Archive for Wednesday, February 22, 2017

DA not filing criminal charges in sexual assault allegation from KU fraternity party

The Kappa Sigma fraternity house at Kansas University, 1045 Emery Road.

The Kappa Sigma fraternity house at Kansas University, 1045 Emery Road.

February 22, 2017

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No criminal charges are being filed in a sexual assault allegation that contributed to the University of Kansas — which at the time called the accusations “serious and disturbing” — placing a fraternity on probation for two years.

The case is one of at least two police reports that stemmed from a nonfraternity-approved freshman party at the Kappa Sigma house, 1045 Emery Road, on homecoming weekend nearly two and a half years ago.

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office received the case from police in late November, completed its review this month and determined it lacked probable cause that a crime was committed.

“There was no evidence a sexual assault occurred,” District Attorney Charles Branson said in an email, responding to questions from the Journal-World. “We spoke with the victim and reviewed the reports and our decision with her. She appeared willing to move forward but understood that there was no case to prosecute under the circumstances.”

Within days of the party in late September 2014, KU announced it was placing Kappa Sigma on interim suspension.

The Kappa Sigma fraternity house at Kansas University, 1045 Emery Road.

The Kappa Sigma fraternity house at Kansas University, 1045 Emery Road.

Neither KU nor the Lawrence Police Department ever shared details about the allegations that led to their respective investigations. However, up to a year after the incident, police said they believed the reported wrongdoing involved multiple victims and multiple suspects.

This week, Branson gave this account, based on the case report that police forwarded to his office:

“A male and female had been drinking and went to a room to talk. The female said she passed out and could not remember what happened. She woke up later in a hallway on another floor of the building. The male indicated that the female passed out and he placed her on a couch in the room, covered her up and went to sleep in another room. When he checked on the female in the morning she was gone. There was no physical evidence of sexual assault or drugging.”

The Lawrence Police Department’s investigation of the second case remains open, according to Sgt. Amy Rhoads. Rhoads said a sex crime that allegedly occurred at Kappa Sigma between the evening of Sept. 27 and the morning of Sept. 28, 2014, was reported to police on Sept. 29, 2014.

Following KU’s investigation in fall 2014, KU moved Kappa Sigma from interim suspension to a two-year probation. The fraternity completed its probation in December 2016.

KU publicly shared only that the fraternity — as an organization — was found to have violated the KU Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities sections on sexual harassment, endangering others and organizational responsibility.

KU greek organizations, sports clubs and scholarship halls have routinely been sanctioned for violating KU’s hazing and alcohol policies, but Kappa Sigma is the first organization to be sanctioned for sexual misconduct.

Earlier that semester, KU found itself under fire for its handling of sexual assault investigations. Students protested, and the chancellor organized a sexual assault task force after it was reported the university was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and a KU student who said she was raped in a dorm shared her story with the Journal-World and national media outlets. The USDE’s investigations are still open.

When investigating and determining guilt (or, as the university terms it, responsibility), KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access and courts of law have significantly different burdens of proof.

“Generally, our standard of proof for a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt based upon evidence admissible in a court of law,” Branson said. “IOA is not a court bound by evidentiary standards and requires a much lower burden of proof to make a decision.”

KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson would not answer whether KU investigated or disciplined any individual students in connection with the Kappa Sigma party. She noted that KU provides aggregate data, on the Student Affairs website, about disciplinary actions against students found to have violated the university’s sexual harassment policy.

“The university can impose sanctions for violating the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which can cover acts and behaviors that go beyond what the criminal justice system covers,” she said. “Moreover, the standard used to determine a code violation is whether a violation is more likely than not to have occurred, which differs from the criminal justice system.”

Contact KU and higher ed reporter Sara Shepherd
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