Florida State University officials and Tallahassee police took steps to both hide, and then hinder, the criminal investigation into a rape allegation against the school’s Heisman-trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston last fall, a FOX Sports investigation has found.
The upshot: University administrators and Winston’s attorney, Tim Jansen, had a head start on the state attorney in Tallahassee responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious crimes. Florida State administrators, for instance, had all the police reports at least four days before State Attorney Willie Meggs was handed the case.
After learning in December of 2013 that no charges would be filed, FOX Sports examined thousands of pages of documents — including law enforcement files, e-mails and other correspondence as well as video and audio interviews conducted by detectives and other records — through a series of requests filed with multiple agencies under Florida’s public records laws.
Among the findings:
• The university’s police chief obtained original police reports as well as supplemental reports from Tallahassee police on Nov. 8, 2013, at least four days before the case was turned over to Meggs, the local prosecutor responsible for investigating serious crimes and filing criminal charges.
• Two critical witnesses — Florida State football players who said they were present the morning of the alleged assault — discussed the case with Winston’s lawyer and ultimately signed affidavits at his behest backing the quarterback’s version of the incident. That happened before law enforcement officers tried to talk to them about what they saw and remembered, a dramatic road block in the state attorney’s effort to determine whether Winston should be charged with rape.
• That same high-ranking administrator in the athletic department sought information from the university’s police chief about a reporter seeking the reports on the allegations against Winston.
• The second-highest ranking officer in the campus police department ran interference with another reporter seeking information about the allegations, terming them a “rumor” that he was glad he could “dispel.”
• Both of those police officials were involved in updating Florida State administrators on the case and helping formulate the school’s public relations response in the first days after the explosive story became public.
These new revelations come as Florida State is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation into its handling of the rape allegation against Winston in December 2012. After his DNA was matched to genetic material found on the woman’s underwear, his attorney asserted publicly that they’d had a consensual sexual encounter. Investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are looking at whether the university’s administrators complied with the requirements of the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX.
Among the things that federal investigators can examine is the conduct of school administrators once they learn of an alleged sexual assault. Title IX requires that colleges and universities receiving federal money conduct prompt investigations into allegations of sexual assault against students if they know about them — or should know about them.
In this case, the woman who alleged she was raped made her initial report to the university’s police department within hours of the incident. The university police then turned the case over to the Tallahassee Police Department after determining the incident occurred off-campus. School administrators, by their own admission, did not attempt to interview Winston until January 2014 and contend the woman was uncooperative up until August 2014 — something her attorneys vehemently dispute.
Winston, whose attorneys have repeatedly maintained is innocent of any wrongdoing, separately faces a university investigation into his conduct, which is being carried out under Title IX. Although that investigation cannot result in criminal charges, he could be accused of violating the school’s student code of conduct. If he were to be convicted of a serious violation of the Florida State conduct code, such as sexual misconduct, the penalty could be as severe as expulsion.
Friday, in the face of repeated inquiries in recent weeks by FOX Sports and other media organizations, Florida State University officials released an “open letter” to the school community that included a timeline in the case. In that letter, Florida State officials acknowledged for the first time that officials in the athletic department helped Winston find an attorney and failed to notify the school’s Title IX coordinator.
“The first time anyone at FSU outside the campus police and Victim Advocate Program learned about the alleged sexual assault was in January 2013, when a Tallahassee PD detective called the athlete on his cellphone,” the school’s letter said, in part. “The athlete immediately notified the Athletics Department, where officials referred him and his family to a Tallahassee attorney.”
The school’s letter also said that athletic department officials failed to notify the school’s Title IX coordinator — an issue that federal investigators are almost certain to examine closely.
John Clune and Baine Kerr, two attorneys for the woman who alleged Winston raped her, released a statement in response to the Florida State letter calling it “a little preventive damage control.”
In the weeks leading up to today’s release, multiple Florida State officials failed to respond to requests for interviews from FOX Sports.
Browning Brooks, a spokeswoman the school has designated to field questions about the allegations against Winston, declined in an email to discuss the actions of Florida State administrators or their communications with law enforcement officials about the incident, saying she could not respond “because you are asking about a specific case.”
Brooks also declined a follow-up request for an interview for this story and has repeatedly cited student privacy laws as the reason she could not comment.
