Louisiana’s governor called on LSU to do a “prompt, thorough and transparent investigation” following a USA TODAY report that found systemic mishandling of sexual misconduct and dating violence complaints by the school.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that he was not prepared to recommend anyone lose his or her job. But he said he was “deeply troubled” by the USA TODAY investigation. Published Monday, it found that officials in Louisiana State University’s athletic department and broader administration repeatedly ignored complaints against abusers, denied victims’ requests for protections and subjected them to further harm by known perpetrators.
“We have to take this very seriously,” Edwards said. “We cannot tolerate any instances where someone might willfully turn a blind eye to credible allegations of this kind of violence and abuse. If that happened, we need to know about it.”
Edwards made the remarks in response to a question about the USA TODAY investigation during his weekly COVID-19 press conference.
Interim LSU president Thomas Galligan announced Monday that the school has hired law firm Husch Blackwell to do an “independent, comprehensive review of our Title IX policies and procedures.” The review is to focus on “the entirety” of the Title IX process, from the time allegations are reported to when they are investigated and adjudicated, according to LSU spokesman Jim Sabourin.
It also will look at the specific cases mentioned in USA TODAY’s investigation and whether those were handled properly, Sabourin said. The investigation is expected to be completed in early spring and made available to the public, the school said.
USA TODAY found that LSU ignored two rape allegations against former star running back Derrius Guice, as well as a complaint that he took a partially nude photo of a woman without her consent and shared it with others, a felony in Louisiana.
Including Guice, at least nine football players have been reported to police for sexual misconduct and dating violence since coach Ed Orgeron took over the team four years ago, records show. The university disciplined two of them, and one – former wide receiver Drake Davis – was not expelled until four months after he was convicted of physically abusing his former girlfriend.
At least seven LSU officials had direct knowledge Davis was abusing his girlfriend, an LSU women’s tennis player, USA TODAY found. But those officials sat on the information for months while Davis continued to assault and strangle her.
USA TODAY did not initially name the woman, Jade Lewis. But she identified herself in a statement Wednesday night in which she refuted tennis coach Julia Sell’s claim that she was unaware of the abuse. Sell made the claim earlier in the day in a private social media post obtained by USA TODAY.
Lewis’ father and one of her teammates told USA TODAY that they had informed Sell and her husband, co-coach Mike Sell, about the abuse at least six months before the Sells told police they learned about it.
“This statement is a blatant lie,” Lewis wrote. “… I was betrayed by Coach Sell, and I will not stand by and allow her to deny knowledge of what I went through, when in reality she knew the full truth and simply chose to stand by.”
A second teammate of Lewis’ also told USA TODAY on Thursday that she had multiple conversations with Sell about Davis’ abuse of Lewis before June 2018. The Sells have told police that’s when they learned of the abuse, according to a police report.
“I personally went to Julia about it, and she responded with, ‘Okay, I’ll take care of it, but you need to worry about you and not other people,’” the teammate said. “She knew. 110 percent she knew. Her statement is false.”
The mishandling of sexual and physical violence complaints was not limited to the athletic department. USA TODAY also found three cases in which, rather than expelling or suspending male students found responsible for sexual assault, LSU allowed them to stay on campus. The men, non-athletes, received “deferred suspensions,” a probationary period during which they must stay out of trouble.
Federal law and LSU’s own policies require campus officials to report allegations of sexual violence to the school’s Title IX office to conduct an initial investigation. LSU also requires school officials – coaches included – to report to police if they witness or are told about possible sexual misconduct or dating violence occurring on campus.
Title IX is the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education.
“There needs to be a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation so that we can really know who knew what, when did they know it, was it credible and what did they do about it,” Edwards said.
“Quite frankly, there’s no way you can get to the bottom of that by reading that article,” he continued. “But what that article can do is excite you and make sure you do the investigation. That’s what I’m calling upon LSU to do.”
The USA TODAY report has sparked outrage at LSU. The leaders of more than a dozen student groups have called for the resignation of anyone who has mishandled Title IX complaints, and there is a campus protest scheduled for Friday afternoon.
Galligan acknowledged the anger in an open letter to campus Thursday, saying he and executive vice president Stacy Haynie planned to meet with students and faculty leaders. He also promised to consult STAR, which provides sexual assault support resources in Louisiana.
The group has said it has offered its help to LSU before, only to be ignored.
“(We) are meeting with LSU’s student leaders to hear more about their experiences and perspectives, and we are seeking input from faculty and staff on their ideas about improving our processes,” Galligan wrote. “We are also consulting with the Baton Rouge Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR) Center as we work to do better in the future.”
If you have a tip or sensitive information you want to share, reach out to USA TODAY Sports at SportsTip@usatoday.com. You can also contact the reporters directly, email@example.com for Nancy Armour or firstname.lastname@example.org for Kenny Jacoby.