A jury verdict resulted in what must be one of the largest – if not the largest – monetary award a falsely accused college student has ever received in such a case.
In early September 2015, a Clemson University student named Erin Wingo kissed fellow student Andrew Pampu, according to a lawsuit later filed by Pampu. He alleged that Wingo “became preoccupied” with him after they first met and he gave her a ride back to her apartment on his moped. They kissed and the next morning she sent him a text message saying she felt guilty because she had a boyfriend, Colin Gahagan, who was a pledge at Pampu’s fraternity.
For the next month and a half, however, Wingo continued to pursue Pampu, the lawsuit alleged, including “repeatedly initiat[ing] contact.” During this time, Wingo also kept an “open relationship” with Gahagan, court documents state.
On October 24, 2015, Wingo and her friends attended a birthday party for Pampu at his fraternity house even though they hadn’t been invited. Prior to arriving at the party, Wingo drank alcohol, later claiming she “consumed an implausible 9 shots,” according to Pampu’s lawsuit. She reportedly took that many shots but was able to walk to the off-campus fraternity house without issues. During this time, Wingo also apparently told multiple friends that she wanted to give Pampu a birthday kiss.
Wingo found Gahagan at the party but he dismissed her, telling her to “find someone else” and “go have a good time,” according to the lawsuit. Wingo then sought out Pampu, even asking people at the party where he was. When Wingo finally found Pampu, she gave him a kiss on the lips in front of witnesses. Wingo also reportedly told Pampu that “if you don’t kiss me now, you won’t have sex with me tonight.”
Pampu’s inhibitions were lowered due to the alcohol he consumed, and said in his lawsuit that he usually avoids public displays of affection, but gave in to Wingo’s advances that night. The two eventually left the party to find a private place for their sexual encounter. As Pampu said in his lawsuit, Wingo walked unassisted and showed no signs of intoxication. She didn’t stumble, or slur her words, and was able to hold an intelligible conversation with Pampu.
The two found a secluded area near a shed and the encounter escalated, with Wingo removing her own clothes, according to Pampu’s lawsuit. Pampu thought that Wingo was only going to provide him with oral sex so he asked why she was removing her pants, to which she reportedly responded “so we can have sex.”
Pampu said in his lawsuit that he repeatedly asked for Wingo’s consent even though she was initiating all the contact. His lawsuit stated that Wingo kept saying she knew what she was doing and consenting “both verbally and non-verbally.”
On the way back to the party, Wingo reportedly complained to Pampu about past boyfriends, including Gahagan. Back at the house, when Wingo met up with her friends again, she started to cry and asked them why Gahagan didn’t want to be with her. She also texted him. When Wingo returned to her dorm, she couldn’t find her key and remembered she might have left it with Pampu (an important note because she would later say she didn’t remember anything that night). At the time, the resident assistant (RA) provided a temporary key to let Wingo and her friends into her room. At that time, the RA did note any concerns regarding Wingo’s level of intoxication, later telling campus investigators that Wingo didn’t slur her words but was crying about Gahagan. At the time, Wingo didn’t mention anything about being sexually assaulted. Even though the RA was sober at the time this occurred, Clemson would later give Wingo’s “drunk” claims more credibility.
Before falling asleep, Wingo “exchanged numerous hostile text messages” with Gahagan, which she later deleted before eventually retrieving.
The next morning, Wingo sent Pampu a text message at 10:45 a.m. pleading with him to not tell Gahagan about “what happened.” Her text made no mention of sexual assault and was focused on making sure Gahagan didn’t find out Wingo had sex with Pampu. Later, after accusing Pampu of sexual assault, Wingo would tell campus investigators that she woke up at 11 a.m. to hide the fact that she sent the text.
When Wingo accused Pampu of sexual assault, she left out the fact that she texted Pampu the morning after their encounter to ask him not to tell Gahagan and to see if he had her key. Instead, she told investigators that she didn’t remember anything that night and thus could not have consented. Pampu showed the text messages to campus investigators, who ignored them.
Before she made the sexual assault accusation, Wingo told several friends about her encounter with Pampu, but did not say it was nonconsensual and only said she was concerned Gahagan would find out.
A friend of Pampu’s copied and pasted a message from Pampu about having sex with a girl on his birthday and sent it to a group chat that included other fraternity members, including Gahagan – without Pampu’s knowledge. Gahagan figured out that the text was referring to Wingo based on her actions the night of the party.
Gahagan confronted Wingo that day and asked if she remembered the sexual encounter with Pampu. Wingo claimed she didn’t, even though she had clearly demonstrated previously that she did. Just seven hours after Wingo asked Pampu not to tell Gahagan about their encounter, she started saying she didn’t remember the night at all. Gahagan then told her “it is rape” if she couldn’t remember and helped her accuse Pampu of sexual assault.
According to Pampu’s lawsuit, even as Wingo told Gahagan that she didn’t remember her night with Pampu, she texted a friend saying that Gahagan had found out about her night with Pampu.
Gahagan sent Pampu a text saying “whether it was your birthday or not. Not too proud of you for taking advantage of Erin like you did last night. The poor girl doesn’t even remember it.”
Pampu was shocked by the allegations and reached out to Wingo to say as much. Suddenly Wingo claimed she couldn’t remember the encounter even though her text messages earlier that day indicated otherwise. “Colin’s right, I don’t remember it. I’m sorry. Not all of it at least,” Wingo texted Pampu. Pampu’s lawsuit suggests Gahagan was with Wingo when she sent the texts and may have influenced what she said.
Two days after the encounter, Wingo’s roommate – who didn’t witness the encounter and only learned about it from Wingo afterward – told a friend of a friend’s RA that Wingo had been sexually assaulted. The roommate didn’t even tell her own RA, instead going to someone who had no personal knowledge of the incident.
