Tuesday, March 05, 2013 6:09 pm
U. Northern Iowa assault case settled for $50,000
By RYAN J. FOLEYAssociated Press
A state panel approved the settlement Monday with the Davenport woman, whose name is being withheld because the Associated Press generally doesn't identify sexual assault victims. The deal ends a case that raised questions about UNI's treatment of sexual assault victims and the legal tactics that state lawyers later used to try to discredit the woman's claims.
"We felt it was in everyone's best interest to settle this matter," said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General's Office, which was defending the university.
The woman's attorney, Pressley Henningsen, said his client was pleased that the university had recently reviewed and vowed to improve its handling of sexual assault cases, which she had sought in her lawsuit. He said she recently got a nursing degree and "wants to put this behind her and move on."
"It was hard for her, but I hope that this case helps educate schools out there that they need to be proactive in preventing situations like this from happening and helpful when an unfortunate situation like this arises," he said.
The woman was an 18-year-old freshman in 2004 when she reported that Baylen Laury and Joseph Thomas III, who were freshmen players from Texas, took turns assaulting her in a dorm room. Thomas pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual abuse. Laury eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault after jurors deadlocked on more serious charges. Both served prison sentences.
The woman filed a lawsuit in 2007 in Scott County alleging that university administrators treated her with "great animosity" after the assault. She claimed they failed to make academic accommodations she requested, declined to let her move to another dorm and did nothing when she reported receiving harassing calls from players. After she quit school weeks later, the university sent her tuition bill to a collections agency and the dean of students told her she was disappointed "she didn't tough it out," according to the lawsuit.
Lawyers for UNI broadly denied her allegations - and then dug deeply into her personal life as they challenged her. The Attorney General's Office asked the woman to turn over her history of activity for several years on social media sites such as Facebook, records detailing her mental health treatment before and after the assault, years of cell phone records and personal photographs.
The office also asked for records about the woman's subsequent employment as a dancer at a strip club, a copy of her personal journal, and documentation related to her father's mysterious 1991 death when she was a young child. State officials defended the requests as part of routine attempts to gather information about legal claims against them, but some victims' advocates were outraged.
"The state, in its defense of the case, certainly had the right to do discovery, but some of it was troubling for her," Henningsen said. "She felt in many ways like she was being attacked again."
The settlement was reached shortly the state filed a sealed motion last month asking a judge to dismiss the case before an upcoming trial. University officials did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement for any "actions or inactions" they took in her case.
The lawsuit had sought damages for the woman's loss of education at UNI and pain and suffering. It also sought an order requiring the school to review and reform its policies on assault and harassment to prevent violence against women by athletes. After The Associated Press reported on the case in 2011, the university announced plans to conduct a review similar to one the woman had been seeking, although officials claimed it was not directly in response to her case.
The review, conducted last year by the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, found several shortcomings in how sexual misconduct complaints were handled, including that students did not know how to report assault and were given confusing information when they tried to find out.
Leah Gutknecht, an assistant to UNI President Ben Allen, said Tuesday that the university has taken several steps in response. The school soon plans to unveil a program that will allow victims to report assaults to university officials online and has named a new investigative team for handling complaints, she said.
Follow Ryan J. Foley at http://twitter.com/rjfoley