- Associated Press - Sunday, May 14, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A man is suing his former university, saying officials wrongly suspended him days before graduation over two separate rape allegations he was later acquitted of.

Jose Aponte, now 24, wants a federal judge in Pittsburgh to force Indiana University of Pennsylvania to award his bachelor’s degree in criminology or make the school expunge his disciplinary record so he can transfer his credits and get a degree elsewhere.

The Philadelphia native, who now lives and works in New York, also seeks unspecified money damages.

In the lawsuit, Aponte said he was not given the chance to challenge the allegations made against him in a school disciplinary hearing. On May 1, 2015, he was accused of rape after sexual contact with one woman. The next day, he was accused of rape by a different woman. School officials immediately suspended him. He did not take his final examinations or participate in commencement. He was later expelled.

The lawsuit says university officials “colluded” with police to keep his accusers from testifying in person at his June 2, 2015, expulsion hearing. The women’s police statements were read into the record, and Aponte couldn’t challenge their allegations, the lawsuit said.

Aponte was deemed guilty from the moment of his arrest, and the stories of his accusers were taken as gospel, because of their sex and prevailing stereotypes, even though the accusations made against Aponte were not true,” his 18-page civil rights lawsuit contends.

Aponte’s Hispanic heritage was touted in the university’s brochures and website to promote campus “diversity” before his ethnicity was used against him, the lawsuit also says.

“Once this happened, it’s like it felt as if I was tossed in the trash, discarded,” Aponte said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Michelle Fryling, a university spokeswoman, said the school won’t comment on the suit which names its president, Michael Driscoll, and several administrators involved in disciplining Aponte.

Aponte contends both sexual encounters were consensual. The women are identified only by their initials in the lawsuit, and the AP was unable to determine their identities because Aponte’s criminal record has been expunged and is no longer public.

Aponte’s first accuser, also a senior at the school, claimed they drank at a bar before having sex at her off-campus residence. The second woman said Aponte forced her to have sex at a party. Aponte testified at his criminal trial and claims in the lawsuit that she “was the aggressor” and he was so drunk he couldn’t maintain an erection. That jury acquitted him last August; another jury acquitted him in the first case in March 2016.

Pittsburgh attorney Edward Olds, who filed the lawsuit, said universities are under pressure to take swift action against students accused of sexual assault because of the federal anti-discrimination law Aponte is also suing under.

University panels work well for school-related academic and disciplinary issues “because there’s a presumption that the university is operating in good faith,” Olds said, but they don’t work so well when a student is accused of a crime because accusers can’t be cross-examined and the accused student often can’t have an attorney so the allegations are just taken at face value.

“And the consequences for someone like Jose are so dramatic,” Olds said. “There’s problems with transferring credits to other universities or having others admit him” once a student is expelled.

“Now that place is like ‘no man’s land’ for me,” Aponte said. “A place that in the back of your head, you never want to go back to.”

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