Hepner Hall at SDSU
San Diego State University is under scrutiny for its handling of a sexual assault investigation. In a lawsuit filed on April 8 in San Diego Superior Court, a now-expelled student is suing the college for failing to conduct a fair hearing and for not providing the accused student details of the charges nor allowing him to submit evidence in his defense.
The student, Francisco Sousa, was arrested by police on December 9, 2014, on charges of false imprisonment and forced copulation of a female student.
Three days later, director of San Diego State's Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities, Lee Mintz, sent a letter to Sousa asking to meet with him to review the charges. Sousa faced expulsion from the school on grounds that he violated the federal government's Title IX law that bans sexual discrimination from college campuses.
That same day he requested to review the allegations against him as well as the woman's statements. Mintz, however, refused to provide the information.
"Mintz replied to the December 18 request promising to produce the information within the time period mandated under California Information Practices Act on December 18, 2014, concluding with ‘...The information will be sent to you as quickly as possible.' On December 19, 2014, Mintz responded, without citing any legal authority, that "[d]ue to the ongoing investigation, I am unable to provide you with a copy of the information that was/is the basis for the Title IX, interim suspension and disciplinary proceedings."
During the following month, Sousa requested the information on three occasions. All were rejected by the school. Through his attorney, Sousa offered to provide text messages and social media communications between him and his accuser which showed that the alleged assault was consensual.
On February 11, the district attorney's office declined to press charges against Sousa. Despite that, Mintz refused to hear Sousa's side of the story. Mintz also rejected his request to hold a hearing on the Title IX violations.
"Lee Mintz urged Petitioner to submit ‘information’ to her, informed him that he would not be entitled to a hearing on the Title IX portion of the matter, he would not have the right to confront his accuser, he has no right to direct participation of counsel, she would make findings of fact and reach conclusions of law and mete out a sanction, and he would not be entitled to an appeal. Lee Mintz further informed Petitioner that she could reach a decision in the Title IX portion of the investigation at any point and without a hearing."
Sexual assaults on college campuses and the manner in which they are dealt with by universities has come under scrutiny in recent months. During the past month, the federal Department of Education has indicated that it is investigating 106 universities for mishandling Title IX complaints and failing to hold hearings on the allegations. In an April 9 U-T San Diego article, University of California at San Diego was also sued for similar allegations from a male student accused of sexual assault.
Title IX gives the colleges the authority to investigate and hold hearings on alleged assaults. The hearings are not criminal hearings, but school administrators do have the authority to expel students. According to a November 6, 2014, investigation by KPBS, San Diego State University has held only four Title IX hearings since 2009. Last year, in response to increased pressure, San Diego State announced it had obtained a $200,000 grant to hire a campus sexual assault advocate.
But Sousa's complaint strikes at the heart of San Diego State's failure to follow Title IX requirements as well as the intense pressure colleges face to handle assaults on campus.
"...[I]n the Fall of 2014, just before and after petitioner's arrest, [San Diego State] was rocked by campus-wide protests demanding the [San Diego State] take immediate action regarding sexual violence reported against students. Over 13 assaults involving [San Diego State] students were reported the Fall of 2014. Petitioner believes that his due process rights have been subverted by immense political pressures bearing upon the University and specifically the administrators responsible for [San Diego State University's] Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities, Lee Mintz and Jessica Rentto."