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Gov. Owens appoints AG as special prosecutor

2/27/2004 - Colorado Buffaloes

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.