A few minutes before 2 p.m. on December 9, 2014, campus police officers cordoned off the exits and entrances to San Diego State University’s Adams Humanities Building. Police cruisers surrounded the building as students walked toward their classrooms. Inside the building, then-20-year-old Francisco Paiva Sousa stood in the hallway waiting for his Western Civilization course to begin.
A police detective approached Sousa and told him he was a potential witness to a crime. He asked Sousa to accompany him and then handcuffed him. At that moment Sousa saw several police officers walking toward him from both ends of the hallway.
Sousa was taken to campus police headquarters. He sat inside an interrogation room waiting to answer questions about the crime he allegedly witnessed. As he waited, at 3:40 p.m., administrators sent a mass email to students and staff informing them that police had arrested Sousa for sexually assaulting a female student during a party the previous Sunday at the Theta Chi fraternity house.
The message read: “The victim identified the suspect and, after extensive investigation by detectives, police arrested SDSU student [Sousa] for PC 288A(C) (A)- oral copulation with force, and PC 236- false imprisonment with force. Sousa is in custody and being held at the San Diego County Jail.”
The “extensive investigation” described in the email was completed before interviewing Sousa. At approximately 4 p.m., two hours after being apprehended and nearly half an hour after the email was sent, detectives began their interview.
Officers told Sousa a female student had filed a complaint against him for forcing her into giving him oral sex inside a bathroom stall during a party at a frat house.
In her statement to police, the young woman, known only as Jane Doe, said she barely knew Sousa before running into him in the upstairs bathroom. She told campus police that Sousa grabbed her and violently kissed her. She said she did not remember pulling away; however, when the kiss ended, the two left the bathroom and returned to the party downstairs. Some hours later Jane Doe and Sousa, holding hands, returned to the same bathroom stall. It was then, according to her complaint, Sousa overpowered her.
Sousa remembered it differently. He told officers that it must have been a misunderstanding. He and the woman had hooked up prior to December. She had given him oral sex just weeks before at the same house in November. He had a picture on his phone from that night of the two kissing. As a reminder in his phone next to her contact information, Sousa wrote, “bico sigtopia” — “bico” is Portuguese slang for blow job, “sigtopia” the name given to the house where the encounter took place.
He had Facebook messages that showed the two had planned to meet at the party that night. On his phone were text messages from her after the party when the alleged assault had occurred. She told him she had lost her shirt at the party and then thanked him and wished him a “good night.”
There were other inconsistencies. Campus police were wrong about something else: the encounter did not take place at the Theta Chi frat house but at a house off-campus where some members lived.
After an hour or so, Sousa was arrested and transported to the San Diego County Jail. Outside the jail a Fox News television crew was staked out for his arrival. He was booked on suspicion of forced copulation and false imprisonment at 6:44 that evening, three hours after San Diego State officials sent the email. He spent the night in jail.
From his parents’ house in Portugal, Sousa recalls the embarrassment of having his friends watch as campus police carted him off. He remembers trying to convince officers to look at the evidence. Most of all, he shudders at the thought that his family and friends in Portugal woke up on December 10 to news headlines about his arrest.
Sousa barely mentions the girl who accused him. He directs his frustration toward San Diego State University more than anything.
Months before his arrest, the California State Auditor’s office blasted San Diego State University for failing to report sexual assaults on campus and for mishandling investigations. In September, a group of students demonstrated on campus upon learning that there were three reported sexual assaults on campus within 21 days. Less than two weeks before Sousa’s arrest, members from two fraternities heckled student activists as they marched during an anti-rape protest on November 21.
“Although the false accusations took place on a Sunday, they waited until Tuesday to arrest me. Not long after students invaded the president’s office complaining about the school’s inaction regarding sexual assaults. What a coincidence. I should have been innocent until proven guilty, not guilty to fulfill a political agenda.”
The manner in which police handled the investigation, says Sousa, shows they were more concerned about political pressure than with investigating the facts of his case.
“The police knew my schedule and where I lived, but they didn’t go to my house or talk to me or any of my friends, they came to get me from school. Honestly, when the officers started asking questions I thought I may be able to make it back to my class. Then I realized it would take longer and maybe I wouldn’t be home before dinner. I never imagined I would have to spend the night in the jail.”
During the interview Sousa remained optimistic.
“Once I knew what I was being accused of, I thought it would be a matter of time until I had cleared everything up. At that time I could never imagine how destructive and devastating this would become....
“This could have all been avoided had they given me the chance to show proof. The investigation was so poor, and the way they handled it so unprofessional, that they got the wrong address. Police officers didn’t go to the place where the accusations took place. If they had done so, they would have found many inconsistencies in the girl’s statement.”