MSU accused of failing to protect sex assault victim

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Michigan State University is being accused of “creating a culture of sexual violence” in a federal lawsuit filed by a student who contends the university failed to follow its own policies or offer protections after she made an assault complaint against a former football player.

In the federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court’s Western District of Michigan on Sunday, the victim, identified as “Jane Doe,” is suing the university, its Board of Trustees and President Lou Anna Simon for violating her legal rights and “failure to address sexual assault overall.”

The 17-page complaint alleges missteps in the university's investigation as well as its failure to uphold a decision banning the plaintiff’s alleged attacker — former MSU wide receiver Keith Mumphery — from campus just days after it was issued in June 2016.

The assault claims are the newest for the university that’s already grappled with similar past allegations and after disgraced Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar admitted Wednesday that he sexually assaulted girls under the guise of medical treatment.

The plaintiff is seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff was an 18-year-old freshman during the 2014-15 school year when she encountered Mumphery, a fifth-year senior, on Tinder, a social media dating app, in December 2014.

Mumphery sent the plaintiff a text message the next spring, saying he was back in town and wanted to get together.

A few days later, after drinking with some friends in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the plaintiff, while admittedly intoxicated, invited Mumphery to come to her dorm room, the suit says. The encounter marked their first in-person meeting, according to the complaint.

Shortly after arriving, the suit alleges Mumphery kept pulling the plaintiff onto his lap, even though she kept trying to stand up and walk away. She just wanted to “hang out,” the complaint contends. But Mumphery “wanted sex” and assaulted her inside the dorm room.

After the incident, Mumphery allegedly called the plaintiff a “dumb white girl” and a “tease.” He then left.

Phone calls and an email sent to Mumphery’s last known agent were not returned Monday.

The woman reported the incident to university police that same day after friends encouraged her to do so. The next day, she reported the assault to Michigan State University’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, which initiated an investigation. The office was later renamed the Office of Institutional Equity.

It took the department nearly six months to conclude its investigation, violating MSU’s policy that dictates investigations be completed within 90 days, the complaint says.

The university, it notes, also failed to abide by its policy of implementing measures to protect alleged victims by issuing no-contact orders, housing rearrangements, interim suspensions, counseling and other support.

Further, Mumphery was permitted to “roam the campus completely unrestricted,” during the pendency of the investigation.

The failures, the complaint notes, led the student, who worked in the same building as the equity office, to quit her job out of fear of retaliation from Mumphery.

The Sunday lawsuit notes that initially, the Office of Institutional Equity concluded Mumphery had not violated MSU policies on relationship violence and sexual misconduct. A review panel on Jan. 22, 2016, determined the office had made “procedural errors” and “capricious findings” and directed it to reopen the investigation and clarify its findings.

In March 2016, a full year after the alleged assault occurred, the office found the plaintiff had not given consent as defined in the university’s policy and that Mumphery violated the policy by assaulting the plaintiff, the suit notes.

Several months later, sanctions were issued against Mumphery, who had graduated in spring 2014, barring him from the campus and facilities until Dec. 31, 2018, and from re-enrolling. At the time, he had been enrolled in a graduate studies program, according to university documents.

He was notified of the ban on June 7, 2016, the complaint notes. But eight days later, MSU on Twitter invited Mumphery to an MSU-sponsored football camp as well as a school-sponsored golf outing, both of which were on campus.

Mumphery did attend the golf outing, according to the lawsuit.

Mumphery was cut by the Houston Texans in June, days after his expulsion was publicly revealed.

The suit argues the defendants have “engaged in a custom and practice of suppressing sexual assault grievances, of violating their own policies regarding sexual assault investigations, violating Title IX and Equal Protection of Laws...”

University spokesman Jason Cody said Monday that MSU had just become aware of the lawsuit and it does not comment on pending litigation.

“Sexual misconduct in all of its forms is an issue our leaders take very seriously. We have taken and continue to take significant steps to increase campus resources and revise campus policies to hear complaints in a timely and fair manner,” Cody wrote in an email. “While MSU does not comment on pending litigation, we will continue work to improve how MSU prevents and responds to sexual assault as we defend against this lawsuit.”

The football program has endured cases of alleged sexual assault this year. One alleged incident occurred in January and resulted in the dismissal of three players: Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance. The second took place in April and led to charges of third-degree criminal sexual conduct against Auston Robertson and resulted in his dismissal from the team by head coach Mark Dantonio.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit comes years after the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights had received two separate complaints regarding MSU’s non-compliance with Title IX.

The civil rights office on Sept. 1, 2015, determined the university had violated Title IX and had failed to comply with MSU’s official policies and measures. Because of the violations, MSU signed a “Resolution Agreement” to address the compliance issues identified by the civil rights office.

Under the resolution, MSU was required to examine past grievance filed and evaluate them to determine whether they were handled properly and if additional actions or investigations were warranted.