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Department of Education opens investigation into Jameis Winston rape case

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Jan 6, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) looks to the sidelines against the Auburn Tigers for the 2014 BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has opened an investigation into the handling of rape allegations leveled against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and whether Florida State violated Title IX laws.

The alleged victim filed a complaint with the OCR in March.

On Dec. 7, 2012, a Florida State student claimed Winston raped her in an off-campus apartment. Even though the victim went to the police, the case did not become public until November 2013. Florida authorities looked into the case, but said there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges against Winston.

However, according to Deadspin, the university did its own investigation into the incident and reportedly questioned Winston about it in January. It also questioned two other players — Chris Casher and Ronald Darby — who corroborated Winston’s lawyer’s claims that the sexual encounter was consensual.

According to Deadspin, both Casher and Darby were charged with five violations of the university's code of conduct. Winston is not facing any charges.

Both Casher and Darby face FSU charges of "conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for another person" and "acts that invade the privacy of another person." Casher faces an additional charge of "recording of images without consent." If found responsible in a university hearing, they could receive punishments ranging from a letter of reprimand to expulsion from the university.
Casher, Winston's roommate and a fellow Alabamian, is a reserve defensive end who played in spots last season before sitting out the final three games. Darby, a defensive back, was voted the ACC's defensive rookie of the year in 2012 and had two tackles in the Seminoles' title-winning game over Auburn in January. Both are still listed as students and members of the team, but could face interim sanctions while awaiting a hearing on their conduct charges.

The alleged victim left school last November, but retained high-profile Title IX lawyer Baine Kerr. Kerr told USA Today Sports that the university had not contacted his client regarding their misconduct inquiry.

"The university went for the better part of a year without requesting her cooperation in any proceedings," he said. "She's consistently been willing to cooperate and assist a university investigation. She remains so.

"She remains willing to respond to any reasonable request for further information from the university so long as her safety is protected."

All 248 pages of case files compiled by the Florida state attorney last year are public record, including the alleged victim’s account of what happened. Winston’s version of events have never been recorded and he has made very few statements on the matter.

According to USA Today, the fact that the university interviewed Winston and not the alleged victim might be a violation of Title IX.

According to OCR's 2011 letter, "A school should not conduct a pre-hearing meeting during which only the alleged perpetrator is present and given an opportunity to present his or her side of the story, unless a similar meeting takes place with the complainant."
Kerr said the woman was not notified of the meeting.
As it is, OCR will examine whether FSU violated the requirement to provide a "prompt, thorough, and impartial" investigation into sexual assault claims independent of any criminal inquiry.

The 2011 letter refers to a “Dear Colleague” letter that was sent to all universities and outlines procedures pertaining to sexual violence complaints.

Following Florida officials stating they would not be filing charges, Winston went on to win the Heisman Trophy, lead his team to a BCS National Championship and an undefeated season. Winston is currently a relief pitcher on Florida State’s baseball team and will again be the starting quarterback in the fall.

This is not the only case the OCR is investigating that pertains to college football. The government body is also looking into the handling of an alleged sexual misconduct case involving former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter

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