Amherst College, battling a lawsuit from a student who claims he was wrongly expelled after a bogus sexual assault allegation, has fired back with its counter-argument: It doesn’t matter whether a student produces exculpatory evidence, if that evidence doesn’t emerge during an extremely narrow appeals period.
“John Doe” filed his lawsuit in May, saying he was booted out of Amherst following a “grossly inadequate investigation” by the school into rape claims made by fellow student Sandra Jones.
One of the only facts not in dispute is that in February 2012, Doe and Jones engaged in oral sex in Jones’ dorm following a party. Over a year later, Jones filed a complaint against Doe, claiming she had not consented and that she had actually been raped that night. Doe, for his part, said he blacked out from alcohol consumption and didn’t remember any details. Following a hearing, Doe was expelled in December 2013.
But months after Doe was expelled, he became aware of text messages Jones sent to a residential adviser shortly after her supposed rape. The texts indicate a great deal of embarrassment, but are hardly the words of a rape victim.
“Ohmygod I jus did something so fuckig stupid,” Jones said in her texts. “Fucked [John Doe]…FUCK.” She said her “official story” would be that she took care of Doe after he threw up on himself, but also expressed fear that her roommate (Doe’s then-girlfriend) would be angry with her, as “it’s pretty obvi I wasn’t an innocent bystander.”
Even though this evidence seems like a very severe blow to Jones’ rape claims, Amherst’s newly-filed response to Doe’s lawsuit says it has no need to consider them, simply because Doe didn’t know about them soon enough.
“[S]everal months after Plaintiff was notified of the hearing board’s decision, he sought to submit additional documentation to the College, even though the College’s policy expressly provided that appeals based on ‘relevant, substantive and new information, not available at the time of the hearing’ may be made ‘within seven days from the time of notification of the decision by the Dean of Students Office,” Amherst’s filing argues. In other words, Doe is out of luck, because the school imposed a time limit on the introduction of new evidence.
The school also argues that the text messages actually aren’t decisive at all, even though they undermine Jones’ credibility in what was already a “he said/she said” situation. It also tries to throw the blame back at Doe, saying he didn’t seize an opportunity to ask about Jones’ text messages during his initial hearing. Notably, though, Amherst’s procedures did not allow Doe to have an attorney with him at the hearing who might have helped him with his questions.
A statement from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a campus civil liberties group, compared Doe’s experience to that of Caleb Warner at the University of North Dakota (UND). Warner was suspended for three years for sexual assault, even as his accuser was simultaneously prosecuted by police for lying to them. In that case, UND defended itself by saying that Warner’s decisive exculpatory evidence came after a five-day window for appeals had expired. Warner’s suspension was ultimately vacated by the school after it endured heavy criticism.
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