favoritism and insensitivity,” Yudof approved a change in rules governing booster club activities Friday.
All booster club expenditures must now be approved by the University’s comptroller, Yudof announced.
Any bonus or award recognizing “specific and extraordinary achievement” in coaching or otherwise, must be authorized by the president, according to the new policy.
Yudof has also established a committee to implement new procedures ensuring all taxable transactions are reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
A task force headed by E. Thomas Sullivan, dean of the Law School, reported to Yudof on June 7 with the new recommendations.
The Golden Dunkers, the men’s basketball booster club, came under fire in April when reports surfaced that the club funded a $9,100 golf trip to Las Vegas in 1997 for coaches and their wives.
The trip was described as a coaching seminar, even though an audit found no such event took place during the golfing vacation.