Staffer accuses UM-Dearborn of trying to cover up student's sex allegation against lecturer
Dearborn — University of Michigan-Dearborn failed to properly investigate, and then tried to cover up, claims that a lecturer sexually assaulted a student, a university employee alleges.
Wayne County prosecutors now are considering whether to charge the lecturer with a sex crime as a result of the alleged incident, which the woman reported March 1. The prosecutor's office received a warrant request Oct. 25, two weeks after The Detroit News inquired about the allegations.
A university spokesman insists there was no cover-up attempt, saying the school suspended the instructor and launched an investigation immediately after the woman reported the allegations.
The student told university police the lecturer sexually assaulted her in his office on the Dearborn campus in late February, according to a school spokesman and the employee acting as a whistleblower who has direct knowledge of the investigation.
The employee shared information with The News on the condition of anonymity, due to fears of reprisal from the university.
Immediately after the allegations surfaced, university police enlisted the aid of Dearborn police to collect DNA from the lecturer and student, although university investigators conducted all the interviews, the whistleblower said.
When questioned by police, the lecturer admitted to a sexual encounter in his office but said it was consensual, the whistleblower told prosecutors Oct. 25 in an email also sent to The Detroit News.
The day after the alleged assault, the instructor changed the student's grade from a D to a B, and sent her an email saying, “the next time you want to work on your grade you know what we can do," the whistleblower told prosecutors.
UM-Dearborn spokesman Ken Kettenbeil acknowledged there was a reported sexual encounter, and that the lecturer changed the student's grade and sent the email, but he said the university properly investigated the case.
"It’s an awful incident," Kettenbeil said. "It happened. We can’t walk away from that ... but as soon as these allegations came to light, we took immediate action.”
The whistleblower alleged in the email to prosecutors that a university police officer entered false information into a logbook that listed the case as closed, and that a warrant request had been sent to Wayne County prosecutors. But assistant prosecutor Maria Miller said her office didn't receive a warrant request on the case until Oct. 25 — nearly two months after the logbook entry was made.
The whistleblower further claimed school officials tried to sweep the matter under the rug by allowing the instructor to resign, rather than firing him for violating the university’s policy prohibiting staff from having sex with students, after he admitted to doing so.
“The intended purpose of this email is to offer information regarding a CSC case … that has not been investigated and reported to your office as documented,” the email said.
Dearborn police investigators, who aided university police in March by collecting DNA samples from the accuser and suspect, submitted the warrant request to prosecutors seeking charges against the teacher, Miller said.
“(The prosecutor’s office) received a warrant request from Dearborn P.D. regarding an allegation of inappropriate sexual contact between a teacher at U/M Dearborn and a female student that is alleged to have occurred in February 2019,” Miller said in a written statement. "(Prosecutors have) begun reviewing the warrant request.”
Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw confirmed Dearborn police sent the DNA samples for analysis within a week of the allegations surfacing. The student's sample was completed and sent back to police April 2, and the lecturer's was finished Sept. 12, Shaw said.
Miller said a charging decision is not immediately expected. Attempts to reach the lecturer were not successful. The News is not identifying that employee because he has not been charged with a crime.
The whistleblower is identified by name and job title in the email to prosecutors, which attached copies of two UM-Dearborn Police Department log sheets listing investigations of reported crimes on the campus in 2019. The whistleblower said the two sheets show how school police officials falsely logged the case, and then tried to cover it up after The News filed a Freedom of Information request seeking copies of the logs.
In the first log sheet, dated Aug. 27, the entry for sexual assault case #19-047 says it was handled by "DPPS" — the university's Department of Police and Public Safety. The entry also states: “CLOSED - REF TO WCPO,” meaning university police had wrapped up their investigation and referred the case to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.
But Miller said the warrant received by prosecutor's office was sent by Dearborn police, not university police.
The second log sheet the whistleblower sent to prosecutors, dated Oct. 18, lists case #19-047 as "OPEN INVESTIGATION" and says the probe is being handled by both Dearborn police, identified as "DPD," and university police, logged as "DPPS."
Kettenbeil acknowledged school officials altered the case status in the logbook after The News filed the FOIA request on Oct. 11 seeking a copy of the log and other case details. He said the entry was changed "to better reflect the status of the case."
"The log was changed to reflect the case was still open, but turned over to Dearborn Police, after the FOIA request was received regarding (the lecturer) in October," Kettenbeil said.
