Police open rape investigation
A spokesman for the Columbia (Mo.) Police Department confirmed Monday that detectives have begun an investigation into allegations that a former University of Missouri swimmer had been sexually assaulted in 2010, possibly by more than one member of the football team.
"Outside the Lines" on Friday published a story detailing how the university did not tell law enforcement officials about the alleged rape of Sasha Menu Courey despite administrators finding out about the alleged incident more than a year ago. Menu Courey committed suicide in 2011.
"Our detectives will take a look at the information and determine what leads need to be followed, and what needs to happen next," Sgt. Joe Bernhard said. "Cases like this are problematic when there's a four-year delay and no [living] victim."
In a statement Sunday, the university said its police department informed Columbia police about the allegations because of new information in the story, and that "it was determined that the alleged assault occurred off campus, and therefore lies within the jurisdiction of CPD. The university will assist CPD in any way possible as they conduct their investigation."
On Wednesday, the school's Board of Curators voted to hire a law firm to review the school's handling of the case.
Bernhard said the bulk of the information that university police provided came from the "Outside the Lines" report, but an off-campus address not mentioned in the report was also included.
"Outside the Lines" reported that Menu Courey, her life spiraling downward in 2010, began to talk about the alleged rape with others, including a rape crisis counselor and a campus therapist, records show. In the ensuing months, a campus nurse, two doctors and, according to her journal, an athletic department administrator also learned of her claim that she had been assaulted.
Healthcare providers are generally exempt from requirements to report such crimes and also are bound by medical privacy laws. But those same protections do not extend to campus administrators, who at Missouri were made aware of claims that Menu Courey had been raped through several sources, including a 2012 newspaper article as well as the university's review of records when fulfilling separate records requests by her parents and "Outside the Lines."
In its statement Sunday, Missouri said it had not acted previously "because there was no complaint brought forward from the alleged victim or her parents, and there was otherwise insufficient information about the incident. Privacy laws prohibited MU medical personnel from reporting anything Sasha might have shared with them about the alleged assault without her permission."
Menu Courey's father, Mike Menu, told "Outside the Lines" on Monday that he will provide Columbia police with any information it needs for the investigation.
University system president Timothy Wolfe on Sunday sent a letter to chancellors asking "the board of curators to hire outside independent counsel to conduct an investigation of MU's handling of matters related to Ms. Courey."
Menu said he welcomed the university's willingness to take a closer look at cases like his daugher's.
"It just set a completely different tone and approach, and we really look forward to whatever changes will occur," Menu said. "If all the checks and balances in the system were there, then it needs to change, because it didn't work. This was a failure -- the system didn't work for Sasha. ... She fell in love with that school, so it would be fitting for change to occur there. That would be what she would want."
Under Title IX law enforced by the U.S. Department of Education, once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what happened. The law applies even after the death of an alleged victim. Further, the federal Clery Act requires campus officials with responsibility for student or campus activities to report serious incidents of crime to police for investigation and possible inclusion in campus crime statistics.
On Sunday, when asked whether the university had initiated a Title IX investigation, Missouri spokesman Christian Basi wrote in an email to "Outside the Lines" that "official guidance from the U.S. Department of Education recognizes that it is appropriate for a university to withhold investigation of its own while law enforcement fact gathering is underway."
But that's only correct if law enforcement has asked the university to withhold its own Title IX investigation, said Brett Sokolow, executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators. He cited guidance issued in 2011 by the Department of Education to universities that states, "a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably" and "schools should not wait for the conclusion of a criminal investigation or criminal proceeding to begin their own Title IX investigation."
Bernhard said the Columbia Police Department had not asked the university to hold off on starting a Title IX investigation: "No, we are not involved with Title IX; we wouldn't have told them to hold off."
The university could face scrutiny as well from the Office of Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Education that investigates possible violations of Title IX by schools that receive federal funding.
Jane Glickman, spokeswoman for the department, said Monday, "All I can say at this point is that OCR cannot comment on possible investigations."
The Boone County Prosecuting Attorney's office declined to comment Monday.
Nicole Noren is a producer for ESPN's Enterprise/Investigative Unit and can be reached at Nicole.K.Noren@espn.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.