Independent investigation finds that LSU routinely mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct

LSU Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge Louisiana LA. (Photo: Kruck20, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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Louisiana State University did not handle sexual misconduct complaints, “in a manner consistent with obligations under Title IX, widely recognized best practices and/or university policy,” an investigation by an outside law firm found.

The 148-page report by Husch Blackwell, released Friday to campus officials, found complaints involving both athletes and the general student population were handled inappropriately, in part because reporting policy and training were unclear.

The Title IX office, in particular, was not adequately staffed nor given the necessary independence, Husch Blackwell found.The report took particular note that Jennie Stewart, designated as the Title IX coordinator for the LSU system, was overloaded, tasked with doing four jobs at once.

The disciplinary process, when cases got that far, was also “enormously complicated,” Husch Blackwell found.

“We’re not the first people to make recommendations to you,” Scott Schneider, who conducted the investigation for Husch Blackwell, told the board. “At the end of the day … if this report is given to you and we don’t implement these recommendations, the same ills we discussed throughout the report will just continue to repeat themselves.” 

LSU interim president Thomas Galligan called the report “a brutally honest and objective evaluation of our culture,” and promised the findings would be taken to heart.

In a sign of his commitment to that, Galligan announced lengthy unpaid suspensions for both executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry and Miriam Segar, a senior associate athletic director. USA TODAY’s reporting has found both were told of sexual misconduct complaints and, at a minimum, failed to follow proper procedures and, at worse, tried to bury them. 

Ausberry, who until a few weeks ago was a member of the presidential search committee, has been suspended for 30 days and ordered to undergo training. Segar was suspended for 21 days and also must do training on proper handling of sexual and physical violence complaints.

When pressed by Student Body President, Stone Cox, on whether any other individual employees would be disciplined, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, Robert S. Dampf, said, “What we do in terms of individual cases will not make anyone happy. The problem is systemic.” He noted that it was an “absolute failure of resource allocation. Coupled with that was a failure of leadership.” Dampf said it was hard to punish individuals within a failed system. 

Galligan also said it was intention to “accept and act on” every one of the 18 recommendations Husch Blackwell made. Immediately, he announced creation of a new Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, as well as the hiring of additional case managers, investigators and support staff to handle complaints.

LSU released the report shortly after Husch Blackwell’s presentation.

“Perhaps most troubling of all the report’s findings is the understanding that, whether through our actions or inactions, our institution betrayed the very people we are sworn to protect,” Galligan wrote. “Our job is to protect our students and support them in their times of need. It has become clear we haven’t always fully lived up to our commitment. That will no longer be the case.”

LSU Board of Supervisors discuss the Husch Blackwell report detailing findings from its investigation into the school's handling of sexual misconduct allegations. (Photo: USA TODAY)

Before the report was released, Caroline Schroeder, an alumna who reported her sexual assault in 2018 and has detailed her experiences with LSU’s Title IX process, blistered the university’s board of supervisors. LSU’s failings were known throughout the community before USA TODAY’s reporting last fall, Schroeder said, and the board ignored them until they became a public relations nightmare.

“You have done absolutely nothing to inspire confidence in your ability to listen to Husch Blackwell,” Schroeder told the board. “You are ultimately responsible for this mess, whether it’s because you don’t care or you’re just bad at doing your job, you are the guilty party here.” 

Husch Blackwell’s findings come a day after release of a 2013 internal investigative report of allegations then-head football coach Les Miles texted female students, took them to his condo alone, made them feel uncomfortable and, on at least one occasion, kissed a student and suggested they go to a hotel after telling her he could help her career. The investigation did not find Miles had sexual relationships with any of the women, and he denied any wrongdoing. But investigators found Miles’ behavior inappropriate, and LSU issued him a letter of reprimand. 

LSU had tried to keep the report secret, promising Miles it would fight its release in court and then doing so after USA TODAY sued for it in January. 

Husch Blackwell’s findings come a day after release of a 2013 internal investigative report of allegations then-head football coach Les Miles texted female students, took them to his condo alone, made them feel uncomfortable and, on at least one occasion, kissed a student and suggested they go to a hotel after telling her he could help her career. (Photo: Crystal LoGiudice, USA TODAY Spor)

The conclusion of Husch Blackwell’s investigation does not end the scrutiny of LSU. The U.S. Department of Education last month launched a far-reaching investigation into the school’s compliance with campus safety laws, citing media reports and numerous complaints.

LSU hired Husch Blackwell in November to examine its resolution of roughly 60 sexual misconduct cases from 2016 to 2018, as well as select others from outside that time frame, after reporting by USA TODAY revealed widespread mishandling of such complaints by both the school’s athletic department and its broader administration.

Scott Schneider said Husch Blackwell reviewed more than 20,000 documents and 4.25 gigabytes of data during its three-month probe, and held 27 community meetings. 

“(I told you) whatever I saw was what I was going to say,” Schneider said. 

The federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education, 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. The policies specifically bar athletic department officials from being involved in the handling or investigation of complaints against athletes. 

School officials – coaches included – are also required to report to police if they witness or are told about possible sexual misconduct or dating violence occurring on campus.