When asked why, if the case was turned over to Dearborn police, the log entry originally said the case had been referred to prosecutors, Kettenbeil said: "We envisioned this case would eventually be turned over to prosecutors by Dearborn police.
"It’s still listed in the log, and it’s recorded, so it’s not like we whited it out," Kettenbeil said. "It was our internal terminology. The police department looked at it after (The News) asked about it, and realized maybe it's not the most accurate status of the case.
"Moving forward, the police department will log cases to better reflect the status of an investigation," Kettenbeil said.
Miller said the prosecutor's office would not investigate the claims of a cover-up, because she said the whistleblower would “need to file a formal complaint with a law enforcement agency. Dearborn P.D. makes sense. We cannot proceed with anything based upon a letter.”
The school employee wanted to meet with Dearborn police Chief Ronald Haddad, trusting he would keep the whistleblower's identity secret.
Haddad declined to comment.
The whistleblower claimed in the email: “From the start the investigation showed signs of trouble."
"The victim was seen at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor hospital, where a police report was taken by University of Michigan Ann Arbor Police,” the email said. “A sexual assault examination was administered to the victim.”
U-M Ann Arbor campus police officials informed their Dearborn counterparts about the assault allegation, and a UM-Dearborn police captain went to the instructor’s house to interview him, according to the whistleblower.
The whistleblower told The News university police wanted to keep the investigation in-house, and only enlisted the aid of Dearborn police because they needed help extracting DNA from the alleged victim at the hospital,and the instructor. Kettenbeil insisted that isn’t true.
University police handled interviews of both the alleged victim and the instructor, according the whistleblower. During the interview with the instructor, he “admitted to engaging in an inappropriate sex act with the victim stating they engaged in consensual sex,” the email said.
“(The instructor) was allowed to resign his position with the University of Michigan Dearborn (as) opposed to being terminated for breach of the universities sexual harassment sexual assault policy," the whistleblower's email said.
Kettenbeil told The News the lecturer was suspended four days after the student filed the sexual assault report. A union contract prevented the school from immediately firing the man, and he quit before the investigation was finished, Kettenbeil said.
"This matter came to the attention of the university on Friday, March 1, 2019," Kettenbeil said. "The police investigation and internal employment investigation began that same day.
"(The instructor) did not return to the classroom, or to campus, after that date," Kettenbeil said. "He was suspended on March 4, 2019. (He) resigned from the University on March 8, 2019, before the investigatory processes were complete.
"(The employee) was a lecturer covered under a collective bargaining agreement that entitles employees to due process before they are disciplined or discharged," Kettenbeil said. "The university cannot stop an employee from electing to resign before the conclusion of such proceedings."
When asked why the school needed to wait for the investigation to be completed to fire the lecturer, when he admitted to having sex with the student in violation of the university's policy, Kettenbeil said immediate dismissal is not allowed under the collective bargaining agreement with the Lecturers' Employee Organization union, despite evidence that he violated the policy.
"Even when facts are admitted or when evidence seems overwhelming, we are obligated to follow the process under the agreement," Kettenbeil said. "This process takes time to complete and is designed to protect against mistaken decisions."
According to the union agreement, before an employee can be fired, a supervisor must first "discuss the matter with the Employee, indicate the problem(s), articulate the performance expectations and time frames, and, where applicable, identify appropriate resources."
Kettenbeil said he isn't allowed to discuss whether a Title IX report was made.
The university's sexual harassment policy states: "Sexual relationships, even mutually consenting ones, are a basic violation of professional ethics and responsibility when the faculty member has any professional responsibility for the student’s academic performance or professional future."
In addition to the email sent to prosecutors Oct. 25, the whistleblower sent an email last month to the university's Board of Regents. The whistleblower provided The News with the email, which was sent under the pseudonym “Steve Arbor.”
Kettenbeil acknowledged the regents had received the email, which he said was turned over to university officials. Board members did not return phone calls seeking comment.
"More than six months after the incident, on Sept. 16, 2019, a letter regarding this matter was sent via email to the Board of Regents," Kettenbeil said. "On that same morning, the Board brought the letter to the attention of university administrators. The administration contacted law enforcement and reported back that the matter was still under criminal investigation."
In the email to the Board of Regents, the whistleblower wrote: "It is imperative we consider the message we send to the victim when we fail to properly report and investigate, because that failure sends a clear message ... that we don’t care."