FOX Report: FSU, TPD Hampered Investigation

FOX Sports and the New York Times each published pieces on Friday about the Tallahassee Police Department’s (TPD) handling (and mishandling) of cases involving Florida State football players. Here we’ll look at the FOX Sports report.

The FOX Sports story deals specifically with the Jameis Winston case, alleging that the TPD, FSU Police Department (FSUPD), and the FSU athletic department conspired to hamper the investigation into Winston’s alleged sexual assault of a female Florida State student.

Although the story’s author, Kevin Vaughn, highlights that the report is based upon examination of “thousands of pages of documents—including law-enforcement files, e-mails and other correspondence as well as video and audio interviews conducted by detectives and other records—through a series of requests filed with multiple agencies under Florida's public records laws,” the story brings very little new information to light.

FSU Alerted to Reactivation of Case

The one piece of noteworthy information provided by the story is that when Tampa Bay Times reporter Matt Hayes contacted the TPD requesting a copy of the police report of the alleged assault, the department’s first move was to forward the reports to FSUPD chief David Perry, who then contacted FSU associate athletic director Monk Bonasorte. Florida State and Winston were therefore aware of the reactivation of the case before the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) ever received it.

The police report then made its way to Winston’s attorney, Tim Jansen, who was then able to interview witnesses Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, who gave Jansen sworn statements about the events of that evening. This last piece was already known, as State Attorney Willie Meggs had rightly complained about Jansen being able to get to the witnesses—who could therefore compare stories—before the SAO could interview them, potentially compromising that part of the investigation.

The FOX Sports report concludes by observing that the Florida State administration quickly met to form a public-relations game plan in response to the case hitting the media. Although communication related to this part was previously unavailable, this is precisely what one would expect from an institution aware that a major story was about to hit the media.

Sensationalized Nonsense

Finally, the story does feature what seems to me to be sensationalized nonsense, suggesting that FSUPD deputy chief Maj. Jim Russell “appears to have sought to discourage a reporter from pursuing the story” because of his response to a TMZ inquiry about Jameis Winston being questioned by the FSUPD in relation to an alleged sexual assault.

Russell, who the university says was unaware of the TPD case at that time, responded, “I can advise you that Jameis Winston is not under any investigation by the FSUPD, nor has he been questioned regarding any criminal case by the FSUPD. I just called the on-duty shift to make sure nothing was breaking right now and they report nothing regarding Winston going on. Thank you for contacting me regarding this rumor—I am glad I can dispel that one.” Russell’s follow-up message to Perry and FSU’s associate vice president for integrated marketing and communications read, “Wow—crazy! Rumor control!” This second email is the response one would expect of someone unaware of the TPD case, not one who was trying to “run interference” as the FOX Sports story suggests.

Takeaways from the FOX Sports Report

This latest report further confirms what has already been well established: The TPD badly mishandled this case from start to finish. From poor legwork at the beginning, when locating one of two football players named “Chris” would have gotten to the bottom of the case almost immediately, to Winston’s attorney having possession of the police report before it made its way to the State Attorney’s Office, the TPD did a shoddy job here.

Secondly, once notified that the case was reactivated, Florida State responded exactly as one would expect a major institution to respond, looking to its own interests and ensuring that no member of the institution was blindsided by the news of the investigation.

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