A University of Michigan student was given a four-year suspension after being found guilty of sexual assault–despite receiving little notice of the charges against him, no attorney, no trial and no jury.
Now, the former student, Drew Sterrett, is suing the public university for abridging due process rights guaranteed to him under the U.S. Constitution.
Sterrett had sex with a female student in his dorm room during his freshman year at the university in 2012. Five months later, while at home in New York for summer break, the university informed him that she had filed a rape complaint against him, according to The Michigan Daily.
He was told that if he spent any time trying to find an attorney, the university would proceed without him. Later that day, he attended a hearing by Skype in which he denied any wrongdoing, according to The Detroit Free Press.
“At no point during the call/interview was [Sterrett] given notice of the specific allegations which had been made against him,” the lawsuit claimed.
The investigation was halted in September after Sterrett’s accuser expressed second thoughts about having the details of their encounter made public. Sterrett was left in the dark about this, though he was warned to stay away from Mosher-Jordan, the residence hall where his accuser lived.
Ultimately, the university proceeded to adjudicate the matter. Administrators eventually informed Sterrett that he was found guilty of raping his accuser and creating a “hostile environment” for her, and would be suspended until 2016.
Sterrett says the charges are ludicrous, and the proceedings a gross perversion of justice. For one thing, his roommate was present for the sexual encounter and could have provided testimony that their sex was consensual. For another, Sterrett was not given adequate representation–nor was he ever given an opportunity to address his accuser’s specific allegations.
Still, a university appeals board upheld the ruling against him.
“The decision of the Appeals Board was a rubber-stamp of the flawed investigation and Report and Addendum, lacked fundamental fairness, was reckless, arbitrary and capricious, and clearly denied [Sterrett] due process,” according to Sterrett’s lawsuit.
Sterrett’s lawyer, Deborah Gordon, said the university ignored the facts, the law and its own policies on sexual assault in its malicious prosecution of Sterrett.
The suit demands that UM reinstate Sterrett and pay damages. UM has denied any wrongdoing.
“The University is reviewing the complaints and plans to defend them vigorously,” said Kelly Cunningham, a UM spokeswoman, in a statement to The Daily.
Civil libertarians are concerned that new White House recommendations for public universities handling sexual assault cases will further erode the rights of the accused on campuses. (RELATED: White House Report On Sexual Assault Gets Major Facts Wrong, Threatens Freedom)