In cases involving a man, a woman and a closed door, the difference between accusations and actualities can be difficult to assess. Verdicts rendered by the criminal justice system aren't always accurate, no matter which side they favor. Unfortunately, regardless of who's lying and who's not, both parties are stained.
That's simply how society views accusers and the accused in sexual assault cases. But we don't have to accept it quietly.
Dezmine Wells, a sophomore forward, was expelled from Xavier University on Aug. 21 for "a serious violation of the Code of Student Conduct," according to a school statement. This week, an Ohio grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against Wells for an alleged sexual assault. The county prosecutor raised serious questions about Xavier's decision, rendered by the school's Conduct Board, which is composed of faculty, students and administrators.
"There is something seriously flawed with a procedure where a young man and his accuser appear before a group of people, which I would suggest probably isn't very well trained in assessing these types of cases, and they sit there and tell their stories," prosecutor Joe Deters said in a statement. "No lawyers, nothing. There's just something wrong with that."
It's a wrong that Xavier won't right. There was no acknowledgment that Deters has a point. No apology to Wells for a rush to judgment. No invitation to return to school and rejoin the basketball team.
Instead, Xavier defended the process in a statement, pointing out that "Federal Law requires schools to act quickly and use the 'preponderance of the evidence' standard" opposed to the criminal justice system's "probable cause" and "beyond a reasonable doubt" standards.
None of that helps Wells restore his name or mend his image.
Even as he considers his next school — from a list that includes Maryland, Kentucky and Memphis — Wells has the taint of damaged goods.
No charges were pressed, but he was kicked out of school; the latter gets equal billing on his reputation report.
"I didn't think the process was fair," Wells told CBSSports.com. "I went into it as guilty and having to prove my innocence instead of them having to prove that I was guilty. I feel like everyone rushed the process and panicked. They went with a gut feel. I understand the severity of the accusations. Rape is one of the highest felonies in the world, but I think they just panicked."
Wells said the incident started innocently as a game of "Truth or Dare," and evolved into consensual sex — not sexual assault as his fellow student alleged.
We don't know what really happened in that room. Neither does XU's Conduct Board. But we know that Xavier last month was slapped by the feds for slow and indecisive responses to alleged sexual assaults on campus. The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights ordered the school to begin multiple training and reporting programs, in addition to paying for counseling for a current student.
Wells started 32 games as a freshman last season and made the Atlantic 10's all-rookie team, averaging 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds as Xavier reached the Sweet 16. He's 6-5, a solid 220 pounds and super-athletic, attributes that should help him land elsewhere quickly. If he was just a regular student, you wouldn't be reading about his case.
On the other hand, his status might have fueled the Conduct Board's decision.
Fresh off its new arrangement with the feds, XU couldn't give the appearance of going soft on an athlete. Wells didn't get any benefit of the doubt, partially because so many big-time ballers have abused the privilege. This is an instance where being an athlete could have been a disadvantage.
That would be unfortunate, just like cases in which jocks go unpunished because they're jocks. Good luck trying to figure out when a board consisting of faculty, students and administrators is leaning one way or the other.
I appreciate the pressure that schools face when students make such serious allegations, especially when the accused is a high-profile athlete.
But the Wells' case would raise issues even if he was completely anonymous. Something is amiss when a process doesn't allow leeway after a prosecutor calls an expulsion "fundamentally unfair" and "an injustice."
Upon expelling Wells, Xavier said its "interest and responsibility to all of our students is to provide a quality education in a safe and nurturing environment."
Agreed. Too bad it failed to uphold its responsibility to Wells.
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Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’ 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @Its_Ball_Good or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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