Expert: MSU football Title IX report could impact criminal case

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio

East Lansing – While three Michigan State football players have been found to have violated university policy in a recently completed Title IX investigation, it could have an effect on whether criminal charges are pursued.

On Tuesday, Karen Truszkowski, a Lansing attorney representing the alleged victim, said the three suspended players are currently going through Michigan State’s student conduct system after the report completed last week determined the players had, in fact, violated school policy.

According to former federal prosecutor Shanlon Wu, there’s a chance that could lead to prosecutors opting not to press criminal charges.

“Campus sexual assault cases involving athletes bring added scrutiny and pressure for universities and prosecutors,” said Wu, a one-time counsel to former attorney general Janet Reno whose law practice focuses on white-collar, criminal and student defense matters. “Worried about being accused of either treating athletes too harshly or too leniently, universities and prosecutors may feel more pressure to punt to one another when they really should be working together.”

The case stems from an alleged incident that occurred on campus on Jan. 16 and resulted in the suspension of the three players. The Michigan State University Police investigated and submitted four warrant requests to the Ingham County Prosecutor, who is still reviewing the case to determine if charges will be filed.

The three unnamed players have been suspended since the investigation began on Jan. 17 and will now go through the student conduct system, where a board can establish punishment ranging from suspension to expulsion, if it determines punishment is warranted.

Any of the information in the Title IX report becoming public, however, seems unlikely.

University spokesman Jason Cody said student privacy laws prevent Michigan State from releasing the report and Wu added there are few exceptions to a school doing so.

“It would be very unusual for a school to release the report,” Wu said. “Now they can do a sort of audit-style report when they look at procedures, look at what a good job or bad job they’re doing. But something specific to individual students and investigations they would be running afoul of the privacy laws.”

However, if the three players are punished with something along the lines of suspension or expulsion, there are provisions that allow the university to release some details.

“There is a public safety exception built in, meaning if the school needed to release information because there was a danger to the community or public safety they could do that,” Wu said. “But relying on that exception to release the report just to justify what they did, they would be probably averse to doing that and worry about taking that risk.”

The Title IX investigation was conducted by Rebecca Veidlinger, an independent Title IX consultant. She is a lawyer and consultant who specializes in issues of campus sexual assault and is a former sex crimes prosecutor in Monroe County, Ind. Veidlinger also has served as a Title IX investigator at the University of Michigan, and served for seven months as the interim Deputy Title IX Coordinator at Michigan State.

Those qualifications, Wu said, all bode well.

“It looks like she has experience as a former sex crimes prosecutor and that’s a good thing,” Wu said. “Most of the investigators within the school, meaning Title IX investigator, they really lack any experience doing sexual assault investigations and that is a really big problem. But if you use an outside person or someone on staff that has a lot of criminal sexual assault investigation (experience), that’s a step in the right direction.”

As for the criminal case, there has been no change and the review has now lasted more than two months. The time, however, is not abnormal, Wu said.

“If an active investigation is going on it wouldn’t be uncommon for it to take a while to put the case together,” he said. “If it’s active and they’ve communicated with the complainant, then that time is not unusual. It wouldn’t be uncommon to take a couple months.”

In addition to the Title IX investigation and the criminal case, a third investigation is being conducted by the Jones Day law firm is determining whether or not the football staff followed university policy. Staffer Curtis Blackwell, who heads Michigan State’s recruiting, has been suspended with pay since Feb. 9.

That investigation, according to Cody, remains ongoing.

Twitter @mattcharboneau