A federal judge ruled in favor of a former Brown University student Wednesday, saying the student was wrongly suspended from school for an alleged sexual assault without receiving due process. In the process, he also aggressively chastised Brown University students for harassing him with “ignorant” emails attempting to make him rule the other way.
Earlier this year, a student identified only as “John Doe” sued Brown after he was kicked off campus for being found responsible for sexual assault. Doe was accused by a fellow student of assault in October 2015, nearly an entire year after a sexual encounter between them in November 2014. After an investigation period lasting a few months, Doe was found responsible and suspended from the school until his alleged victim graduated, which is likely to be no earlier than 2018.
The decision, by Judge William E. Smith, blasts Brown for a variety of actions that deprived Doe of due process. Most notably, he faults the school for telling Doe he would be judged under the 2014 student code of conduct, but then without warning switching to a new code of conduct that did not even exist when his alleged offense occurred. The new code of conduct included a tougher definition of sexual consent, likely increasing the odds that Doe would be found responsible and kicked out.
The ruling also notes that Brown’s training of sexual assault investigators apparently caused them to deliberately overlook evidence with the potential to exonerate Doe, such as exculpatory text messages sent after the alleged assault.
“Although a very close call … the court finds that certain procedures Brown employed in conducting Doe’s hearing fell outside of a student’s reasonable expectations based on the Code of Student Conduct,” Smith says in the ruling. Throughout the ruling, he expresses his reluctance to have a court intervene in such a matter, but Brown’s misconduct left him little choice, he says.
Smith didn’t rule in Doe’s favor on every question, though. He dismissed a claim that Brown systematically encouraged students to levy sexual assault accusations, as well as another that the school created anti-male bias through the composition of its Title IX Council.
The ruling means Doe is allowed to return to campus immediately if he wishes, though Brown will have the right to pursue a sexual assault case against him again as long as it uses fairer procedures. In a statement, Brown said it would not appeal the decision, and would wait to see if Doe returns to campus before attempting to investigate him a second time.
Smith’s ruling does not directly address whether Doe is likely to be guilty, saying such a decision is not within his jurisdiction.
In addition to ruling on Doe’s case, Smith’s ruling open with a brutal attack on Brown students who launched an email campaign attempting to pressure him into ruling against Doe.
“After issuing the preliminary injunction this Court was deluged with emails resulting from an organized campaign to influence the outcome,” Smith says in the decision. “These tactics, while perhaps appropriate and effective in influencing legislators or officials in the executive branch, have no place in the judicial process. This is basic civics, and one would think students and others affiliated with a prestigious Ivy League institution would know this. Moreover, having read a few of the emails, it is abundantly clear that the writers, while passionate, were woefully ignorant about the issues before the Court. Hopefully, they will read this decision and be educated.”
At least one Brown student has already responded to Smith’s chastisement with outrage.
“The judge…insults the intelligence and civic awareness of us as Brown students in doing everything in our efforts to permanently remove this egregious and detestable human being from campus,” said Brown junior Alex Volpicello, who earlier wrote a Facebook post that encouraged Brown students to mass-email Smith. “Where is the justice?”
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