Gov. Owens appoints AG as special prosecutor

Updated: February 27, 2004, 7:57 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Gov. Bill Owens appointed Colorado's attorney general Friday as a special prosecutor who will investigate the recruiting scandal at the University of Colorado, saying he wanted "no whitewash and no excuses."

Owens said school officials support the involvement of Attorney General Ken Salazar in a case that includes allegations of player rape and athletics officials who looked the other way.

"The university's reputation is being harmed by serious allegations against its football program and that program's recruiting practices," Owens said. "The reputations of this program and the university must be restored and this matter resolved quickly."

The school was plunged into scandal a month ago when details surfaced in federal lawsuits filed against the school by three women who say they were raped by football players or recruits at or just after a 2001 off-campus party.

The women say the school has fostered an environment so hostile it contributed to the sexual assaults. In all, seven women have accused Colorado football athletes of sexual assault since 1997, but no charges have been filed.

The scandal grabbed Owens' attention when attorneys representing the women in the federal suits released a deposition by Boulder prosecutor Mary Keenan in which she said the school used women and alcohol to lure recruits. Keenan also said she put the school "on notice" in 1998 to clean up its act.

In a statement, Keenan said she had asked Tuesday that the attorney general get involved to ease concerns that her involvement in the civil lawsuits might preclude the possibility of criminal charges.

"The public's confidence in the criminal process must be protected," she said. Keenan declined further comment when reached by telephone.

The governor said that Boulder police also supported his decision to get the attorney general involved.

"The allegations of sexual misconduct and rape, alcohol abuse and recruiting violations, and the potential role in all of this by university employees are well known," Owens said. "Of equal concern is the perception that a climate may exist within the athletic department that discourages the victims from reporting crimes.

"The facts need to be put on the table with no spin, no whitewash and with no excuses."

The Board of Regents already has appointed an independent panel to investigate and issue a report by April 30. Some have questioned whether the panel will be able to do its job in that time frame and wonder whether it will get any answers without subpoena power.

Owens and Salazar called on the Legislature to give subpoena power to the panel. Owens also said the commission should add a current or former prosecutor and a victims' advocate to give the university's investigation more credibility.

The announcement came after days of speculation about whether the governor would take a more active role in a scandal that has become one of the top stories in Colorado. Keenan and university President Betsy Hoffman, who this week hired a special assistant at $21,000 a month to oversee the athletics program, met several times recently with the governor and attorney general.

The state's flagship school has been hit with a barrage of allegations beyond sexual assault by its football players. A former employee admitted he used a university cell phone to call an escort service for his own use, and a striptease operator in Denver said athletes from Colorado and other schools have hired his strippers for years.

Last week, football coach Gary Barnett was suspended for criticizing the athletic ability of former player Katie Hnida after she came forward to say she was raped by a teammate in 2000. Barnett has said his comments were taken out of context.

On Thursday, a Denver television station released video made by a student in 2001 in which UC football players say their coaches encouraged them to cultivate relationships with police for special treatment.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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