University of Minnesota football players have been accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment and retaliation in the past academic year, but the allegations didn’t result in criminal charges, a university administrator said Thursday.
Kimberly Hewitt, the school’s director of equal opportunity and affirmative action, said in a July 16 e-mail to then-athletic director Norwood Teague that her office had concerns regarding complaints about football players, including two reports of sexual assault “committed by individual players,” two reports of sexual harassment involving “groups of football players” and a report of retaliation of involving “a group of football players.”
The e-mail was obtained Wednesday through a records request by the Star Tribune. In an interview Thursday, Hewitt said the concerns were raised over the course of the 2014-15 academic year. She refused to be more specific, saying that doing so could compromise student privacy. She declined to say how many players were involved, the number of alleged victims, where the alleged incidents occurred or to provide any other details. No police reports were filed, a university spokesman said.
The U’s general counsel refused Thursday to provide the numbers of complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault reported since Sept. 1, 2014, involving allegations against football players, as well as the numbers of alleged victims. The general counsel’s office said that because fewer than five reports of sexual assault and fewer than five reports of harassment were received in that time frame, the data could lead to the identification of individuals and the violation of their privacy rights.
Head football coach Jerry Kill said Thursday that he was aware of one allegation involving a current player that was referred to administrators and to police.
“I’ve taken care of the report that we received on a young man. We turned it into the administration and it was handled by the administration,” he said.
Asked if concerns about the football team remain, Hewitt said, “I would say yes.”
Teague himself resigned in August for sexually harassing two female colleagues at a leadership retreat July 15 — the day before Hewitt sent her memo.
Some investigated, some not
One of the complaints involving football players was investigated by the university, Hewitt wrote in the e-mail. That investigation “determined that one player had violated the sexual harassment policy.” The retaliation complaint “found concerning behavior by football players, but there was no evidence to substantiate that the players had violated university policy,” she wrote.
The other complaints were not investigated, Hewitt wrote, because the reporting students did not want to go forward with investigations. She said the U follows federal guidelines on reporting sexual assaults. It’s generally up to the student whether to file a police report. Exceptions may be made with repeat offenders or in cases of imminent threats, she said.
“Title IX requires the school to take reasonable steps to prevent future sexual [violence] and harassment after receiving a complaint, even when the complaining student chooses not to pursue an investigation,” Hewitt noted in her e-mail.
In the interview, Hewitt said that if the U determines there was a violation of university policies, the individual found culpable would be disciplined.
“And sometimes the discipline might involve asking a student to write a paper on sexual assault or going to an individual training,” Hewitt said.
Sexual assault on campus has drawn national attention of late, including a 2014 White House report that 1 in 5 female college students reported being sexually assaulted. As of July, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act requires colleges and universities to give sexual violence and harassment prevention education to all new students and employees.
This August, the U implemented a so-called “Yes means Yes” policy, that says sex is OK only if those involved offer “informed, freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unambiguous words or actions.” Without that, the activity falls under the U’s definition of sexual assault.
Kill: ‘We take care of it’
In her July e-mail, Hewitt wrote that the number of complaints “demonstrates a concerning pattern of football player conduct that we believe requires responsive action.” She said Thursday that Kill was notified about the complaints.
In an interview Thursday, Kill initially said, “There’s nothing since I’ve been here. … If we have anything that I’m aware of that has to do with a lady or anything of that nature, I go through [senior associate athletic director] Dan O’Brien, [interim athletic director] Beth Goetz, and call the police.” He said in a follow-up interview that he knew of one incident that was reported to police and administrators, and another incident involving a group of freshmen players. He said he didn’t have details about the latter incident.
“When something happens, we take care of it,” Kill said. “And if it’s a kid that’s guilty, he’s taken care of.”
Goetz said in a statement Thursday that Hewitt “proactively contacted the athletics department to initiate discussions on whether reports of sexual assault and harassment constituted a broader pattern. All of these reports were fully investigated to the extent that they could be and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) did not substantiate any sexual assault allegations. The EOAA Office substantiated one allegation of sexual harassment.”
U under investigation
The university is itself under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for potential violations of Title IX, which bans sexual discrimination at any federally funded school. The investigation arose following an anonymous complaint in 2014 claiming the school discriminated against female athletes by spending more on male sports.
Hewitt’s e-mail comes to light as the university is also conducting an internal investigation into the athletic department prompted by the Teague harassment case. Teague resigned Aug. 6 after admitting that he had sexually harassed two senior female university officials at the July 15 leadership retreat. Also in August, one of Teague’s top assistants, Mike Ellis, was asked to take a voluntary leave while under investigation for five anonymous complaints. He remains on paid leave.
Regent Michael Hsu said he became aware of the allegations on Wednesday, when he was given copies of the documents requested by the Star Tribune.
“Apparently stuff was known and not communicated to us,” he said.
Hsu said he inquired with the Office of the Board of Regents about how the allegations might be investigated, and got a response suggesting that it would be part of the internal investigation.
“Obviously, we have to look into this,” Hsu said.
Regents Chairman Dean Johnson said he wasn’t aware of the allegations before Wednesday. Asked for his reaction to the allegations, he replied, “If I told you what I said, you couldn’t print it.”
Still, Johnson said, the allegations weren’t “swept under the rug.”
“But I think more importantly, these matters of culture within the department of athletics are being reviewed now with the oversight committee. And if there are issues of sexual harassment … then certainly the administration and the Board of Regents want it to be fixed and move forward.
“I just believe in my heart of hearts that Coach Kill runs one of the cleanest athletic programs in the country,” he said. “Because I know him. I know his values.”
University President Eric Kaler did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. A university spokesman confirmed that Kaler’s office was aware of all of the reports referred to in Hewitt’s July 16 e-mail, and that Kaler personally knew about several of the reports.
In the past, Kaler has said that sexual harassment will not be tolerated at the U and that the U is “deeply committed to Title IX,” and is cooperating fully with the federal investigation.
Hewitt said she did not share any information about the alleged assaults, intimidation or harassment with federal civil rights investigators. She said that isn’t required unless they request such information.
At a meeting held in response to the e-mail, Hewitt said she and other administrators proposed that the football team get special training on sexual harassment and assault, but she did not know if that training has taken place.
A sexual assault allegation last roiled the U’s football team in 2007, when a star cornerback, Dominic Jones, defensive end Alex Daniels and cornerback Keith Massey were dismissed from the team after a criminal complaint was made public. Prosecutors charged Jones with sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman who was too drunk to give consent, introducing a cellphone video as evidence. Jones was acquitted of rape but convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Daniels, Massey and E.J. Jones also had sex with the woman that night, but were not charged.
Joel Maturi, then the athletic director, said at the time, “The athletics department is sending a clear and unmistakable message that it will never compromise its code of conduct.”
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