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What you need to understand about the MSU football investigation

MSU football players approach the field
Matt Radick
Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM
MSU football players approach the field

So here’s what we know: on Tuesday, the attorney for a woman accusing three MSU football players of rape, told the press that MSU’s internal Title IX investigation found all three men in violation of school policy.

“What I can share is that the Title IX investigation is complete,” says Karen Truszkowski, the lawyer for the accuser. “[MSU’s investigator] did a very fair, reasonable, thorough investigation. And the report does say that three young men involved in this are in violation of a university policy.”

But Truszkowski declined to specify which university policies, exactly, were violated.

“At this point, I would prefer not to do that. The young men are entitled to their due process rights, and to their privacy as well. And at this point I think it would be premature for anyone to disclose the nature of the violations.”

Jason Cody, a spokesman for MSU, said he could only confirm that the Title IX investigation is, in fact, complete.

This is NOT the criminal investigation

But this isn’t the end of the MSU process. Now that finding will go to a review board, and if that board decides to issue sanctions, either side can appeal.

And here’s where you don’t want to get confused: this Title IX investigation is something that universities are required to do by the federal government, anytime there’s a report of a possible sexual assault or harassment.

It’s totally separate from any police investigation. And importantly, there’s a much lower burden of proof in Title IX cases.

In criminal cases, prosecutors have to prove somebody’s guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Title IX investigators talk to witnesses, review emails, documents, etc, and then make a decision based on the “preponderance of evidence.” In other words: if 51% of the evidence leans towards guilty, then the Title IX investigator says yup, that person is “responsible.”

These are federal standards that were rolled out a few years ago, when officials worried campus sexual assaults were getting ignored or swept under the rug by university administrators, lest a school get a reputation for having a “rape problem.”  

We still don’t know if the prosecutor will press charges against these three MSU students

The alleged assault happened in January, and in February, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon told the Trustees that all three football players had been suspended from the team and removed from on-campus housing.

“The police department has been in communication with the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office, and upon concluding the investigations will forward its reports for review for possible criminal charges,” Simon said.

“As part of the criminal investigation, detectives are interviewing members of the coaching staff and other relevant individuals regarding their response since the complaint was made in late January.”

MSU also suspended Curtis Blackwell, a football staff member and recruiter for the team, for possibly obstructing the criminal investigation, as the Detroit Free Press reported.

Simon told trustees that MSU has also hired “an external law firm to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into football program staff members’ compliance with university policy in connection with the allegations.”  

Currently, Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon is still reviewing the allegations, and hasn’t said whether she’ll press charges against staff or student-athletes at MSU.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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