A male student at California State University-Fresno was expelled after his school investigated the claims of two women who said he sexually assaulted them. Based on available evidence, a judge has called for the school to overturn its decision.
John Doe, as he is referred to in court documents, was accused on April 16, 2016 of drugging women and sleeping with them at parties. Court documents don’t support that he did this. The accusation came from someone referred to only as “Witness C.” Following this person’s complaint, two women — listed as Jane Roe 1 and Jane Roe 2 (Jane 1 and Jane 2 hereafter) — moved forward with the CSUF complaint process, accusing John of sexual assault. Jane 1 claimed to have been sexually assaulted in July 2015 and Jane 2 claimed her assault happened in April 2016.
CSUF’s interim Title IX Coordinator, Erin Boele, conducted the investigation. On June 5, 2016, Boele issued her report, which concluded that John had sexually assaulted Jane 1 because she was 17 years old at the time of the encounter and sexually assaulted Jane 2 because she was allegedly incapacitated during their first sexual encounter.
John was not given a copy of this report until much later in the process. Boele wrote on July 1, 2016 that the investigation was complete and John was responsible. The university forgot to send this email to John. It did remember, however, to send him a July 11 email saying he had been found responsible and faced suspension or expulsion. This email did not inform him that he had a right to appeal.
John was told at the sanctions hearing on August 12 that because he didn’t appeal the findings, “the outcome of the investigation will not be in question today,” according to court documents. Neither of his accusers attended the hearing. At this time, John tried to appeal, but was told it was too late. On August 23, he was expelled.
John appealed but was denied. John then petitioned CSU’s Chancellor’s Office, which told CSUF on June 2, 2017 to reopen the investigation since John had not received the July 1 email, and to allow John to see the investigation report, which it hadn’t allowed him to access.
After all this, CSUF upheld the findings against John and expelled him. So, John went to court.
Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel found several deficiencies in CSUF’s investigation of John. The student had originally been told he was accused of sexually assaulting Jane 1 because she was too drunk to consent. That claim apparently failed, so he was punished for sexually assaulting her because she was 17 at the time of the sexual intercourse. Boele even amended the investigation complaint, without new evidence, to claim that John told her he knew Jane 1 was 17 at the time of their encounter. John says he said no such thing. Judge Strobel declared Boele’s addition of this claim, which did not exist in the original report or in any of her investigative notes, “deserves little credence.”
Because John was not told what he was actually being investigated for, he had no way to defend himself. That, plus his inability to cross-examine his accusers, the witnesses, or the evidence against him led Strobel to conclude he had not been given a fair investigation.
Further, as to Jane 2, it turns out the school had no jurisdiction to investigate her claim because she had dropped out prior to the sexual encounter and could not be counted as a “student” under the university’s own policy. As to her claim, John says he was not able to cross-examine her, even though the case hung on credibility.
Strobel concluded that “Even if CSUF did have authority over Roe 2’s complaint, then the procedure was unfair for these additional reasons.”
If Roe 2 truly believes she was sexually assaulted, she should have gone to the police.
Strobel granted John’s petition for writ of mandate and will order CSUF “to set aside the administrative decision with respect to Roe 1 and Roe 2, and the sanction of expulsion.”
This is, according to author and professor K.C. Johnson, the 132nd loss for a university in court following 2011 guidance from the Obama administration that decimated due process rights for accused students. President Donald Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working to provide those rights.