Lawsuit accuses TCU of fraud
FORT WORTH, Texas -- A lawsuit against TCU slated for trial this spring accuses the school of turning a blind eye toward the criminal records, unsavory behavior and academic failings of two of three athletes who were charged with sexually assaulting a coed in 2006.
Court records filed over recent months detail how football player Lorenzo Jones and basketball player Virgil Taylor entered the university with criminal histories and remained part of their respective teams even though their academic work and conduct were called into question.
The records describe how the 300-pound Jones remained in an English class even though the instructor considered him "dangerous," how Taylor was admitted to the university despite graduating 300th in his high school class of 377 and how both remained in good standing on their teams despite repeatedly being cited for misconduct on campus.
The documents have become public record as evidence in a state court lawsuit in which the student who accused the players of rape says the university engaged in fraud by telling her it didn't recruit "miscreant" athletes. The woman, who is no longer at TCU, goes by her initials in the lawsuit. The Associated Press generally does not identify people who allege they were sexually assaulted.
The prospect of a trial, scheduled for May 2, comes at a time when TCU athletics has received more attention than ever before, with the football team going undefeated and winning the Rose Bowl. The football success has put the small private school in the national spotlight and given it a berth in the Big East conference.
Susan Hutchison, an attorney for the plaintiff, said the missteps of Jones and Taylor should have put the university on notice.
"Once you realize there's an ongoing pattern of misconduct, it just adds up," she said.
TCU spokeswoman Lisa Albert said the university doesn't comment on ongoing litigation. Mark Cohen, director of athletic media relations and a spokesman for football coach Gary Patterson, also declined comment. In its court filings, TCU has said the incidents have been "blown out of proportion" by the plaintiff.
"We strongly disagree with the Plaintiff's position that TCU acted fraudulently in any communication with the Plaintiff and expect to establish that point in court," said George Haratsis, a Fort Worth attorney representing TCU, in an e-mail. "Once the incident that is the basis of this lawsuit came to the attention of TCU officials, TCU's response was immediate and forcible. The three students involved were immediately removed and ultimately expelled from the university. The university also provided appropriate care and support to the female student through its victim's advocacy program and cooperated with the local authorities."
Neither Jones nor Taylor has hired an attorney in the lawsuit. Taylor's mother declined to speak to the AP. Jones didn't respond to multiple phone messages.
The alleged incident occurred in a campus dormitory on Oct. 13, 2006. Jones, Taylor and basketball player Shannon Behling were indicted on sexual assault charges and expelled from the university for violating a policy against inflicting bodily injury or emotional harm.
More than a year later, the Tarrant County district attorney's office dropped the charges against the three athletes. Prosecutors have repeatedly declined to disclose a reason for their decision.
E-mails recently obtained by the AP show the woman agreed not to move forward after the lead prosecutor informed her that the case would be difficult to win.
In her lawsuit, the former student says she passed out after taking a sip from a sports drink offered by one of the athletes and woke up the next morning with her clothes inside out and her bra missing. Four days later, she suffered an outbreak of herpes so severe she required hospitalization.
The lawsuit doesn't provide any details about the prior conduct of Behling, who was at TCU only two months before he was expelled. Since 2008, he has been on the basketball team at Mississippi Valley State University, although he isn't playing due to an eligibility issue. Through William Bright, director of athletic communications, Behling declined a request to be interviewed.
The court filings raise particular questions about Jones, a defensive lineman who came to TCU in 2005 and played for the Horned Frogs until he was dismissed from the team two weeks before the alleged assault for missing meetings and practices.
The records detail how, just weeks before enrolling at the university, Jones pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in nearby McKinney, his hometown, but never completed the requirements of his probation, including attending an anger management class. Had he completed the requirements, the charge would have been dismissed.
In a court filing, TCU said a campus police officer became aware of Jones' misdemeanor assault case while investigating a burglary at the school in the summer of 2006. The filing makes no mention of whether the university took any action.
Not long after enrolling, Jones was nearly removed from his English class due to what the instructor described in an e-mail at the time as "verbal outbursts ... meant to intimidate and demean." However, Jones was allowed to remain in the class after the instructor met with an academic adviser from the athletic department and agreed that the player would be subject to rules outlined in a written contract.
In an affidavit prepared for the plaintiff's attorneys last year, the instructor, Billie Hara, said Jones "should never have been academically admitted to TCU" and that she felt threatened by his behavior.
"Developmentally [academically] Lorenzo Jones was simply not able to behave as a college student," she stated. Hara also said she felt pressured when the athletic department official visited her.
"I felt that now, not only was I dealing with a volatile and potentially dangerous student but also an athletic department that was pressuring me to keep a student in my class who should not be there," she said.
Later that school year, Jones failed to comply with a university directive that he complete 40 hours of community service after he was found in a dorm room where marijuana was present. As punishment, the university prohibited him from using his student ID card to charge items at the campus bookstore.
The records show that Taylor, a 6-foot-9 center, was admitted to the university in 2005 even though his high school academic record and test scores were well below TCU's standards.
Taylor's admission was authorized by the university's provost, according to a letter from admissions director Raymond Brown informing the player of the decision.
"Although your academic record falls short of our traditional admission criteria, selective universities grant a limited number of exceptions each year," Brown wrote.
At the end of his freshman year, Taylor tested positive for marijuana in a university-administered drug test, the records show.
If the test had been conducted by the NCAA, it would have resulted in a one-year suspension. But the university chose not to impose such a sanction on Taylor, who remained with the basketball program until he was dismissed from the team for unrelated reasons in September 2006.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press