By Shehan Jeyarajah, City Editor
Former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu made national news after he was convicted of sexual assault in Waco’s 54th State District Court on Aug. 20. Soon after the verdict, the media flocked to Waco.
Baylor president and chancellor Ken Starr announced the university would undergo an internal investigation. After law professor Jeremy Counsellor completed it, Starr announced the school will be evaluated by outside counsel.
Rumors swirled about how Baylor mishandled the case. There were rumblings that football coach Art Briles could be ousted. National columnists decided to make an example of the university, and make it the focus of collegiate sexual assault scrutiny.
Sexual assault has become an epidemic on college campuses. According to the Washington Post, one in five women will be sexually assaulted while on college campuses. Less than 10 percent of those crimes will be reported.
The Justice Department estimates the aggregate effect on the U.S. economy, in terms of lost income due to aftereffects, is greater than any other crime. This has quickly become a key issue.
Samuel Ukwuachu is the son of Nigerian immigrants Felix and Roseline Ukwuachu. He was born in Houston and went to nearby Pearland High School. He was a two-time All-State football player in the highest classification of Texas high school football while playing both defensive end and wide receiver.
Pearland won a state championship during Ukwuachu’s senior season in 2010. A video of Ukwuachu catching a touchdown pass on a trick play in the state playoffs has garnered over 100,000 views on YouTube.
Out of high school, several power programs recruited Ukwuachu, including Baylor, Louisville and Arkansas. Ukwuachu decided he wanted to move away from home and play out of state, so he committed to coach Chris Peterson and the Boise State Broncos.
After a redshirt season in 2011, Ukwuachu burst onto the scene for Boise State in 2012. He started the Broncos’ last 12 games and finished with seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks on the way to being named a Freshman All-American. To everyone around him, Ukwuachu seemed to be becoming a star for Boise State.
Those facts are undisputed. From this point on, the story gets murky.
Ukwuachu was suddenly dismissed from Boise State’s football team on May 7, 2013, for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Peterson said at the time he expected to have Ukwuachu back for the summer and fall, simply saying, “He’s handling some personal stuff.”
Ukwuachu announced he was transferring to Baylor within the month. Transfer documents provided by Baylor athletics show that he was in good standing with Boise State University before he transferred.
His ex-girlfriend from Boise State testified that she and Ukwuachu had an abusive relationship, which opened questions about whether the university and football coach Art Briles knowingly accepted someone with a history of violence against women.
Peterson released a statement saying he “thoroughly apprised” Briles of the situation surrounding Ukwuachu. However, Ukwuachu was adamant in saying his dismissal was spurred by depression and mental health concerns.
Boise State University released a statement denying it had any knowledge of sexual assault or domestic violence. The school is opening up a Title IX investigation into the incidents. The statement appeared to corroborate Briles’ story.
Most of campus was celebrating on Oct. 20, 2013. A day earlier, Baylor football rolled over Iowa State 71-7 during the Homecoming game to move to 6-0 on the season. Football mania was reaching fever pitch.
But according to court records, it was the backdrop for Ukwuachu’s darkest day. The indictment was simple: Ukwuachu, a football player sitting out the year due to NCAA transfer rules, was charged with sexual assault on or about the 20th day of October in 2013.
That is all the information included in the public indictment. As with most sexual violence cases, detailed records were sealed from public consumption.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Bethany McCraw, associate dean for student conduct administration, completed an investigation. McCraw testified her investigation consisted of speaking to the relevant parties, friends of the witnesses, reviewing text messages and a polygraph test on Ukwuachu.
Baylor clarified in statements that the university does not have any right to view the results of a rape kit exam. Once the authorities are contacted, such an exam becomes property of the authorities. Any statements to the Baylor counseling center are also considered to be confidential and not available for investigation.
“We have no power to subpoena people,” Baylor Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford said. “I have no power to hold people under oath. However, I can compel members of the Baylor community to talk to my investigators. If people don’t come in, then they might be held accountable under the conduct office.”
Any Title IX investigation is not held to the “beyond reasonable doubt standard” that precedes a court of law. It is only required to meet the “preponderance of the evidence.”
By clearing Ukwuachu, McCraw did not believe the preponderance of the evidence proved enough to move forward. She was not alone.
The Waco police’s burden of proof to arrest is “probable cause.” The same is true to reach an indictment by a grand jury. Ukwuachu was not indicted until eight months later, even though law enforcement had access to the full complement of evidence. The case had been passed over from local police to investigation within the district attorney’s office by that point.
