Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stonewall's Mortar Crumbles

November 20, 2007, 7:45 a.m.

Now the Governor; UI, this is Not Good

Who failed to notice the oncoming locomotive when they circled the wagons around the Pentacrest on the railroad track?

To recap: Last Wednesday state and local law enforcement were seen searching dorm rooms at the University of Iowa's Hillcrest dormitory. The story was that allegations of a sexual assault on October 14 had led to investigations of two or more Hawkeye football players.

On Thursday, November 15 I blogged, Nicholas Johnson, "Culling the Flock; How About Them Hawks?" November 15, 2007 -- proposing that one thing the athletic program might try (beyond its characterization of 10% of the team being in trouble with the law as merely "cyclical") would be a more thorough vetting of recruits' high school records before bringing them onto the UI campus.

Two Stories -- Not One.

On Friday I noted that there are really two stories here, with very different needs for confidentiality. Nicholas Johnson, "Trouble in River City; Locker Room Update: What Can We Know, and When Can We Know It?," November 16, 2007.

Those who argue -- as do a couple of comments on these blog entries -- that the mainstream and blogging media should leave the university alone at this time conflate those two stories. The distinctions are crucial here.

One story involves those being investigated, and the woman who is alleged to be their accuser. Until there have been formal fact findings, either as a result of a trial or otherwise, she is entitled to a presumption that her complaint is factually based, presented honestly and in good faith. Similarly, those being investigated are entitled to a presumption of "innocent until proven guilty." Both presumptions require a measure of confidentiality -- as to the identity of the parties, and any early results of whatever investigation is underway, not to mention the whirlwind of gossip.

The other story involves the silence of UI administrators -- what the Press-Citizen characterizes in its editorial this morning as a "massive public relations train wreck that is unfolding in Iowa City." The second story does not enjoy a presumption of a need for confidentiality. That story has almost no connection whatsoever to the other. It is the story of, as I put it earlier, among those UI administrators with responsibility for handling such things, "what did they know? When did they know it? And what did they do about it?"

Apparently all who could speak to these questions have taken a group blood oath of silence. Now, I hasten to add, it could be that they have a good reason for their silence. I can't imagine what it would be, but it's possible. Obviously, if any of them have violated state laws, or UI regulations, and are themselves under investigation then concerns of confidentiality would arise for them as they do for the players. Regardless of what the reasons may be, until the questions regarding their behavior are answered, or explanations are offered for their silence, the hole they have dug for themselves just gets deeper by the hour. (As the paper puts it, "The longer those questions go unanswered, the worse it becomes for the university.")
The next thing we knew, Board of Regents President Michael Gartner was asking UI President Sally Mason for precisely this kind of explanation, as I blogged on the 16th. Nicholas Johnson, "Football Story Has Muscular Legs; If UI Won't Talk, Regents Will," November 18, 2007.

In that blog entry there were many sub-headings, one of which read, "Why are local papers avoiding this story?" -- and by "this story" meaning the second, the story about UI administrators' action, inaction, and silence.

Now this morning, we read that the Governor is similarly curious, and the Press-Citizen devotes nearly a half of its editorial page to calls for information from the University about this second story. Rob Daniel, "Culver Wants 'Thorough Investigation'; Expects UI to Assess Procedures Followed in Alleged Assault," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2007, p. A1 ("I . . . expect the University to quickly assess whether the right internal procedures were followed and to be forthcoming with the public about the results of that assessment . . ."), and Editorial, "Time for UI to Provide Some Answers," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2007, p. A11.

Not incidentally, so far as a quick scan of the papers revealed, the Press-Citizen was the only paper to mention the Governor's involvement -- and certainly to give it page one play.

See generally the chronology of events (in both these stories) under the November 18 blog entry's sub-heading, "The Register's chronology" -- items that I pulled from Register stories and then organized chronologically.

Speaking of which, there is one possible error in the Press-Citizen's news story this morning. The paper says the October 14 incident was reported to the UI police on November 7. (a) Apparently Campus Police received a "rape kit" from the UIHC on October 14. (b) The chief says it received the report on November 5, and November 7 is simply the date it became public.

The editorial notes that the press was on the first story as early as October 14. It also discusses the propriety of continuing to keep the search warrants sealed after they have been executed, since the statute provides the general rule is that after the search is completed the warrant becomes a public document -- although they can remain sealed for an additional 60 days, which is apparently what was done here.

I'm a little less upset about this than the Press-Citizen. Opening the search warrants gets a little closer to the integrity of any possible trial, as well as the legitimate privacy interests of the parties -- even if, as the paper suggests, their names have been redacted.

Moreover, the legitimacy of this judgment call by the county attorney and judge is reinforced by what must be their realization that if their decision to seal is subsequently revealed to have been a move more motivated by a desire to serve the athletic program's public relations interests than to serve the interests of justice and transparency, they will pay a price at that time for their decision.

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Anonymous said...

I applaud the County Attorney and others who decided to seal the warrants. The Press Citizen and DM Register are not responsible enough to cover this situation without needless sensationalism. Further, their reporters lack the intellectual depth needed to report this story in a fair way. They want nothing more than juicy details to help them sell more newspapers for their masters back in Virginia.

As if micro-managing the UI from the regents wasn't bad enough, now we have the Governor? How about being more concerned about the dying rural towns in Iowa? For the Love of God, let people do their jobs.

Anonymous said...

As a former dispatcher for the UI Police, I can tell you there is no incongruity in the dates the department was notified of the crime and the rape kit. It is routine for the department to receive rape kits from UIHC, even when there is officially not a crime to investigate. In order to allow traumatized women time to make their own decision about prosecuting, sexual assault nurses routinely encourage the collection of evidence - the so-called "rape kit" - without an actual decision to tell the police about the crime. A chain of custody is kept, and the kit is turned over to UIPD for evidence safekeeping. That happens even if the crime did not occur in their jurisdiction to preserve any evidence should the victim ever choose to prosecute. The police are only involved to the extent that they pick up the "kit," pair it with a victim's name, and store it.
This leads to a situation where a woman can refuse to talk to a police officer, deal only with a nurse, and still have her evidence preserved. I think it's a pretty good policy to encourage women to find their own way to prosecute these horrifying crimes without letting evidence get destroyed.