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Incomplete record-keeping limited Eastern Michigan sex assault inquiry: report


Eastern Michigan University officials knew there were allegations of sexual assault against three former students now facing rape charges, but those reports were either anonymous or the reported victims in each alleged incident choose not to participate in a formal Title IX investigation, according to a firm hired by the college.

However, record-keeping in EMU's Title IX office was so incomplete that it did not allow Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor's investigators to "provide as full and complete a picture of the university’s response as might have been possible had the Title IX Coordinator and the Greek Life Coordinator maintained more complete and contemporaneous documentation."

"EMU's Title IX Office’s case files did not consistently include all relevant documentation, including key communications with parties, meeting notes, and the rationale for case-related decisions," the report said. 

EMU hired Cozen O’Connor in September 2020 to review the university's policies and how it responded to allegations of sexual misconduct against three former male students who are facing sexual assault charges linked to multiple alleged off-campus rapes between 2015 and 2019. 

"We are heartened to learn that the university appears to have acted appropriately within its level of knowledge with regards to these complaints," EMU President James Smith said at a Friday press briefing.

"However, it is clear we have work to do with regard to creating comprehensive records of our investigations and case files, as well as increasing campus-wide training and education regarding Title IX."

Smith said the incomplete Title IX records were not intentional, according to the report. 

"The investigators from Cozen O’Connor gave no indication that there was lacking of detail with intentionality," Smith said. "They were saying the report itself could have had greater note-taking."

He emphasized that sexual misconduct won't be tolerated at EMU and that the investigation was "commissioned long before the lawsuit was filed, borne out of the university's commitment to find out what gaps, if any, existed in our processes that could have contributed to or exacerbated any unsafe campus condition(s)."

Two dozen current and former students sued the school in federal court in 2021, alleging the college failed them after they reported sexual assaults. Most of the reported assaults allegedly occurred in or near fraternity houses near EMU's campus including Delta Tau Delta, Theta Chi and Alpha Sigma Phi. Sigma Kappa sorority was also named in one of the lawsuits that began with 10 women but grew to 24 people, including one man.

Those who sued claim that when they told university police or the school's Title IX office that they had been assaulted, their reports were covered up.

Among the accusations against the school were that Title IX complaints were handled in a way that benefited men accused of rape rather than women who reported assaults. The lawsuit also said reports were improperly documented and former Title IX Coordinator Melody Werner assisted men facing sexual assault claims "by inappropriately meeting with them to go through their story and providing special accommodations not similarly advanced to the victims."

The report did not mention Werner by name but noted that investigators interviewed the school's former Title IX coordinator who worked at the school from June 2015 to November 2019, which the school confirmed are Werner's employment dates. She joined the Michigan State University Office of Institutional Equity in November 2019. She transitioned in September 2020 to do special projects within MSU's Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, and retired last year.

Werner could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Cozen O'Connor's 20-month investigation included interviews with 25 people including Werner, other EMU officials and law enforcement officials, along with a former EMU student. The investigators also tried to speak with the known complainants in the criminal and civil cases by reaching out to them or their lawyers. Some declined and others didn't respond, according to the report. Lawyers stopped responding to the firm's request for interviews, investigators wrote.

Todd Flood, a lawyer who represents the current and former students suing the school, said he was unable to get assurances from Cozen O'Connor that the investigation was unbiased and that interviews with victims would be anonymous.

He said EMU's outside investigation is vastly incomplete and noted that the report showed that key documents were missing in some Title IX investigations.

"If those things were missing, the $64 million question is: What else is missing?" Flood said.

In response to the allegations in lawsuit, EMU said it could have provided more help if the students had either reported the sexual assaults or participated in proceedings against the alleged assailants. 

The school and its accusers are in mediation. Smith said he could not comment on the lawsuit but denied a cover-up.

"Any notion that there is cover-up here is just blatantly false," Smith said. "Had there been that, Cozen O’Connor would have said that."

Flood disagreed.

"When you have this many survivors protesting and echoing the same story about how they were treated by Title IX, common sense would dictate otherwise regarding the president's statement," Flood said, adding that he and those suing the school would be happy to meet with Smith to share their experiences.

EMU has added two staff members to the Title IX Office and is looking to add another; required annual training for students and expanded a bystander training program; has implemented training modules for employees about trauma-informed approaches to supporting students; initiated a program to help students support peers through trauma; and now offer a late-night escort program and free personal defense spray and personal safety alarms, Smith said.

"Collectively, we must confront sexual assault ...," he said.

The Ypsilanti Police Department received several complaints of sexual assault in July and August of 2020 involving Dustyn Durbin, D’Angelo McWilliams and Thomas Hernandez. Durbin, who belonged to the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, and McWilliams and Hernandez, who belonged to Delta Tau Delta, were arrested later that year.

EMU hired the law firm after the students were charged in connection with sexual assaults that allegedly occurred between 2015 and 2019 while each was enrolled at Eastern.

Other former EMU students have since come forward with additional allegations against the men.

Attorneys for the three men could be immediately be reached Friday.

Durbin was charged in Washtenaw County with several counts of sexual assault and is awaiting trial.

McWilliams faces seven counts of first-degree sexual assault among a dozen charges. He is accused in two alleged gang rapes with Hernandez, his former roommate in the Delta frat house. McWilliams is a Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office deputy who has been placed on unpaid leave. Hernandez was charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of domestic violence. Both are awaiting trial.

Cozen O'Connor in the report said it encouraged anyone with additional information to share it with the university or law enforcement.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com