Tallahassee police officer David Northway, the department’s spokesman, did not respond to multiple messages left by both telephone and e-mail.
Meggs, the top prosecutor in Florida’s capital city for nearly 30 years, told FOX Sports recently he was handicapped in trying to conduct a proper investigation of the case. Meggs said he called attention to the fact that university officials apparently turned copies of the police report over to Winston’s attorney days before his office even knew the allegation existed.
“Then he starts preparing a defense before we even know there’s a case,” Meggs said.
Jansen, who has routinely been accessible to reporters, did not respond to multiple messages left in recent weeks by FOX Sports, both at his office and on his cell phone.
All of this played out last fall while Winston was dazzling the world of college football, leading Florida State to the top of the polls. He ultimately won the Heisman Trophy and quarterbacked the Seminoles to their first national championship in 14 years.
At the center of the storm is an incident at Winston’s off-campus apartment early the morning of Dec. 7, 2012.
A then-18-year-old Florida State student reported to campus and then city police that she’d gone out with friends to a popular Tallahassee night spot known as Potbelly’s, that she sneaked several drinks, and that at one point someone she did not know bought her a shot. After she consumed it, she told detectives her memories were broken but that she ended up in a cab with several people, was taken to an apartment, and then was raped in a bedroom and, later, in a bathroom.
She described the apartment complex as “looking like a hotel” that included two buildings with an open area between them. She said the attack happened in a ground-floor apartment, that the door on the bedroom where it occurred was broken, and that the room had its own private bathroom. She described the sheets on the bed as being red and gold, in a polka-dot pattern. She said there were two scooters parked outside, one red, one black.
She told police her attacker then put her on a scooter and drove her to campus, dropping her off, and that she then returned to her dorm and called a friend, who convinced her to report the incident. She said she did not know her attacker.
Five weeks later, after the spring term began at Florida State, the woman was in a class when she saw the man she believed assaulted her. She listened for a professor to call his name, wrote it down, and called a detective.
That was on Jan. 10, 2013.
The investigator had a follow-up conversation with the woman the next day, and within hours investigators knew a lot about Winston, who at the time was highly regarded recruit but, as a red-shirt freshman, had yet to appear in a game or throw a football or baseball for the Seminoles.
But an e-mail obtained by FOX Sports shows that at 12:44 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2013, Tallahassee police detective Scott Angulo, the lead investigator on the case, sent a memo to his boss detailing his discussion with the woman. He listed Winston’s name, birthday, and the fact that he was African American. He also wrote something else: “Winston is a FSU football player.”
“This is a case from 12/7,” Angulo wrote. “I had no real leads; however, the victim called me and said that she believes the suspect is in one of her classes. She was able to find out his name. … Winston does live in the area that she remembers going that night. His complex is set up like the vic described. He is of similar size.”
Angulo noted something else: He already had a phone number for Winston. Less than two weeks earlier, the manager of the apartment where he lived called police and said that the quarterback and several teammates had caused an estimated $4,000 in broken windows at the complex during a pellet- and BB-gun battle.
But a separate e-mail, which was sent from a Tallahassee police investigator to a lieutenant, shows that detectives first talked to Winston on Jan. 22 — 11 days after the woman first reported his name to officers. And that after investigators called Winston and asked him to submit for an interview the detective was contacted by someone at Florida State — the e-mail identifies the person as “the athletic directors assistant” but does not give a name.
The following day, Winston didn’t show up for his scheduled interview. Instead, Jansen, his attorney, did.
“It was apparent he was on a fact-finding mission,” the detective wrote in the e-mail.
Meggs was highly critical of Tallahassee police — including the way investigators dealt with Winston.
Then in February 2013, Tallahassee police put the case on the shelf. Angulo wrote in the report that the woman was uncooperative — something her attorneys have repeatedly disputed.
There are no records showing that detectives ever attempted to interview Chris Casher, Winston’s roommate, despite the fact the woman told detectives that she met a freshman football player named Chris at Potbelly’s in the hours before the alleged assault.
Casher was one of only two freshmen named “Chris” on the football team that year.
Meggs shakes his head at the missed opportunity — one that would become more glaring when considered against the actions of Florida State administrators and Winston’s attorney.
