The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is investigating the University of Michigan over its handling of a rape allegation involving a football player at the school. The player, place kicker Brendan Gibbons, was accused of raping another student at a fraternity party in 2009, but did not leave the team or the school, until late last year.
According to the Detroit News, the DoE opened an investigation into the matter after receiving two complaints about how the university handled the case. Following the allegations in 2009, Gibbons was arrested but not charged with a crime. He was eventually expelled in late 2013 — at the time, he was a fifth-year player taking graduate classes.
Just before his expulsion became public news, Gibbons's old coach told reporters that the player was missing games because of "family matters" and an injury. Critics of the university's handling of the matter allege that Michigan coach Brady Hoke "created an alibi to cover up the expulsion" in order to avoid scandal at the end of the football season, as the team was preparing for its bowl game.
This week, the DoE confirmed that it was looking into a Title IX complaint at the university. Among other things, its a Title IX violation for universities to fail to respond to and prevent incidences of sexual assault. In a letter, the Office for Civil Rights said that it "has determined it is appropriate to proceed to investigation" on whether the university "equitably" responded to a report of sexual violence, possibly subjecting students to a "sexually hostile environment." The details of the case in question correspond to that of Gibbons.
Ann Arbor police say that they dropped the case in January 2010 because the alleged victim failed to respond to a question from police over whether she intended to press charges. But both the alleged victim and Gibbons gave statements to law enforcement officials over what happened that night. According to the Detroit Free Press, both agree that the two went upstairs during a fraternity party in 2009, and engaged in intercourse. The alleged victim told police that the sex was not consensual, and showed police the bruises on her arm from when Gibbons allegedly held her down. Gibbons claimed that the sex was consensual.
Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the university, released a statement on the investigation:
We’re very proud of our student sexual misconduct policy, our prevention efforts and our programs to support survivors of sexual misconduct. We will fully cooperate with the Department of Education and we believe that a review of our policy, programs and investigations will conclude that the University of Michigan is doing what it should in this important area.
The news comes on the same day that University of Michigan students protested the school's handling of sexual assault cases, including the Gibbons allegations.