Police Unable to Confirm Gang Rape at University of Virginia

UPDATED: 7:47 a.m. March 24, 2015

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WNEW/AP) — The article, titled “A rape on campus,” revolved around a student identified only as “Jackie,” who said she was raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity more than two years earlier.

It described a hidden culture of sexual violence fueled by binge drinking at the college.

Police found evidence of neither.

Announcing the results of a four-month investigation, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said Monday there were numerous discrepancies between the Rolling Stone article, published in November 2014, and what investigators found.

The police investigation’s conclusions brought a small measure of relief to students, many of whom told The Associated Press on Monday they want to put the allegations, and the torrent of negative publicity they have brought to the campus, behind them.

But the investigation is far from the final word on how U.Va. handles sexual-assault allegations.

The highly regarded public university is still awaiting a review by an independent counsel, as well as scrutiny from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

And a state task force on campus sexual violence is expected to report its findings in a few weeks.

“This issue will not, and should not, be pushed back into the shadows,” said task force chairman and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.

Accurate or not, the Rolling Stone article heightened scrutiny of campus sexual assaults amid a campaign by President Barack Obama to end them. The University of Virginia had already been on the Department of Education’s list of 55 colleges under investigation for their handling of sex assault violations.

In announcing the results of the police investigation, Longo took pains to not accuse Jackie of lying, and said the case is suspended, not closed.

The fact that investigators could not find solid evidence “doesn’t mean that something terrible didn’t happen to Jackie,” he said. “There’s a difference between a false allegation and something that happened that may have been different than what was described in that article.”

Longo appealed for anyone with information about any sexual violence to immediately alert police and expressed hope that Jackie may one day feel comfortable explaining what really happened.

Asked if Jackie would be charged with making a false report, he said: “Absolutely not.”

Jackie’s attorney, Palma Pustilnik, said she would have no comment on the investigation.

Almost immediately after the Rolling Stone article was published, other news organizations found discrepancies in Jackie’s story that eventually led the magazine to print an apology.

The magazine eventually asked the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to review its editorial process and the piece by its contributing editor, Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The magazine said Monday that the review’s results are “imminent” and would be published in a couple of weeks.

Longo said Jackie’s first mention of an alleged assault came without key details, during a meeting she had with a dean about an academic issue in May 2013. The dean brought in police, but the case was dropped because Jackie didn’t want them to investigate, Longo said.

In any case, the “sexual act” she described that year was “not consistent with what was described” in the Rolling Stone article, he said.

University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan asked police to investigate, and they called Jackie in for another interview. She showed up with a lawyer and again refused to talk.

Investigators spoke to about 70 people, including friends of the accuser and fraternity members, and spent hundreds of hours on the investigation, Longo said. None provided any evidence supporting the claim of a gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi house. They gathered ample evidence casting doubt on Jackie’s claims, he said.

The article described Jackie’s recollection of a date she had on Sept. 28, 2012, with a classmate, who she said lured her upstairs at his fraternity house, where she was raped by seven fraternity brothers and thrown through a glass table. Distraught and bleeding, Jackie told three friends that night about the assault, and two of them urged her to stay silent to avoid becoming a social outcast, the article said.

In interviews with the AP, however, the same friends said the opposite was true: They said they insisted Jackie contact police, but she refused. The friends said the article didn’t match what Jackie had told them that night, and that she didn’t appear physically injured at the time.

Erdely’s article also accused campus authorities of covering up sex assault allegations to protect the university’s image.

Sullivan, thanking police Monday, said this was never true.

“The investigation confirms what federal privacy law prohibited the University from sharing last fall: that the university provided support and care to a student in need, including assistance in reporting potential criminal conduct to law enforcement,” her statement said.

Despite questions about the article, Sullivan took a number of actions, including a temporary ban on Greek social events. Fraternities later agreed to ban kegs, hire security workers and keep at least three fraternity members sober at each event.

The fraternity called the article defamatory and said it was exploring its legal options.

“These false accusations have been extremely damaging to our entire organization, but we can only begin to imagine the setback this must have dealt to survivors of sexual assault,” said Stephen Scipione, president of the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi.

“We hope that Rolling Stone’s actions do not discourage any survivors from coming forward to seek the justice they deserve.”

Here’s a timeline of the events, per the investigation:

___

MAY 20, 2013

Dean Nicole Eramo learns of sexual-assault allegation from a student identified only as “Jackie.” The student had been referred to the dean because of poor grades. Jackie said she went to a party at an unknown fraternity and was sexually assaulted.

___

APRIL 21, 2014

Jackie meets with Eramo and says she was struck in the face by a glass bottle on April 6. Jackie says her roommate at the time, a nursing student, helped her remove glass from her face. When interviewed by investigators, the roommate denied this and described Jackie’s injury as a bruise consistent with having fallen.

According to Jackie, she also called her mother around the time of the attack. Phone records reviewed by investigators didn’t show that she made such a call.

During this meeting with the dean, Jackie says for the first time she was sexually assaulted at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. She told the dean she wanted to remain anonymous.

___

APRIL 22, 2014

A Charlottesville police officer, Eramo and a university police officer meet with Jackie. She tells police about being hit with an object by four men who had been following her. Jackie shows police a photo of the injury taken a few days after she was allegedly struck. The officer notices swelling above the right eye and a bruise on the upper cheek, but nothing consistent with being struck by a blunt object.

Jackie also tells the officer about the alleged sexual assault but said she doesn’t want an investigation, fearing retaliation by the fraternity.

___

MAY 1, 2014

Detective Jake Via meets with Jackie, who said she doesn’t want to proceed with an investigation for the alleged physical assault or the sexual assault. The detective told her the allegations would be fully investigated if she changed her mind.

___

NOV. 19, 2014

Rolling Stone publishes “A rape on campus” article, depicting in graphic detail Jackie’s story. University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan requests an investigation by Charlottesville Police Department.

___

NOV. 20, 2014

Detective Via and Jackie agree to meet after Thanksgiving break.

___

DEC. 2, 2014

Jackie comes to the police department with a dean and an attorney, and declines to provide a statement or answer any questions. Since then, there were numerous attempts to gain her cooperation and Jackie has provided no information whatsoever, police said.

___

DEC. 5, 2014

Rolling Stone prints an apology, saying that “in the face of new information” turned up by reports from other news outlets, “there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account.”

___

JAN. 12, 2015

Police said they were unable to confirm that an alleged gang rape occurred at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, and the school announced that it reinstated the group and its activities.

___

MARCH 23, 2015

Police suspend the investigation into the alleged attack, saying “the department’s investigation cannot rule out that something may have happened to ‘Jackie’ somewhere and at some time on the evening of Sept. 28, 2012. Yet, without additional evidence we are simply unable to reach a definitive conclusion.”

___

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(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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