Three Michigan State basketball players raped a student in 2015, one week after the Final Four loss to Duke, and the university coerced the woman not to report it to authorities, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
The case, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan Southern Division, alleges three unnamed players — identified only as John Doe 1, 2 and 3 — took the 18-year-old student, Jane Doe, home from an East Lansing bar between the evening of April 11, 2015 and the morning of April 12.
The woman never reported the alleged sexual assault to police, said Karen Truszkowski, the woman’s attorney. But according to the lawsuit, the woman did report the incident to a counselor at the Michigan State University Counseling Center, which she claims failed to properly advise her and even implied it would not be in her “best interest to report the incident to law enforcement.”
According to MSU’s policy on relationship violence and sexual misconduct, counselors generally are not permitted to report allegations of rape or relationship violence to the Title IX office or police.
“I think the complaint kind of speaks for itself,” Truszkowski said, declining further comment.
Sparty statue on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. (Photo: Rod Sanford, AP)
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It wasn’t immediately clear Monday if MSU coach Tom Izzo or anyone in the MSU athletic department was notified about the allegations.
The suit is the latest black eye for a university and a basketball program under fire for its handling of allegations of sexual assault and violent acts against women. It’s also the third allegation of multiple MSU basketball players raping a woman since 2010. Only one of those incidents were reported to police.
In 2015, the federal Office for Civil Rights determined MSU’s handling of some Title IX cases had created a “hostile environment” for individuals who complained about relationship violence or sexual misconduct and found there was confusion in MSU’s athletic department about who should report sexual assault claims to the university’s investigation office.
Emily Guerrant, MSU’s vice president and university spokesperson, said Monday the university does not comment on pending litigation. A message for the MSU athletic department was not immediately returned.
The woman, who remains a student at MSU, alleges she was at Harper’s Bar when the Spartans’ basketball team arrived after midnight. One of the players offered to buy her a drink and asked if she would like to meet “other guys” from the team. The woman, who was a sports journalism major, alleges one of the players then invited her to a party at an apartment and one player “lied” and told the woman her roommate was on her way to the party.
The lawsuit says the woman was having a difficult time holding her glass, though she said she did not have a lot to drink. She then accepted a ride to the party from two players — the party was at one of their off-campus apartments — and there was no party and her roommate was not there.
The lawsuit alleges the woman “was feeling discombobulated” and tried to send a text but could not control her thumbs and believed she may have been drugged. Then the first player allegedly pulled her into a bedroom and told her, “You are mine for the night.”
After the woman asked for water and to see basketball memorabilia, the second player then took her to another room when the lights went out.
According to the lawsuit, the woman said she was forcefully thrown face-down onto the bed and held so she could not move while the second player raped her from behind. The woman was crying and could not speak, her lawsuit claims, and she did not consent to the activity.
The lawsuit alleges the first player and a third player took turns raping her after the second player finished. The woman claims she does not remember anything until waking up on a couch a few hours later, then called a taxi back to her dorm. There, her roommate told her she did not know about a party.
The woman reported the rape to a counselor at the Michigan State University Counseling Center on April 20, 2015, and completed an initial intake and assessment. When she disclosed to the counselor the three men who allegedly raped her were MSU basketball players, the female counselor’s demeanor reportedly changed and she told the alleged victim she needed another person in the room with them. According to the lawsuit, it was not clear who the additional person was or why they were brought into the room.
It was not immediately clear Monday if bringing the extra person into the room violated federal health and wellness privacy laws.
According to the lawsuit, the MSU Counseling Center staffers then “made it clear to Plaintiff that if she chose to notify the police, she faced an uphill battle that would create anxiety and unwanted media attention and publicity as had happened with many other female students who were sexually assaulted by well-known athletes.” The staff members, per the court filing, then advised the woman they had seen a lot of these cases with “guys with big names” and the best thing to do is to “just get yourself better” implying to the woman it would not be in her best interest to report the incident to law enforcement.
The woman’s suit claims she was not advised to have a physical exam, seek medical treatment or have STD or pregnancy tests. It also alleges she was not notified of her federal Title IX rights, protections, and accommodations.
“Plaintiff was expressly told by MSUCC staff that ‘if you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish,’ ” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit says the woman then became “frightened” and did not report the alleged rape to either police or MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity. She also did not file a no-contact order and claims she was not advised by the university’s counselors of that option.
According to the lawsuit, the woman in October 2015 “had become so traumatized, depressed, and withdrawn to the point that she was admitted to the Sparrow Hospital outpatient psychiatric dayprogram for intensive psychiatric treatment.” She withdrew from classes that semester and, according to the lawsuit, explained to university officials she had been raped and was suffering from the trauma.
The lawsuit adds the university did not offer the woman academic assistance and was not referred to the Title IX office.
The woman resumed classes in January 2016 and changed her major. She sought private psychiatric care in February 2016 and remains on prescribed medication, according to the lawsuit.
Michigan State has been under intense scrutiny for its handling of Title IX cases and violent acts against women, including its suppression of some of Larry Nassar’s victims. But the issues have extended past Nassar, the disgraced former MSU sports medicine doctor who abused victims under the guise of medical treatment.
A Free Press investigation in January found three unreported sexual assault allegations in MSU’s football program, bringing the total to six cases of sexual assault involving 11 players during Mark Dantonio’s first 11 seasons. All but two of those cases, both of which occurred in 2017, were dismissed by then-Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III.
An ESPN report, also in January, alleged ex-MSU player Travis Walton and two unnamed players sexually assaulted a woman in April 2010, with a letter claiming then-athletic director Mark Hollis said he would personally investigate the allegations. There was no police report filed in that case, and any resolution is unclear. Walton has denied the claim.
In August 2010, MSU players Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were accused of raping a woman. Dunnings said no crime was committed and did not press charges.
On March 8, current MSU basketball player Brock Washington was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge, according to state police records. The freshman walk-on had been under investigation for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Hollis resigned Jan. 26, hours before the Free Press and ESPN reports were published. On Jan. 23, the NCAA sent the university a letter of inquiry to begin an investigation into the athletic department’s handling of the Nassar case. The letter cited two NCAA bylaws on “The Commitment to Student-Athlete Well-Being” and “Health and Safety.”