“How long does it take to figure out who that is?” Meggs asked. “Three to five minutes. Then you know who your suspect is because you figure out who his roommate is.”
Fast-forward nine months. Winston was in the midst of a dream season. Florida State was headed to the top of the college football world. The investigation into the alleged rape was mothballed.
Then, on Nov. 8, 2013, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times contacted Tallahassee police and requested copies of reports of the alleged rape involving Winston.
The first move by Tallahassee police? A records clerk, acting at the behest of the department’s spokesman, forwarded the reports to David Perry, chief of the Florida State University Police Department. That occurred at 3:41 p.m., according to an e-mail obtained by FOX Sports.
The e-mail showed that Perry was given both the case report and a supplemental report, which detailed follow-up investigation. Both attachments included the Tallahassee Police Department’s case number: 12-32758.
Over the next 3 1/2 hours, Perry and the records clerk exchanged two e-mails, which FOX Sports obtained. In the first, the campus police chief sought information about the reporter who had asked for the records. And when the records clerk responded, he told him the name of the paper and said “we have not released it yet waiting to hear from victim and a legal opinion.”
At 8:53 that night, the campus police chief forwarded the e-mail chain to Monk Bonasorte, senior associate athletic director for internal operations. That e-mail included the attachments that contained the police reports.
Bonasorte, a highly decorated defensive back for the Seminoles from 1977 to 1980, is the athletics administrator who has gotten involved when several Florida State athletes have been in trouble. The newly obtained documents buttress some information that was made public last December, after Meggs decided not to file charges in the case. For instance, after Winston and several teammates admitted breaking 13 windows at their apartment complex, it was Bonasorte who stepped in and dealt with the property owner. The property owner opted not to file charges; Bonasorte had assured him the players would pay for repairs.
In an e-mail to Perry obtained by FOX Sports, Bonasorte asked, “Do we no (sic) if its sports dept?” He was apparently trying to determine whether the reporter was a sportswriter.
Neither Perry nor Bonasorte responded to phone or e-mail requests for comment. But their involvement in the case continued the next day, a Saturday. Florida State was on the road at Wake Forest, a game they would win 59-3.
At 10:55 a.m., Elliott Finebloom, assistant athletic director and sports information director, sent an e-mail to Bonasorte detailing the reporters’ background and résumé — including papers where he had worked.
That was followed a short time later by a back and forth about whether the report had been released.
Told it had not, Bonasorte responded to Perry: “You will let me know when it gets released? I will talk to Jimbo, if released or not … Is Tpd legal trying to block it?”
That e-mail was sent at 11:34 a.m. and refers to Florida State’s head football coach, Jimbo Fisher. It is not clear from the e-mail when — or if — Bonasorte told Fisher that a reporter was trying to get the reports on Winston.
Sometime over the next two days that report made its way to Jansen, Winston’s lawyer.
On Nov. 12, Jansen called Patricia Carroll, an attorney and family friend who was advising the woman who accused Winston of rape, and left a message. They would not talk until the next day, but Carroll suspected from the message that Jansen already had a copy of the police report, and she expressed that fear in a call to a Tallahassee police sergeant that day.
That same afternoon, at 1:25 p.m., detective Angulo added an update to the report that hadn’t been altered for nearly nine months. In it, he wrote: “I have had no communications with the victim in this case; therefore, the case remains open but inactive.”
He included the results of various forensic tests that had been performed months earlier.
It is not clear what sparked him to get back into the report and add to it — he hadn’t done that in March or August when lab reports had come back with results in the case.
But he quickly communicated to a sergeant that he’d changed the report.
“Just signed the supp.,” Sgt. Joanna Baldwin wrote in an e-mail to Angulo at 3:41 that afternoon. “Please make sure the SAO (state attorney’s office) gets an email copy of all of the reports as soon as possible.”
Almost exactly 96 hours had passed since Tallahassee police officials forwarded the report to Florida State’s police chief.
In the meantime, one of Florida State’s top cops appears to have sought to discourage a reporter from pursuing the story.
At 8:42 that night, a reporter for the celebrity gossip website TMZ sent an e-mail to FSU police Maj. Jim Russell, who serves as the department’s deputy chief, seeking information that Winston had been questioned by campus police “in regards to a woman accusing him of sexual assault.”
