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Woman settles for $200K in UNM suit over rape case

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The state negotiated a $200,000 settlement with a woman who accused the University of New Mexico of mishandling her high-profile rape case involving Lobo football players, newly released records show.

Courtney Spencer sued UNM in federal court, alleging the institution inadequately responded to her report that two then-Lobo football players and another man had gang-raped her in April 2014 when she was a freshman at the university.

The men were never prosecuted. Then-District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said there was “insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Spencer filed her civil lawsuit against UNM’s Board of Regents in February 2015, claiming violations of federal Title IX law in how UNM treated her case. Meanwhile, the three men also sued UNM, claiming it botched the investigation, which they contended should have proven their innocence.

According to the resulting settlement agreement with Spencer, the New Mexico Risk Management Division and Spencer settled “to avoid the time, expense and uncertainties of litigation.” The document stipulates that UNM denies Spencer’s allegations of wrongdoing.

Spencer signed the settlement in June 2016, though the details have remained unknown to the public.

However, the Risk Management Division released the agreement last week in response to a formal public records request by the Journal.

The department had denied a similar request by the Journal in 2017, citing the pending litigation from the three men.

State law keeps such settlement records confidential until 180 days after all related litigation has concluded.

In their suit, then-UNM football players Crusoe Gongbay and SaQwan Edwards and Central New Mexico Community College student Ryan Ruff claimed the UNM Police Department investigation had violated their civil rights. That case did not end until earlier this year, when they voluntarily dismissed the final claim. A federal judge had already dismissed most of their complaints.

It is unclear how much UNM itself paid toward the $200,000 settlement with Spencer.

Risk Management did not respond to an email asking that question on Monday, while a UNM spokeswoman said she could not immediately provide a figure.

Spencer’s case dominated headlines for months after she reported that the three men raped her in the early morning of April 13, 2014, following a party, though the men maintained they were innocent. Spencer’s attorney subsequently claimed she had been drugged by someone at some point prior to the alleged incident.

All three men were arrested on rape charges, and UNM suspended Gongbay and Edwards from the football team. But the charges were dropped in June, and football coach Bob Davie and former athletic director Paul Krebs decided in August 2014 to reinstate Gongbay and Edwards.

Spencer’s suit called UNM’s response “clearly unreasonable,” alleging that a UNM Office of Equal Opportunity investigation was not thorough and had not concluded when UNM allowed the accused football players back on the team. She also alleged the Athletic Department improperly communicated with the office and that some OEO staff lacked proper training. The suit also claimed Spencer faced a “hostile educational environment” due to UNM’s “deliberate indifference,” and she ultimately left campus.

In its own court filing, UNM denied it violated the law in Spencer’s case and said that it met all its legal obligations and “acted promptly and equitably” in response to Spencer’s allegations.

The Journal asked UNM for comment on the Spencer settlement; the university did not provide one.

But Spencer’s attorney, Brad Hall, said Title IX is “worth fighting for.”

“Title IX represented a unique set of rights for individuals, with very specific damages against an institution. This settlement did not involve any claims against any alleged perpetrators. Nor did this Federal civil claim have anything to do with standards of proof in State criminal cases,” Hall said in a written statement. “This settlement allowed Ms. Spencer to move forward at the time, and was I think a good framework for everyone to evolve.”

Student complaints about UNM’s handling of sexual misconduct cases prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation in December 2014. It’s unclear if Spencer was among the complainants. But the investigation led to a 2016 settlement agreement that compelled UNM to revamp its related policies and procedures and bolster training.