News, On Campus

Court Documents Shed Light On Assault Case

Boston College is standing by the decision that found a former student guilty of indecent assault, with more details emerging from a complex case that began in the fall of 2012.

The plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the University concerning the sexual assault case from more than two years ago has claimed that BC did not fairly execute the disciplinary process and breached its own policies in the hearing process.

The lawsuit, filed March 11, is against the University trustees as well as former Dean of Students Paul Chebator, former Executive Director for Planning and Staff Development Carole Hughes, Program Manager in the Office of Residential Life Catherine-Mary Rivera, former Executive Vice President Patrick Keating, and Vice President for Student Affairs Barbara Jones.

The plaintiffs in the case are referred to as John, Mary, and James Doe. Both Mary and James Doe are active BC alumni, and about 20 members of their extended family have also attended the University. In fall 2012, at the time of the incident, John Doe was a first-semester senior who was on the reporting staff of The Heights. The alleged indecent assault incident occurred during a boat cruise sponsored by the AHANA Leadership Council (ALC) in October 2012. Doe was reporting on the event for The Heights. According to the plaintiff’s case, Doe was crossing the dance floor on the Spirit of Boston when an outraged woman started to yell at him. Startled, the document follows, Doe made a confused expression at the woman and continued toward a group of friends. He was later detained by security officials on the boat, alleged by the victim of inserting two fingers into her anus on the dance floor. Doe’s fingers were swabbed for DNA evidence, and after the boat docked, he was detained for a night by the police.

There was another student in question, J.K., a male senior also on the boat cruise at the scene, who according to Doe’s complaint, had told Doe that the woman’s reaction was “his bad” soon after the assault. Doe said J.K. seemed especially interested in Doe’s case, with text messages corroborating this account. In a taped phone conversation with Doe soon following the cruise, J.K. stated that he could not remember the night and remarked that his comment following the assault sounded weird. J.K. said that the girl in question should have expected to get touched, per the plaintiff’s complaint.

Following the University’s decision to find Doe guilty in fall 2012, Doe was suspended for three semesters. That February, the DNA results found that the victim’s DNA was not on Doe’s fingers.

Drawing on video evidence distancing Doe from the assault, the forensics of the DNA test, circumstantial evidence, including J.K.’s behavior demonstrating consciousness of guilt, and a favorable polygraph test, Doe’s attorney and the senior prosecutor for the case motioned for a dismissal of all charged in May 2014. The court granted the motion. Doe ultimately graduated that month.

In the current lawsuit, the plaintiffs have claimed that the University violated laws in its treatment of the case. The Administrative Hearing Board in the case consisted of Rivera, two other administrators, a visiting professor at the law school, and an undergraduate student. Chebator, the former dean of students, appointed River as the chairperson of the board.

“Boston College intends to defend the matter vigorously in court,” University spokesman Jack Dunn said. “Clearly the family has stated its desire to have his records expunged so that the former student could attend law school, but in our view, the case was correctly adjudicated and we stand by the decision of the administrators who came to the conclusion of guilt.”

The court record for the case claims that Rivera was openly hostile to Doe in a Nov. 2012 hearing, at which Doe denied having touched the defendant in any way. Eventually, the board issued a finding of “responsible” for “indecent assault and battery.”

Doe went on to issue an appeal of the decision to Chebator and Keating, who rejected the appeal in Dec. 2012. The family went on to approach University President William P. Leahy, S.J., in May 2014 to tell him what had happened. Leahy responded to refer the family to speak with Jones to conduct a review of the prior decision. Per the court record, this investigation was not thorough.

“In particular, Jones disregarded entirely the scientific evidence that convinced the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to dismiss the criminal charges without qualification,” the record said.

Further, the case hinges on the allegation that the University breached its obligation to conduct an appropriate investigation of the sexual assault charge. The plaintiff’s complaint said Hughes, who now serves as the senior associate dean of students, was not a trained investigator and did not interview Doe about his version of the events. Doe’s lawsuit states that the hearing was held shortly after the incident, which he believes breached the provision requiring a reasonable hearing date.

The University allowed Doe to have an attorney present at the hearing, but then “tied the attorney’s hands,” the court record indicated.

“Self-incrimination issues aside, the notion of a young man being able to defend himself competently in this intensely-emotional situation is absurd,” the case said. “An accused student in this situation is bound to be intimidated.”

The sexual assault policy has changed since this 2012 case. Previously, the hearing consisted of a board made up of administrators and students. Now, the University has moved toward an investigative model. As of last summer, an internal investigator and a Title IX lawyer will consider sexual assault cases. This moves away from scenarios where both the complainant and the respondent must appear at the hearing, like what happened at Doe’s sexual assault case.

Richard DeCapua, the associate dean of students, feels confident that this new system is fair and impartial for both the respondent and complaint. DeCapua, who was not employed at the University during the case in question, explained that previously, cases were adjudicated by a administrative hearing board who were trained in handling sexual assault cases. The new system utilizes an internal and external investigator model that aligns with national sexual assault hearing practices.

“That takes it out of the hands of the hearing group as it always had been and now you have a professional person—an external and internal person who adjudicates cases,” Dunn said. “That also gives you consistency because it’s the same two people who are hearing each case.”

Featured Image by Margaux Eckert / Heights Staff

March 19, 2015