Four days after their sexual encounter, Wingo told a Clemson counselor that Pampu sexually assaulted her. Gahagan was apparently present at these meetings.
Despite claiming she had been sexually assaulted and needed counseling, Wingo attended more events at the same house where Pampu’s birthday party took place.
Meanwhile, Gahagan stopped pledging his and Pampu’s fraternity. Text messages later showed that some fraternity brothers were glad he was not a member of the pledge class, which appears to have made him even angrier toward Pampu.
On November 11, two weeks after her encounter with Pampu, Wingo filed a Title IX complaint against him alleging sexual assault. Gahagan was interviewed a month later and reportedly called Pampu a “rapist” around campus, according to Pampu’s lawsuit.
Months later, Pampu tried to file an incident report against Gahagan for violating the school’s policies against retaliation and breaking confidentiality. He had been told that everyone interviewed during the process must abide by those rules, but Gahagan broke them by calling Pampu a “rapist” on campus. Pampu also tried to file a complaint against Wingo claiming that she had sexually assaulted him and engaged in a harassment and retaliation campaign against him. He was told by a school official that if he filed the complaint he would immediately be expelled for retaliation.
Pampu also reported several other incidents of harassment and retaliation by Wingo and Gahagan. At a fraternity event, Gahagan mocked about 60 members, including Pampu, by saying “it is too bad you are all down one person now.” He then cussed and shouted at Pampu in front of the other members. The next day, when Pampu left the library, Wingo and Gahagan stared at him, glaring. None of the issues were addressed.
Pampu was found responsible for sexually assaulting Wingo and suspended for one semester along with other sanctions. He was also told not to have contact with Gahagan or Wingo during his time at Clemson. For months, Gahagan would go to the gym when Pampu was working out in an apparent effort to bait him into starting a conflict. Wingo also tried to bait Pampu, sitting four rows ahead of him at a karaoke event despite numerous open seats and continuing to make eye contact and glare at him.
Pampu and Wingo both appealed the sanctions against him, for different reasons. In campus Title IX hearings, accusers can also appeal sanctions. While the appeals were pending, Pampu was informed that he was suspended from the fraternity and had been recommended for expulsion. The decision came after the fraternity received a confidential “pending” disciplinary decision letter. It later turned out that Wingo’s father sent the pending letter, in violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
Clemson eventually sided with Wingo’s appeal, increasing Pampu’s suspension by one year, meaning he would be suspended until August 1, 2017.
After the sanctions, Wingo gave a presentation on sexual assault to a Clemson-sponsored event, continuing to insist she had been sexually assaulted. She then profited off her allegations when she was given a cash prize for her presentation. The presentation was also posted online.
Months after Pampu was suspended, in January 2017, Gahagan sent him a text message admitting that he had helped Wingo make a false allegation against him.
“You’re innocent,” Gahagan wrote. “I lied in that hearing. Erin wanted to have sex that night. Get your brothers away from me and never touch your life again and I’ll come through with the truth that she lied. I deleted the texts from that night prove she was f****** crazy. You’re innocent. Just pull your f****** boys off me and never touch me again. It’s sad that you were like a brother to me and this happened[.] You’re innocent. Send this to your lawyer. Just don’t call me into the hearing and leave me alone. You’re welcome. That’s all I ask. You’re innocent bud.”
Gahagan also shared screenshots of text messages between himself and a woman sharing data with Wingo’s father. The exchange showed Gahagan told the woman that Wingo lied about being raped, writing: “She destroyed my life. She deserves, Everything [sic] she gets. She lied about to [sic] everything. She don’t [sic] get raped. The sex with Andrew was consensual.”
Gahagan further told the woman that she should tell Wingo’s father that he would destroy the father’s life and that his “daughter is a slut.” He also reiterated that Pampu was innocent.
On March 25, 2022, more than six years after Wingo’s false allegations, a unanimous jury verdict resulted in a $5.3 million award for Pampu. A week-long trial regarding Pampu’s defamation and civil conspiracy claims against Wingo, Gahagan, and her father included 10 witnesses that testified that Wingo was not too drunk to consent on the night of the encounter, along with evidence showing exactly how the defendants conspired to falsely accuse Pampu.
“The jury verdict represents more than an exoneration for my client who has endured reputational harm, educational barriers, and the deprivation of hard-earned career opportunities due to defendants’ defamatory statements,” Pampu’s attorney, Kimberly Lau, said in a statement provided to The Daily Wire. “The jury sent a message to others that our society does not condone spreading harmful lies about someone else to ruin someone’s reputation and deprive him of future opportunities. Not only does this kind of behavior cause irreparable damage to the wrongfully accused, it represents a setback for true rape victims to come forward and be believed in the future.”
Pampu also provided a statement:
When I received the verdict, I was overwhelmed with emotion and incredibly relieved. For seven long years, I carried a burden of accountability that was not mine to bear. Consequently, my family battled through the process with me every step of the way. By the Grace of God and with the support of my loving family and counsel, I was somehow able to persevere throughout the adversity and fight for the truth. I feel incredibly thankful for all members of the jury in Pickens, South Carolina who chose to end this nightmare for me. I hope that the favorable verdict gives hope to many other young men who are in a position similar to mine.
Prior to this verdict, Lau finalized a settlement for Pampu in 2019 with Clemson University over the school’s Title IX and due process violations involved in their investigation into Wingo’s allegations. The details of that settlement were not made public, but Pampu received a monetary sum and had the disciplinary notation removed from his official transcript.
This article has been updated to make clear Pampu’s monetary award came from a verdict, not a settlement. It has also been updated to include statements from Pampu and his attorney.