Texas to let Baylor keep sex assault records private

AP News
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Posted: Feb 11, 2016 6:48 PM

DALLAS (AP) — Baylor University can keep private campus police records that detail sexual assaults committed by two former football players against students, according to an opinion issued this week by the Texas attorney general's office.

Releasing the records would violate the victims' privacy rights, Assistant Attorney General David Wheelus said in the letter to a Baylor official.

The Associated Press has requested Baylor police records regarding the department's investigation into sex assaults for which the two players were convicted. However, the AG's office said it was responding to a separate but similar request by ESPN's "Outside The Lines."

In arguing that the records should remain private, Wheelus says that the party requesting the information knows the names of the victims, so releasing the records would result in making public "highly intimate or embarrassing details."

The AG's office, headed by Attorney General and Baylor graduate Ken Paxton, declined further comment on the opinion.

Criticism is mounting from students, alumni and others over Baylor's response to sex assault allegations.

Baylor is a private institution, and subject to a change in state law last year that applies open-records laws for public police agencies to private campus police, requiring disclosure of facts and circumstances of crimes that are reported to the campus police. Texas is the fourth state to institute such a law, following Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

ESPN has reported that the university failed to act on three students' allegations that they were assaulted by Tevin Elliott, who earned a Big 12 honorable mention as a sophomore defensive end in 2011. An administrator told one of the victims that Baylor had received multiple complaints against Elliott and said Baylor could not act because "it turns into a he said-she said," one of the students told ESPN.

ESPN did not identify the three women. One of them told Waco police in 2012 that she was assaulted twice at a party when she was a freshman. Elliott was charged and in 2014 convicted of two counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In a prison interview with ESPN, Elliott, 24, argued the sex was consensual, adding that big-name athletes "could be innocent but we're guilty until proven innocent."

Elliott was convicted a year before a jury ruled that another Baylor football player, Sam Ukwuachu, assaulted a former Baylor women's soccer player. He was sentenced to six months in jail for sexual assault.

The McLennan County assistant district attorney who prosecuted both Elliott and Ukwuachu has criticized Baylor's handling of sexual assault complaints.

Hilary LaBorde told The Associated Press that in the case of Ukwuachu, the university "did not validate" the sex assault claim made against him by another Baylor student at the time. She also noted that whether an assault allegation proceeds to a university review or police investigation largely depends on how receptive Baylor is to women claiming they were victimized.

"I do think the way Baylor is treating them affects whether they go to the police," she said.

Baylor administrators are feeling the heat. This month's open letter signed by some 1,700 people criticized the university's handling of the sex assault allegations, and earlier this week a candlelight vigil drew about 100 people outside the home of Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr.

In a statement released Sunday, Starr, a former prosecutor and judge who's widely known for his work on the Whitewater investigation involving President Bill Clinton, decried the "scourge" of sexual violence and reiterated that Baylor has hired a Philadelphia law firm to review the university's response to assault claims.