Yet LSU ignored complaints against abusers, denied victims’ requests for protections and left them vulnerable to further harm by known perpetrators, USA TODAY’s reporting has found. LSU has also withheld records in abuse cases, including from one woman who had to file a lawsuit last year to get an unredacted copy of her own police report.

Its failings came even after a 2018 report by LSU’s lead Title IX investigator showed that top athletic department administrators were keeping sexual misconduct allegations in house in violation of both federal and school policies. A year before that, a Louisiana advocacy group for sexual trauma survivors told the university it had concerns with how the athletic department was handling sexual assault prevention efforts. LSU never responded.

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USA TODAY’s reporting has found a pattern of indifference, inaction and, in some cases, outright hostility by LSU officials to complaints of harm against women on campus. 

At least nine LSU football players have been reported to police for sexual misconduct and dating violence since coach Ed Orgeron took over the team in September 2016, 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 a former girlfriend. 

At least nine LSU football players have been reported to police for sexual misconduct and dating violence since coach Ed Orgeron took over the team in September 2016, records show. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images)

Multiple officials in LSU’s athletic department were aware of abuse allegations against Davis, USA TODAY found,  including several with direct knowledge of the physical violence. But they sat on that information, and the silence allowed Davis to repeatedly harm the woman he was eventually convicted of abusing, former LSU tennis player Jade Lewis.

LSU did not discipline at least five of the other players, USA TODAY found, including star running back Derrius Guice. LSU was told of two rape allegations against Guice, as well as a complaint that he took a semi-naked photo of a woman and shared it with at least one other person.  

Rather than pursuing the complaints as federal law and school policy required, USA TODAY found LSU either doubted the women’s stories, didn’t investigate or didn’t call the police. 

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.

In a fourth case, LSU deferred the suspension of a man who stalked and sexually harassed a fellow student, even after he’d pleaded no contest in court to telephonic harassment. 

LSU also appears not to have publicly disciplined former head football coach Les Miles despite outside investigators finding his conduct improper after he was accused of sexually harassing and making sexist comments about student workers, USA TODAY found. Miles was fired three years later, in 2016, after LSU started the season 2-2.

USA TODAY’s reporting on LSU’s failures to protect women on its campus drew outrage from students and community leaders, including Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. In response, interim president Thomas Galligan announced Nov. 16 that the school had hired Husch Blackwell, and he and athletic director Scott Woodward pledged that LSU would “take responsibility for righting any wrongs that may have occurred in the past, and for making sure that we do all we can to prevent similar circumstances from happening in the future.”

But Woodward raised questions about LSU’s commitment to that last month, when he indicated in an interview with Baton Rouge television station WAFB that current employees were not the problem. Asked specifically if Orgeron or executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry were in jeopardy, Woodward said no.

Verge Ausberry, LSU Executive Deputy Athletics Director / Executive Director of External Relations (Photo: Steve Franz/ LSU Athletics)

USA TODAY has found that Ausberry twice failed to report abuse allegations against Davis, including not disclosing for more than four months an April 2018 text message in which Davis confessed to punching Lewis in the stomach. Ausberry also told Calise Richardson, who had reported in 2016 that Davis had abused her while they were dating, that he “didn’t want to hear anymore” when she went to him after Davis’ arrest in 2018, telling her to talk to Miriam Segar, a senior associate athletic director. 

Ausberry and football recruiting director Sharon Lewis both told Jeffrey Scott, LSU’s lead Title IX investigator, in 2018 that it was their practice to steer complaints to Segar rather than directly to the Title IX coordinator, as was required. Lewis was found to have violated LSU’s Title IX policy for not reporting Richardson’s initial complaint in 2016, but was not disciplined. 

“Verge is 100 percent on board with the Husch Blackwell investigation, cooperating with them, helping them,” Woodward told WAFB. “Verge is a very, very good employee in very good standing. Everything should be fine.”

Miriam Segar, LSU Senior Associate Athletics Director / Senior Woman Administrator (Photo: LSU Athletics)

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According to the 2013 investigation report, Miles was accused by athletic department staff of saying that the female student workers who helped the football team lure top recruits needed to be attractive, blonde and fit, according to the investigative report. Existing student employees who did not meet this criteria should be given fewer hours or terminated, the report details.

But Miles’ interest in some employees extended beyond their hiring, according to women interviewed by the investigators. One worker, identified as Student No. 2, said Miles took an interest in her career and suggested he could help. 

He asked her to put her number in his phone under an alias and said that he would do the same. They texted each other and arranged for a time to meet again. At some point, the two met off campus and she got into his car and drove around. 

During the ride, the student told investigators, Miles suggested “that they go to a hotel together and mentioned his condo as another meeting place. He also complimented her on her appearance and said he was attracted to her.” He then kissed her twice, the woman told investigators. 

The report says Miles also texted at least one other former student employee using a personal phone that LSU had no knowledge of or way to monitor. The student said she wasn’t uncomfortable with it, though she found it unusual. The investigator found it “troubling,” she wrote, that other department employees addressed the situation by telling the student to ignore the texts; the employees “implied that others had similar experiences,” the report says.

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