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Jameis Winston deserves benefit of doubt in sexual assault claim until proven otherwise

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

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Florida State QB Jameis Winston looks on during a game. (USA Today)

At 4:43 a.m. ET on Dec. 7, 2012, a report of a sexual assault was filed with the Tallahassee Police Department. The incident took place earlier that morning, between 1:30 and 2 a.m. The alleged suspect, it is now known, is Jameis Winston, currently the starting quarterback and Heisman contender for second-ranked Florida State.

Winston has not been charged with a crime. Forget innocent until proven guilty, absolutely no law enforcement body has accused him of doing anything at all. He'll continue to quarterback the Seminoles.

In fact, since that moment the report was filed nearly a year ago until TMZ broke news of the investigation Wednesday evening, no one from the police to the prosecutor's office has bothered to speak to Winston. Not one interview, not one question, not one thing, at least according to Winston's attorney, Tim Jansen.

So let's start right there.

If Jansen is telling the truth, then over 11 months of a said-to-be "open investigation" by the Tallahassee police, including the Special Victims Unit that was assigned the case, deemed it unnecessary to speak to one of the two people who would presumably be at the center of this incident. They did contact Jansen last February about the allegation, but they never went any further in regards to his client.

Why?

If Jameis Winston sexually assaulted someone, then he should go to prison. Forget about football, this is about freedom.

At the same time, however, he deserves some fairness to the process. The police report released Wednesday is overwhelmingly redacted, but there are a few clues available about the incident.

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Jameis Winston talks with teammate Bryan Stork during a game. (Getty)

They include the complainant admitted drinking that night. The location of the alleged assault was an apartment. The time of incident was, essentially, late on a Friday night. The listed motive, per the complainant, was "sexual gratification."

All of these suggest a classic case of "acquaintance" or "date rape." This isn't a guy hiding out in the bushes grabbing women who are innocently passing by.

This kind of rape, generally, winds up as a he-said, she-said. Sadly, it's all too common, especially on and around college campuses.

Regardless, it doesn't take 11 months to investigate the incident, especially when the woman has come in so quickly. It certainly doesn't take 11 months to even bother to question someone who has been accused of this, especially when the initial report was made within two hours of the alleged incident.

The standard, if the allegation is deemed credible, is to speak to Jameis Winston as soon as possible. That isn't just for the credibility of the investigation but to protect the accused. Memory is sharper in the immediate aftermath and not nearly as much a year later. An innocent man would rather defend himself with the clearest version of the truth possible.

It's not that the police did nothing here. The police report says that "evidence" was collected from the victim and pictures of the victim's injuries were taken. At least three separate officer's names are listed on the report. So there was something there.

So, again, why did no one speak to Winston?

At this point, with so little known and so many questions swirling, that is the essential point of the story. The Tallahassee Police have turned the investigation over to a state's attorney. Winston's attorneys didn't return calls seeking additional comment.

Perhaps the police didn't act because they quickly deemed the allegation baseless or found the accuser/victim to be non-credible. The police report lists the accused as standing between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-11. Winston is 6-foot-4. Of course, police reports are historically riddled with errors.

Also for what's it worth, Winston's attorney told the Tallahassee Democrat he's provided law enforcement with two affidavits from witnesses present that night that defend Winston. Did Winston also provide a written account of the night and that was enough for the police to not seek questioning?

Perhaps the investigation stalled because the complainant didn't want to cooperate, although the TPD told the Tallahassee Democrat she is working with the state attorney.

Or perhaps, as some are certainly prone to believe, a college town police department swept this under the rug. At this stage, however, that isn't just baseless speculation but wild, unfair stereotyping. 

The assumption requires the belief that numerous officers and departments (including the one assigned to investigate sexual assaults) chose to risk their careers, reputations and perhaps their own freedom to protect a then-redshirt quarterback for the local football team.

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Jameis Winston has FSU sitting at 9-0 and No. 2 in the BCS rankings this season. (AP)

That isn't just improbable and would require a vast cover-up; it's without even a hint of evidence suggesting as much.

What's more believable, albeit with limited known facts, is that the police saw nothing to investigate. That may not mean the woman is lying. It may mean there just isn't evidence. Although, again, if this were a close call, you'd think the police would have at least spoken to Winston.

"This case has been going on for over a year," Winston's attorney told the Democrat. "The case was basically closed and we're not sure why it's opened up. We've been cooperating with the law enforcement agencies and we're hoping to get a quick resolution in favor of Mr. Winston."

Jameis Winston deserves a resolution. So does the complainant involved.

The way the police report is redacted suggests they were trying to protect Winston's name as much as the complainant. Unfortunately, some of it is too late. "Winston under investigation for sexual assault" is powerful headline and one that won't ever be scrubbed off the Internet or the memories of heckling fans during road games.

It's long past time for sexual assaults, particularly acquaintance rapes, to end in America. They are a terrible plague against women. They are overwhelmingly preventable. There should be zero tolerance.

That said, there also must be a fair system for the accused. Even the most ardent activist against sexual assaults understands that. Without balance within the process, the entire movement collapses.

As sure as the complainant deserved a thorough and serious investigation into what she says happened in that apartment on that December morning, Jameis Winston deserves to be publicly cleared if, indeed, police long ago privately determined he did nothing wrong.


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