Deadspin pointed out that during pretrial motions, Judge Matt Johnson agreed with the prosecutors that McCraw’s investigation was inadmissible evidence. When it comes to the true power she had to investigate the case, including lack of subpoena and medical records, it becomes unclear how much more McCraw could have done during the immediate investigation.
REVICTIMIZING THE VICTIM
While the investigation seemed to meet standards, there is some doubt about Baylor’s ability to provide the victim with support in the aftermath of the allegations.
Ukwuachu was not removed from the university or classes at any point. In fact, Ukwuachu graduated with his undergraduate from Baylor in 2015. Like many other scholarship athletes, he had already begun taking graduate classes at Baylor.
The victim no longer attends Baylor. According to reports from the Waco Tribune-Herald from the trial, the victim transferred to another school after losing part of her scholarship due to failure to rehabilitate properly from a knee injury. Throughout the trial, she said Baylor was her dream school. She committed during her sophomore year of high school.
According to reports from Texas Monthly, the victim and Ukwuachu had classes together. Even though the victim was one of less than 10 percent of students on American college campuses who reported sexual assault, she was not accommodated. Instead, the victim had to alter her class schedule to avoid Ukwuachu.
In a series on sexual assault published in The Baylor Lariat in December 2013, McCraw and then-Title IX coordinator John Whelan emphasized the importance of avoiding revictimizing the complainants on campus.
“[Baylor considers] schedule changes if the victim and the perpetrator are in the same class or changes in living accommodations if they are living in the same residential building,” then-web editor David Trower wrote. “Baylor takes such steps to help prevent the victim from forced contact with the accused perpetrator.”
That article was published on Dec. 5, 2013, less than two months after the alleged incident. When approached after the conviction, Baylor’s media relations office declined comment on individual disciplinary cases.
Ukwuachu was not the only public case study. In January 2014, three months after Baylor’s investigation of Ukwuachu, former Baylor football player Tevin Elliott was convicted of two counts of sexual assault pertaining to a 2012 incident.
These two cases were fundamentally different. There were five separate witnesses who testified Elliott sexually assaulted them at some point. One victim testified she was assaulted twice in one night at a party on April 15, 2012. On April 27, Elliott was kicked off the football team. Three days later, he was arrested and charged with sexual assault.
After the trial, a victim’s parent told the Baylor Lariat that the victim was traumatized and seeing Elliott on campus caused her to do worse in school. Eventually, the victim lost her own academic scholarship and was forced to withdraw from the university for a stretch.
“[The victim]’s mother said Baylor faculty was not helpful in guiding her daughter during this academically stressful time,” according to staff writer Paula Ann Solis’s article .
BAYLOR’S TITLE IX GROWTH
Since 2013, the requirements surrounding university procedure on Title IX cases have changed dramatically. Perhaps the biggest change has been the increased authority given to Title IX offices nationwide.
“The conduct office was compliant with all rules at the time. There was never non-compliance,” Crawford said. “But Baylor and other universities decided that they needed to centralize this information and separate it from other conduct issues.
“Baylor was one of the first universities to identify that and give a full-time position to a Title IX coordinator and have two investigators.”
Crawford said the federal government sent out a letter in April 2015 that suggested schools hire a full-time Title IX coordinator; she had already been on the ground at Baylor for five months. Her first day was Nov. 18, 2014.
The Title IX coordinator has received an increased role the past months. Crawford can contact advising and change class schedules to separate complainants and alleged perpetrators. She can also change housing arrangements on campus.
“We’ll do everything within reason a person can do if a complainant wants it,” Crawford said. “It runs the gambit of building a holistic team around you so you can be successful and feel safe. If someone doesn’t feel safe, it’s very hard to be successful.”
Additionally, Crawford is making it a priority to educate as many members of the Baylor community as possible. Over the past two weeks, Crawford estimates she has spoken to 7,000 people.
Crawford gave a presentation to every incoming freshman on Aug. 25. She has given training sessions to every varsity athletic program at Baylor. Every staff member is required to complete an online training session by Oct. 1.
“I can’t do this job if I don’t care about it,” Crawford said. “I care about Baylor, but I care even more about this work. I’ve been planning this work for the last 10 months, even when it’s been hard.”
In addition to the steps taken by the Title IX office, Starr also created a position within athletic administration. The administrator will oversee student-athlete behavior and report directly to the president.
“Baylor University is committed to maintaining the highest degree of campus safety to protect the welfare of all our students,” Starr wrote in a statement. “This is central to Baylor’s mission as a Christian university and at the heart of our commitment to our students, faculty and staff. We must have zero tolerance for sexual violence on our athletic teams and our campus.”