Storin: Looks like another major college cover-up going on

storapse@aol.comApril 24, 2014 

"When Will They Ever Learn?"

My reference to the line from the song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" pertains to the latest effort of a major college to cover-up an alleged campus crime.

The New York Times released an extensive report last week examining Florida State and the Tallahassee Police Department's handling of the investigation of rape allegations against star quarterback Jameis Winston.

The FSU case follows along the story lines of similar efforts to cover-up crimes at Penn State, Ohio State, Florida and Nebraska, among other high-profile football programs.

In each case the crime took place in a town that is a football hotbed where coaches like Joe Paterno, Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer and Tom Osborne were treated like royalty. And their dominions were afforded special treatment.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher is a newcomer to this royalty after winning the national championship last season, but the Seminoles under his predecessor, Bobby Bowden, certainly qualified for kingship in Tallahassee.

While Fisher was not directly named in the New York Times report, the records showed that FSU's athletic department knew about the rape accusation in January 2013. Which means the top dog, Fisher, was well aware of what was going on.

The university did nothing about it, allowing Winston to play a full season without having to answer any questions. The quarterback would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Seminoles to the national championship.

But let's get to the heart of the matter. The fact is the Tallahassee police botched the whole investigation from the start.

The accuser, an FSU freshman, first notified police about the case in which she was allegedly sexually assaulted after going to a local bar, Potbelly's, on Dec. 7, 2012. For almost a year, the events of that evening remained a well-kept secret.

Unbelievably, the Times found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.

According to the Times, "The police did not follow obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter."

After the accuser identified Winston as her assailant in January 2013, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA.

By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared, including the video of the actual sex act.

Patricia Carroll, a lawyer for Winston's accuser, said the police investigator who handled the case, Scott Angulo, told her that because Tallahassee was a big football town, her client would be "raked over the coals" if she pursued the case.

The police investigator's first attempt to contact Winston was by telephone. According to the Times, Winston said he had baseball practice and "I'll get with you later." That allowed Winston time to hire a lawyer, who told him not to talk.

The Times report brings up many questions about the delay in investigating the allegations and also examines the police department's decision to close the case three weeks after Winston became a suspect.

Specifically the story questions why attempts to follow up leads were so limited, starting with the bar where the accuser first met the quarterback on Dec. 7, 2012.

Potbelly's is a classic campus bar: a place to drink, dance and mingle. A Thursday tradition, Purgatory at Potbelly's, allows students to drink all the alcohol they want for $10 from 9 p.m. to midnight.

According to police records, Winston's accuser, who at 19 could not legally buy alcohol, shared at least five mixed drinks with friends.

The woman did not appear drunk, but she said her memory became hazy and she found herself in a taxi with three men, all of them Florida State football players.

Potbelly's has 30 security cameras, which were in position to fill-in blanks that evening, recording how the woman came to leave without her friends, her general behavior and the face of the man who gave her the final drink.

Officer Angulo's report includes no mention of trying to look at the Potbelly tapes.

On the advice of his lawyer, David Cornwell of Atlanta, Winston has repeatedly declined to discuss the case. He may well be innocent of the charges, but that does not excuse either Florida State or the Tallahassee police for their slipshod investigation.

We've seen this movie before at too many college towns where athletes get preferential treatment.

When will the powerful coaches, athletic directors and college presidents learn that being part of a cover-up is downright wrong?

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