Suit comes after criminal charges weren't filed

Updated: October 28, 2003, 9:51 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Two years after a woman alleged she was gang-raped by University of Colorado football players and recruits, court documents suggest the men escaped charges because prosecutors thought they had "third party consent" to have sex with the drunken, sleeping woman.

The alleged assault by several players and recruits took place at an off-campus party during a "recruiting weekend" intended to persuade high school players to join the team.

Although prosecutors believed the woman's account, they decided against filing charges because the men had been promised sex by a player and a student who organized the party, according to a lawsuit filed against the university by the woman.

"They had been built up by the players to believe that the situation they were going into was specifically to provide them with sex," Boulder County District Attorney Mary Keenan said in a sworn statement included in a court filing Monday.

"Their mind-set coming into it was that it was consensual because they had been told it had been set up for that very purpose, and that's what was going to happen," Keenan's statement said.

The case caused a scandal and prompted some recruiting reforms when it came to light in 2001, but the most serious criminal charges to result from the party were against four players accused of providing alcohol to minors.

The woman's lawsuit alleges the university fosters an environment that encourages sexual harassment by enticing recruits with promises of sex.

Plaintiff Lisa Simpson, 21, originally filed her case as "Jane Doe" but later voluntarily dropped the pseudonym, saying she wanted to set an example that sex assault victims don't need to feel ashamed. She is still a student at CU.

In the suit, Simpson says a female student who is a tutor for the athletic department arranged with a player to have a "girl's night in" party at Simpson's apartment on Dec. 7, 2001, knowing that players and recruits would show up later.

The lawsuit alleges that the tutor wanted the women to get drunk so they would have sex with the players and recruits, who were visiting the campus after CU won the Big 12 football championship.

Sometime after about 16 players and recruits arrived at the party, Simpson went into a bedroom and lay down because she was drunk and tired, the lawsuit says.

She awoke to find two recruits removing her clothes. The recruits raped her, and after several other players and recruits surrounded her bed in the dark, at least two forced her to perform oral sex, according to a motion filed in the case this week.

Altogether, six to eight athletes were involved, the motion alleges.

Only an excerpt of Keenan's deposition was included in the court filing, and her staff said she was unavailable to comment Tuesday. University spokeswoman Pauline Hale said she couldn't comment because the matter was in litigation.

In her deposition, Keenan said that to prosecute, she would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the woman hadn't consented and that the athletes knew there was a lack of consent.

"... It was my opinion, based on what I knew about the case, that the recruits had third-party consent that had nothing to do with Lisa Simpson but that would be taken into consideration in a trial," her statement says.

The documents also quote campus police Lt. Michelle Irving as saying she believed assistant coach E.J. "Doc" Kreis helped the recruits and players agree on a story before they talked to police about the incident.

Kreis, who now works at UCLA, didn't return a telephone call requesting comment.

The filing also says head coach Gary Barnett continued to try to sign one of the recruits, even after Irving and the campus police chief told him of "overwhelming" evidence that the woman was assaulted.

The coach got angry at the officers and accused them of being out of line, the filing says, quoting from Irving's deposition.

The lawsuit alleges that the university failed to crack down on its recruiting program after a 17-year-old Niwot High School student said she was raped by either a football player or recruit at a recruiting party in 1997.

One player was charged with providing alcohol to minors in that case, and the district attorney's office warned school officials they needed to reign in the recruiting program, the lawsuit says.

"We think this case is important in ways that go beyond individual acts and individual harm, terrible as those are," Simpson's lawyer, Baine R. Kerr, said Tuesday.

"The case is about institutional reform, and it is reform in a program and culture that is part of a university that is symptomatic of problems elsewhere," he said.

After Simpson's case, the university imposed a 1 a.m. curfew on recruits during campus visits and began requiring them to sign a statement promising to adhere to behavior standards.

Simpson wants a judge to order CU to institute a "zero-tolerance" sexual harassment policy and harassment awareness training for all varsity athletes.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press