Ex-athletic department employee to come forward

Updated: March 11, 2004, 5:21 PM ET
Associated Press

AURORA, Colo. -- One of the women who has accused University of Colorado football athletes of rape may be interested in telling her story if she can be assured of confidentiality, an official said Tuesday.

Jacqueline St. Joan, a member of the independent panel investigating the school's recruiting scandal, said the former athletic department employee might consider talking if her identity and what she says are protected.

The comments came during the second meeting of a panel appointed by the university's Board of Regents to investigate the scandal. Seven women have accused football players or athletes of rape since 1997, though no charges have been filed.

Three of the women have sued the school in federal court, saying they were raped at or just after a 2001 off-campus party. The women, who are seeking unspecified damages and policy changes, say the school fostered a hostile environment in violation of federal Title IX rules.

The Colorado attorney general is also investigating whether criminal charges are warranted. Football coach Gary Barnett has been placed on leave pending the outcome of the school's investigation.

The investigating panel does not have subpoena power and lawmakers have said they are not interested in giving it to them. Three private investigators told the panel Tuesday that offering confidentiality to people being interviewed would be crucial.

St. Joan did not discuss further details about the alleged victim who might come forward but said it was a client of attorney Allison Lee.

Last week, Lee released a letter of apology from an athlete accused of rape that says, "I am so sorry that I have caused you pain."

The woman in that case worked for the school's athletic department when she reported being raped in September 2001. She said the player was visiting her in her apartment; he said the sex was consensual.

In the end, she didn't pursue criminal charges, saying she feared she would lose her job. She also said Barnett told her he would back his player against her claim "100 percent" if she went forward.

District Attorney Mary Keenan, who has accused Colorado of using sex and alcohol to lure football recruits, has said she wasn't aware of the woman's job fears.

According to a Boulder police report, the woman met on Oct. 1, 2001, with Barnett and two other department officials, Steve Willard and Brian Winkelbauer. Lee said Barnett promised the player would undergo treatment, and later Willard, who was the woman's boss, asked if a letter of apology from the player would help. She said yes.

"I am so sorry for what I have done to you," the letter says. "I am so sorry that I have caused you pain. I would have never thought, not in a million years, that I would hurt someone like this. ... This is not who I am."

The letter ends with, "P.S. I am so sorry!!!"

The university has hired a special assistant, John DiBiaggio, to examine the culture of the university athletic department and report back to school officials.

DiBiaggio, who met for about an hour with the panel, said the football program has a thorough handbook that defines expected behavior but said the question is whether those policies are enforced.

"If, indeed, everything in the handbook was religiously followed, I don't think we'd be here today," he told reporters. He said responsibility for enforcing the handbook lies with coaches, athletic directors and, ultimately, university presidents.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press