8 more women accuse Eastern Michigan University of covering up sexual assaults

Kim Kozlowski Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Eight more women have accused Eastern Michigan University of covering up sexual assaults on or near campus and managing Title IX complaints in a way that benefited men accused of rape rather than women who reported assaults, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court.

The women reported being "brutally assaulted and raped" in incidents at the Delta Tau Delta and Theta Chi fraternity houses between about 2015 and 2020, according to the suit filed in Detroit U.S. District Court.

It's the second lawsuit alleging some Eastern fraternities are rampant with excessive alcohol consumption, harassment and sexual assault. The latest lawsuit makes many of the same claims as one filed in March and brings to 19 the number of women suing EMU as Jane Does, said Todd Flood, a Detroit-based attorney representing the women.

The lawsuit Wednesday describes an alleged sexual assault at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house in September 2016 by two men, including D'Angelo McWilliams, who later worked as a deputy for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department but has since been suspended.

"Jane Doe 19" accused him of flashing a badge before encouraging Thomas Hernandez, his friend, as Hernandez raped the woman, shouting “Yeah bro yeah! Way to go bro!” He later forced the woman to perform oral sex on him, and while he did so Hernandez came up from behind the woman and continued to rape her, according to the suit. The incident is one of two gang rapes the men are accused of in the suit.

"Students at EMU have been subjected to a long history of hazing, bullying, harassment  and sexual assaults," attorney Flood wrote. "EMU, through its actions and deliberate indifference, endorsed and enabled this culture to exist within its campus community ... by either manipulating the investigation process or knowingly concealing sexual assaults."

Delta Tau Delta is one or two fraternity houses near Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti that have been accused of being the sites of sexual assaults. A lawsuit filed Wednesday said EMU officials were indifferent to reports of sexual assault on campus.

In March, 11 women filed a lawsuit saying that they were raped on or near EMU's campus, some details of which emerged during a ritualistic ceremony at a fraternity. Using Jane Doe aliases, the women brought the suit against the university’s Board of Regents, police department, other staff and several fraternities, including Alpha Sigma Phi and Delta Tau Delta.

They claim EMU officials ignored or were deliberately indifferent to more than 30 rapes on or near the Ypsilanti campus from about 2015 to 2020. Many of the alleged rapes happened at university fraternity houses, including Alpha Sigma Phi and Delta Tau Delta, according to the lawsuit.

Named in the most recent lawsuit are former Title IX Director Melody Werner, who left for a job in Michigan State University's Office of Institutional Equity in November 2019 but no longer holds that position. She gave notice in February that she is retiring from MSU in June.

Eastern Michigan filed a motion last week to get Werner dismissed as a defendant in the March lawsuit.

Also named in the lawsuit are Kyle Martin, former Greek Life coordinator for the college and now vice president of campus operations at the North American Interfraternity Conference; the school's Board of Regents; school Police Chief Robert Heighes and former Deputy Chief Daniel Karrick; and the national and local chapters of Delta Tau Delta and Theta Chi fraternities as well as sorority Sigma Kappa.

EMU supports 'brave survivors'

EMU spokesman Walter Kraft said in a statement that the university has not been served with the lawsuit.

"The University takes these matters with utmost seriousness," Kraft wrote. "There is no place for sexual assault on or off our campus, and we will continue to do everything in our power to prevent them from happening.

"We support the brave survivors who have come forward to detail what happened to them. Protecting students is critical to the University’s educational mission. Our staff in law enforcement, Title IX, student affairs and elsewhere works tirelessly every day to try to create a safe and supportive community for students, faculty and staff."

The lawsuit contends that when Martin notified Werner of reports of sexual assault, "she repeatedly failed to properly document the same in an intentional effort to conceal the prevalence and culture of sexual assault on EMU’s campus, thus violating the Clery Act." 

Werner, Martin and Karrick could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Delta Tau Delta and the Theta Xi Chapter said in a statement the groups are aware of the lawsuit but declined comment. Messages were left with the local and national offices of Sigma Kappa. 

Students and community members rallied March 28, 2021 in front of the Pease Auditorium at Eastern Michigan University, where speakers either shared their allegations of rape and sexual assault or supported the victims.

The lawsuit names other men who are accused of sexual assault. The Detroit News is not naming them because it was not clear Wednesday if the men have been charged in connection to allegations in the lawsuit.

EMU hired Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor in September to review and audit the university’s Title IX policies, procedures and actions. EMU President James Smith said a report was expected this spring, but Kraft said Wednesday the firm's work is ongoing and "we do not have an expected date for completion."

