The Wednesday release of The New York Times’ story about a flawed investigation into Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston’s rape allegations is reverberating in Gainesville.
The story asserted the Tallahassee Police Department did not follow through in investigating January rape accusations from a female FSU freshman involving the Heisman Trophy winner. It cited late reports, destroyed video evidence, uncollected DNA and a delayed interview with Winston. The prosecutor said he didn’t have enough evidence to charge Winston, The Times reported.
Gainesville Police spokesman Officer Ben Tobias would not comment on how Tallahassee Police handled the situation. But he said Gainesville has good resources and detailed policies to deal with sexual assault incidents locally.
Even if a victim doesn’t want to file a formal report, he said, GPD offers a confidential way to report information through reportrapegainesville.org. Tobias said victims may choose to report information that the department will keep on file in case the victim decides to pursue charges later.
“These victims do deserve justice, and we’re here to help them get it,” he said.
According to GPD’s official policy for handling sexual assault, “It is the policy of the Gainesville Police Department to thoroughly investigate crimes involving sexual violence ... members’ responses shall not vary on the basis of the characteristics, status or profession of, or the nature of the relationship between, the victim and perpetrator.”
If a victim calls to report a sexual assault, the policy indicates the caller will be encouraged to remain calm and to not change clothes, eat or drink, comb hair or disturb anything at the scene.
Dispatchers are instructed to not allow “any victim’s suspected substance use or impairment to affect the decision to dispatch an officer,” according to the policy. They are also not allowed to honor any requests to cancel law enforcement dispatch in response to a sexual assault allegation.
Aside from the way the legal proceedings were handled, first-year UF law student Josh Gehres said something doesn’t seem right. Gehres, a former FSU football player, was teammates with Winston for a year and said the allegations seem out of context with what he knew of Winston.
“He’s a guy with great character,” Gehres said. “He was a high-class kind of guy.”
In response to The Times’ story, FSU posted an open letter online. Part of it read: “FSU does not tolerate sexual assault. Even one sexual assault is a problem. Like other colleges and universities that are grappling with this issue, we actively provide programs and educate students on safe behavior, the meaning of consent and how to properly report cases of sexual misconduct.”
Sarah Timoti, a 20-year-old FSU humanities and media production sophomore, said the city police department and the university should be looked at as separate entities. She said the university did all it could.
“I do think that the Tallahassee Police Department could have handled it better, and they admitted that,” she said. “Students were outraged, not just because it was Jameis Winston but because of the way the case was handled.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 4/17/2014 under the headline "FSU assault case inspires dialogue"]