Russell responded 15 minutes later: “I can advise you that Jameis Winston is not under any investigation by the FSUPD, nor has he been questioned regarding any criminal case by the FSUPD. I just called the on-duty shift to make sure nothing was breaking right now and they report nothing regarding Winston going on. Thank you for contacting me regarding this rumor – I am glad I can dispel that one.”
Russell’s e-mail was accurate — at least, technically. But Winston, at that point, was the subject of an investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department, not the university police department.
A few minutes later, Russell sent an e-mail to FSU Police Chief Perry and Jeanette M. DeDiemar, associate vice president for integrated marketing and communications: “Wow — crazy! Rumor control!”
The next day, Nov. 13, 2013, Meggs was notified of the allegation against Winston.
Jansen acknowledged to Carroll that he had the police reports. According to her, Jansen said he got them from “a guy” he knew when she demanded to know how it was that he had the reports of an open criminal investigation.
Also on Nov. 13, Jansen sat down with Winston’s roommate, Casher, and another Florida State teammate, Ronald Darby. Both swore out nearly identical statements for a notary in which they asserted that they had seen a portion of the sexual encounter between Winston and the woman and it appeared consensual. The notary was hired by Jansen.
That deprived state investigators of one thing detectives always want when trying to talk to a suspect or a witness — the element of surprise. Investigators always hope for the opportunity to talk to people separately, before they can have a chance to compare their stories.
Jansen delivered those affidavits to Meggs’ office that same day.
“I became pretty much of the belief that somebody had gotten (Winston’s) reports to his defense attorney, because he had already talked to our witnesses,” Meggs told FOX Sports. “If he didn’t know about it, how does he know to interview them and get affidavits?”
Meggs said he wasn’t bothered that Tallahassee police shared the report with campus police — but that he remains mystified that campus police then shared it with other administrators at the school, a move he said was wrong.
“Tim Jansen knew more about the so-called investigation than we did,” Meggs said. “He’s telling me things and asking me questions about things only I ought to know.
“It does handicap a case.”
It has been long suspected that someone slipped Jansen the police report before turning it over to Meggs, but until now it had never been clear who could have acted as the conduit from the Tallahassee Police Department to the attorney.
Meggs told FOX Sports that in hindsight he has wondered whether he should have sought a search warrant for Jansen’s office to retrieve the reports and seek answers about who got them. However, he said he believes strongly that someone in the athletic department at Florida State turned them over to Winston’s lawyer.
That evening, Nov. 13, 2013, TMZ broke the story of the Winston investigation.
The next day, Meggs had put together a team of people to dig into the case and see if charges should be filed. It included some of the Tallahassee police detectives who had originally been involved in the case.
Two of those investigators, Tallahassee detective Angulo and his colleague Paul Osborn, went to the Florida State campus in an attempt to interview Casher and Darby.
The details of that episode were previously known, but they abut the image that emerged in the FOX Sports investigation of Jansen’s and Bonasorte’s interaction with the detectives.
According to a Tallahassee police report, when the detectives arrived “we were met by Monk Bonasorte.”
“Bonasorte then stated he believed Jansen had already arranged legal representation for Casher and Darby,” Angulo wrote. “While we were present, Bonasorte made phone contact with who he said was attorney Jansen. Following the phone call, Bonasorte informed us that Darby had obtained an attorney, but that Casher had not. Bonasorte had staff summon Casher to the Moore Athletic Center. Bonasorte then stated he would be Casher’s representative. Bonasorte is not an attorney so we explained that, in order to protect the integrity of the case, he would not be allowed to be present.”
The next day, Nov. 15, 2013, DeDiemar, associate vice president for integrated marketing and communications, summoned a number of people to a meeting to discuss the case.
Among those asked to be there were FSU campus police chief Perry and deputy chief Russell; Mary Coburn, the vice president for student affairs, and her husband, David Coburn, a college roommate of then-FSU President Eric Barron and a principal in the legislative consulting firm Capital Analytics; Carolyn Egan, general counsel to the university; Bonasorte; and media and communications specialists from both the athletic department and the administration.
The agenda was simple: “Get around the table to 1) be brought up to date regarding case and 2) review media relations, social media and communications needs for the next 72 hours.”