The college has committed previously to making the report public when it is completed, Kraft added. It expects to provide legal support to Werner, Martin, Heighes and Karrick, Kraft wrote.

'The Dog Pound'

Werner is accused of assisting men facing sexual assault claims "by inappropriately meeting with them to go through their story and providing special accommodations not similarly advanced to the victims."

McWilliams and Hernandez were fraternity members at Delta Tau Delta, roommates and called their room "The Dog Pound” because of the dog howling sounds they made during the alleged assault of "Jane Doe 19," according to the lawsuit.

They are accused of a second rape involving "Jane Doe 18." In September 2016, near the end of a Delta Tau Delta party, the woman felt ill and went to lie down on Hernandez's bed, with whom she had been involved romantically. When she awoke, she "became horrified as she realized that McWilliams was penetrating her from behind and Hernandez was penetrating her from the front," the lawsuit says.

Three men, including McWilliams and Hernandez, thanked Werner "for assisting them in clearing their names with Title IX," Flood wrote in the suit, adding that McWilliams and Hernandez have been charged years later. 

McWilliams was hired by the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office in 2019, according to the department's Facebook page, but was suspended without pay in August after being charged with sexual assault and domestic violence. His job status was unclear Wednesday. He is free on bond and awaiting trial in Washtenaw County on four counts of criminal sexual conduct and a domestic violence charge, according to court records.

Records show Hernandez is facing three counts of criminal sexual conduct and one count of domestic violence and is awaiting a probable cause conference in July in Washtenaw County's 14A-1 District Court.

'Credible reports' ignored, suit says

Members of Sigma Kappa hazed a woman who was pledging the sorority and who was later raped twice in one night at Delta Tau Delta fraternity house, according to the lawsuit. 

Two other women say they were locked in a cellar of the Theta Chi fraternity house in September 2018 and sexually assaulted. Another woman said she was sexually assaulted by two men at Delta Tau Delta in October 2016, and then assaulted a second time by one of the men a few weeks later in the fraternity house. A fifth woman said she was raped in the basement of a Delta Tau Delta annex.

The reported annex assault involved "Jane Doe 12" and occurred on Dec. 23, 2014, according to the lawsuit. The woman attended a party and said she faked drinking hard liquor that was provided but drank beer supplied by fraternity members.

She said she did not consume excessive amounts of alcohol but fell ill and was raped by a male student after others left the room. The male student sent her eight text messages in the days after, apologizing and discussing the incident, according to the lawsuit.

On Jan. 16, 2015, Karrick took a sexual assault report involving "Jane Doe 12" from a clinical social worker. Washtenaw County prosecutors declined to issue charges against the male student, and the Title IX investigation found no wrongdoing and the case was closed by April 27, 2015, according to the suit. EMU didn’t notify "Jane Doe 12" but did contact the male student’s attorney, the lawsuit says.

Later that year when the woman inquired about the status of her case, Werner told her the case “was difficult to pursue because there was alcohol consumed on the night of the assault,” according to the suit.

In 2017, the woman sought the advice of a Title IX counselor at the University of Toledo, who contacted Werner. An outside investigator was assigned by EMU to look at the case, and the male student was found responsible for the sexual assault, according to the lawsuit.

"Jane Doe 13" said she was taken by sorority members on Oct. 12, 2018 to other parties and given alcohol. Two sorority members admitted en route to the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house "that they would not be allowed to return to Defendant Sigma Kappa because of how intoxicated they got Jane Doe 13...," the lawsuit said. 

At the fraternity house, "Jane Doe 13" drank more alcohol and one of the fraternity members ripped off her pants and began to rape her while others were present during a game of spin the bottle, according to the lawsuit, and she was raped a second time that evening.

Four days later, Kaley Austin, former president of Sigma Kappa, emailed the president of Delta Tau Delta, Ethan Antonishak, Martin and EMU police and reported the assault.

That same day, Antonishak submitted an online sexual misconduct report about "Jane Doe 13" to EMU’s Title IX Department and asked Werner to contact him.

A day later, Werner replied and said she had recently received a misconduct report about the same incident, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, within 10 days of the reported incident, Jane Doe 13 and a friend met with Werner and told her the details of the assaults. 

Werner said in her role she was not required to report the assault to police, according to the suit, but that she "told Jane Doe 13 that she could report her rape to the police but said that not much could be done."