Saturday, October 11, 2014
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Florida State University breaks silence on quarterback probe

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[October 11, 2014]  By Letitia Stein
 TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - Florida State University defended its handling of sexual assault allegations against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston on Friday, breaking its silence about a case under investigation by federal officials.

In an open letter, Florida State officials said they were trying to protect students.

"We did not want you to confuse our silence with idleness, a lack of caring or, as some have alleged, an institutional conspiracy to protect a star athlete," the university wrote.

The explanation comes as the National Football League faces scrutiny for its handling of players' actions against women.

In a separate case involving another top state quarterback, the University of Florida's Treon Harris, a woman withdrew accusations of sexual assault, his attorney, Huntley Johnson, said on Friday. The withdrawal came a day after the lawyer accused the woman of being the sexual aggressor.

In its letter, Florida State did not name Winston, identified as "a prominent athlete," but detailed a widely reported timeline beginning with allegations that he assaulted a woman in December 2012.

Florida State in Tallahassee turned the report about the off-campus incident over to local law enforcement.

Athletics officials learned about the accusations in January 2013, after the woman identified Winston as her assailant. They determined the encounter was consensual after interviewing two other athletes present, the letter stated.

Athletics officials, informed that police were no longer investigating, did not file a report to the university office charged with investigating reports of sexual violence under federal law. That office did not learn about the case until November 2013 following media inquiries to police, the university wrote.

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A Florida State investigation under federal law initially found not enough evidence to proceed.

In December, a Florida state attorney determined there was insufficient evidence to bring sexual assault charges.

In April, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation into Florida State's handling of the case.

University officials said that in August, after months of requests, they interviewed the female accuser. Subsequently, Florida State reopened its investigation under federal law. Winston is cooperating.

Attorneys for the woman said Florida State's timeline had errors and accused the university of breaking laws to protect its football program.

An attorney advising Winston said the new facts support his contention the allegations are false.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Jim Loney)

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