An Illinois State University student is suing his school because even though they found him not responsible for sexual assault, a premature suspension caused him to fail his courses for one semester and kept him from enrolling for the next, effectively punishing him even though he was innocent.
The male student, referred to in court documents obtained by The Federalist as John Doe, was accused two weeks after their sexual encounter by a female student referred to only as Jane Doe. At some point during the investigation into Jane Doe’s accusation, her friend, referred to as Jane Roe, came forward with an accusation about sexual contact she had with John nearly one year earlier. (For clarity, these two accusers will be referred to as Doe and Roe, respectively, from here on, while John Doe will be referred to as John).
Doe provided conflicting evidence, while Roe provided little evidence and didn’t appear for her hearing. Yet John was still suspended before either hearing even took place, banned from parts of campus, and unable to enroll for his next semester. He was ultimately found not responsible for both accusations, but was essentially given a nearly one-year suspension based on the university’s severe interim measures. He was also, according to his lawsuit, harassed by fellow students after rumors labeled him a sex offender.
All of this was based on flimsy evidence and the male bias that permeates campus sexual assault proceedings.
What the Court Documents Say Happened
John and Doe met homecoming weekend at ISU, and became friends. The two talked about personal matters for several weeks, according to the lawsuit. In the early hours of Nov. 6, 2016, the two separately attended a party near campus. John had been drinking but was not intoxicated, and said he believed Doe had been drinking as well.
At some point during the party, Doe asked John to help her find her car, but while they were looking, she felt dizzy. The two went back to John’s residence and had intercourse in his bedroom. John left the room to get some water and Doe was still in his bed when he returned, so the two spent the night together. The next morning, John says in his lawsuit, the two had sex again, then Doe left.
A couple hours later, John texted Doe saying he had a good time with her the previous night. She texted back saying: “I had a good time too [smile emoji].” Doe texted John a few more times that morning, asking if they were “still good to hang out” the next day, and replying with “Sounds good [smile emoji]” when John said they were.
But later that afternoon, despite these friendly texts, Doe went to the hospital and claimed to a Normal, Ill., police officer that John had sexually assaulted her. After an investigation, police determined no sexual assault occurred, but ISU continued with their own investigation. During the police investigation, John hired attorneys from the Johnson Law Group, who told police officers that Doe likely made the accusation against John because she had a boyfriend at the time.
On Nov. 22, 2016, a no-contact order was issued to John, keeping him from contacting Doe in any way. On Nov. 23, he received a no-trespass order banning him from certain athletic buildings and the dining hall. He was informed that this ban “will be maintained as part of your disciplinary record” and it would last for seven months “or until disciplinary sanctions are resolved.”
Later that day, according to the suit, John received another email from the university informing him that he was being investigated for a conduct violation, and demanded he meet with deputy Title IX coordinator Ashley Fritz on Dec. 2 at 10 a.m. It said if he missed that meeting he would be found in violation of the conduct code for “failure to comply.”
On Dec. 1, 2016, ISU reportedly received a notice from the McLean County Sexual Assault Task Force that said “this report should be closed due to declined prosecution.”
The Nightmare Wasn’t Anywhere Near Over
In the early days of December, several students informed John that Doe was “telling people detailed information relating to the complaint” and sharing “false information in order to vilify and defame” him. John then learned Doe was spreading false rumors to “a broad range of friends, members of the woman’s swimming/diving team, sororities and fraternities.” Doe was never punished for such behavior, even though the student conduct code states “a complainant has the responsibility to keep confidential all information pertaining to the student conduct process.”
On Dec. 15, 2016, John received a second no-contact order, this time instructing him to stay away from Roe, a friend of Doe. Roe alleged sexual assault had occurred during an incident one year prior. That same day, the McLean County State Attorney’s office notified John’s attorneys that it would not pursue charges against the student, and “expressed its dismay with ISU referring the case for review,” according to the lawsuit.
That same day, John also received a letter from ISU Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson, claiming he was “sufficiently concerned about your reported behavior that it appears that an interim suspension from ISU may be necessary to ensure the safety of the ISU community.” This suspension banned John from campus and attending classes.
Around this time is when Roe, a friend of Doe, made her accusation against John for sexual contact that occurred a year prior. John’s attorneys sent ISU a letter outlining the problems with their investigation so far, and questioning the timing of the second accusation. They were not answered.
Suspended With No Hearing
After meeting with Fritz about the second accusation on Dec. 20, 2016, John received an email saying he would be suspended prior to any hearing taking place. He was also told he could be arrested if he violated the no-contact and no-trespassing orders. This action was taken before John had even been able to fully learn the allegations against him.
On Jan. 12, 2017, John received a letter saying he must attend a “mandatory appointment” on the 19th to discuss the allegations against him, which were finally included in this letter. If he chose “to accept responsibility for” the violations, they would discuss sanctions, otherwise they would discuss his rights to an administrative hearing.
John’s attorneys informed the school that he would not attend the meeting, and requested a hearing. John had to attend a hearing for each accusation, and was not able to object to any of the evidence against him, since they contained written reports and witness testimony he had not been allowed to review previously. He was not able to question any of the witnesses, and his attorney was not allowed to participate in the hearing except as a sideline advisor to John.
Doe’s testimony contradicted previous statements and the statements of witnesses, but she was not called out on the inconsistencies. At the second hearing, the second accuser Roe didn’t even show up, but ISU continued with the hearing, meaning John could not cross-examine his accuser.
On Feb. 1, 2017, John was informed that there was not enough evidence in either case to show he violated university policies. He was not told that his suspension was listed. A week later, on Feb. 10, John’s attorneys contacted the school to inquire about his status.
John finally heard from the school on Feb. 14, 2017. Both his accusers had been allowed to appeal the rulings (meaning double jeopardy for John), but neither filed appeals, so the school upheld the original findings. It wasn’t until Feb. 23, three weeks after being found not responsible, that John was informed his suspension had been lifted. The letter was dated Feb. 16, but postage-stamped on Feb. 21.
The Prolonged Process Ruined John’s Semester
Because of the premature suspension that lasted into the spring semester, John failed his fall classes and was unable to attend classes in the spring, which meant he was effectively suspended from the school for nearly a year even though he had not committed sexual assault. ISU also failed to inform John that it would expunge the disciplinary charge or the suspension from his academic record.
John is suing for damages relating to lost money spent on tuition, legal fees, and suffering. He is currently in counseling for panic attacks, anxiety, nightmares, and emotional distress, his lawsuit says. Brendan Bukalski, an attorney for John, said they wanted “an admission by Illinois State University that they acted improperly” and for it to reform its sexual misconduct policies.