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UM-Dearborn suspends cop who shared concerns about sex crime probe

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Dearborn — University of Michigan-Dearborn officials have suspended an employee for sharing with The Detroit News his concerns that the school was covering up a sexual abuse report.

UM-Dearborn public safety director Gary Gorski sent a letter Wednesday to university police officer William Ashford, informing him he was suspended for 10 days because he told The News he was worried the school was not properly investigating a student's claim that a lecturer had sexually assaulted her.

"You made claims to the Detroit News that UM Dearborn Department of Public Safety was involved in a cover-up," the Jan. 29 letter said. "Your disclosures resulted in media coverage that could compromise the fairness of the adjudication process for the defendant and hinder efforts to hold the defendant accountable.

"Such unauthorized disclosures are disruptive to the orderly and efficient operation of both the department and other agencies engaged with the department on the underlying matter," the letter said.

Two entries in University of Michigan-Dearborn police log sheets differ on the status of the case. One lists it as closed and referred to prosecutors and the other, from a later date, shows the case was open. University officials acknowledged the entry was changed after The Detroit News filed a Freedom of Information request seeking the logbooks and other information.

The letter also said Ashford was being suspended because he would not tell school officials who had originally tipped off The News about the issue.

"During the investigatory interview, the ... investigator asked you to identify the individual who had initially shared material with the Detroit News reporter and made the introduction, you refused to answer the question."

Ashford had shared information with The News about the sex abuse investigation on the condition of anonymity, due to fears of reprisal from the university.

Ashford agreed to be identified for this story but referred questions Thursday about his suspension to Wayne Beerbower, business agent for the Police Officers Association of Michigan union.

Beerbower said he plans to file a grievance over the suspension.

"Clearly, in my mind. this was retaliation for (Ashford) being the person who brought this situation to light," Beerbower said. "This is a pretty serious issue, and he was acting as a whistleblower. That's going to be my defense: that he shed light on something that was very serious.

"Especially in this day and age, I'm shocked more wasn't done with this (sexual assault) investigation," he said.

University spokeswoman Beth Marmarelli said in an email: "There remains an active police investigation into the incident you reported on in November, therefore the university can not comment. We also don't respond to inquiries regarding personnel matters."

On March 1, a female student told university police that a lecturer had sexually assaulted her in his office on the Dearborn campus in late February.

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," according to Ashford and school officials.

Ashford further claimed school officials tried to sweep the matter under the rug by allowing the lecturer 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.

When contacted in November, 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 thoroughly investigated the case.

Ashford told The News that a university police official entered false information into a logbook that listed the case as closed, and that a warrant request had been sent to Wayne County prosecutors.

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.

Miller said Wednesday no decision had been made whether to charge the lecturer with a crime.

"The case remains under review at this time," she said.

ghunter@detroitnews.com