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Ex-student sues UNM over alleged rapes

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

The former University of New Mexico student who last spring accused two Lobo football players and another man of rape sued the university Thursday, claiming numerous violations of federal law and repeating previous allegations against the three men and implicating at least one other Lobo.

In her suit, Courtney Spencer says UNM officials – including athletics department football coaches and administrators, the Title IX sexual assault investigator and Title IX coordinator – failed to conduct proper, appropriate and timely investigations as the federal law requires, and that the department sought a “desired outcome” of those investigations.

In the copy of the suit obtained by the Journal, the plaintiff’s name was blacked out. However, it was used in a response to the suit from UNM. The Journal‘s policy is not to identify the victim of an alleged rape unless a lawsuit is filed.

Citing a lack of sufficient evidence, District Attorney Kari Brandenburg in August dismissed charges against the three accused men. The three, who all along have insisted on their innocence, have since threatened to sue the university for what they say was a botched investigation by UNM police.

In her suit, Spencer says UNM administrators failed to conduct an independent investigation – parallel to the police investigation – as required by Title IX law, which prohibits discrimination in education based on sex.

The suit concedes that “UNM accommodated Plaintiff somewhat with her course work after the rapes,” but took no disciplinary action against the two accused Lobos until April 22, nine days after the alleged crimes occurred and after the two men were arrested.

Furthermore, according to the suit, “No efforts were made to reign in … unconsented video recordings circulating on the internet, or even locate and obtain them as evidence from male students.”

UNM issued a brief statement Thursday afternoon, saying it received a letter Jan. 20 from an attorney for Spencer giving notice of a claim against UNM and her intent to file a lawsuit.

“As of today, no lawsuit has been served, so we have not had an opportunity to review it,” the statement says.

“UNM takes sexual violence allegations very seriously. The University’s primary concern is the safety and well-being of its students, as well as ensuring that there are fair processes in place for all involved.”

Spencer’s suit claims that in May of last year, when she was in the process of moving out of her dorm residence, “a car load of football players pulled up alongside Plaintiff on one of her few visits to campus …. There was no accountability by UNM administrators, no action by Title IX personnel, and no comment by the athletics department or coaches regarding the verbal harassment from the car load of players.”

In fact, the suit continues, four weeks went by after Spencer reported the rapes before UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity, or OEO, acknowledged receiving her written complaint.

“No excuse was provided for the more than four week delay in beginning the investigation from when it learned of the sexual assaults on April 13,” the suit states.

The suit also insists that Spencer was the likely victim of a date rape drug, although that allegation did not come up for several months after her initial complaint.

According to the suit, the OEO refused to allow her to present evidence “of any kind” that she had been drugged. That, the complaint continues, “in addition to alcohol which together altered her mental state, precluding her ability to consent to sexual activity.”

The OEO also refused to accept testimony that would account for her “total memory loss, and conduct,” the suit contends.

Moreover, according to the complaint, the OEO ignored a video clip of the three men originally charged with rape announcing that a gang rape is “comin soon.”

The suit accuses the Athletics Department of improperly communicating with members of the OEO investigative team, including Bryan Brock, the Title IX coordinator. The Athletics Department, the suit says, was seeking a “desired outcome of the investigation, timing the specific release of detailed press reports of ‘the boys being back on the team,'” with the district attorney’s decision not to prosecute.

The suit goes on to say that Heather Cowan, UNM’s Title IX sexual assault investigator, should have been trained on how to conduct such an investigation.

“If so trained,” the suit contends, “Heather Cowan deliberately disregarded any such training she had received while conducting the investigation.”

Brock also should have had that kind of training, the suit says, but upon “information and belief, he had no such training at all.”

Spencer is represented by Albuquerque attorneys Brad Hall and Lisa Ford.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into how the university responds to allegations of sexual assault. Investigators said their move was prompted by complaints from at least two students, but it is unknown if Spencer was one of them.

The suit says it is “unclear whether the OEO investigation was a ‘whitewash’ to protect athletes in a major sport at a major university, or a ‘whitewash’ to protect male students ‘just being boys.'”

George Anthony Bleus, an attorney representing the three men, in December said they would be filing a lawsuit against the university for the way UNM police conducted the criminal investigation.

Bleus said police investigators failed to go after or obtain crucial evidence – videos, the vehicle in which the crime supposedly took place, and a weapon Spencer alleged was used by one of the accused. The attorney said the three men’s reputations had been destroyed, and damages were in order.

A UNM spokeswoman said no suit had been filed as of Thursday.

Spencer’s suit says she suffered tremendously and seeks an unspecified amount of damages.