Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Must read story: Sex charges dropped against Bucknell student, despite significant roadblocks

The following story is a sad and frightening commentary on our so-called "rape culture." It illustrates the significant and unfortunate roadblocks confronting presumptively innocent college men caught up in murky "he said/she said" accusations of sexual assault in our current milieu.

Let me state at the outset: as an objective outsider, I have no idea what happened in the dorm that figures in this story the night of the alleged incident. No one does except the two young people involved. It would be unjust to call the young man a rapist, and equally unjust to call the young woman a false rape/sexual assault accuser. All we can comment on is what we know based on what was reported.

A 19-year-old female Bucknell student named Kelly Stefanowicz alleged that on September 5, 2010, at approximately 2:00 a.m., she was physically and sexually assaulted by Reed C. Dempsey, also a 19-year-old Bucknell student. The Union County District Attorney, in conjunction with the Bucknell University Police Department, filed criminal charges against Mr. Dempsey related to the alleged attack.

Stefanowicz also filed an internal disciplinary complaint at Bucknell against Mr. Dempsey.

Mr. Dempsey subsequently filed his own student complaint at Bucknell against Stefanowicz, contending she sexually assaulted by kneeing him in the groin, and that she filed false charges against him.

Mr. Dempsey was suspended and barred from campus. He attended classes through a webcam, but was not allowed to participate in on-campus activities.

Stefanowicz Files a Motion to Enjoin the Hearing She Initiated

The Bucknell student code of conduct requires a disciplinary hearing of student complaints within 20 class days of the filing date.  As it happened, the Bucknell disciplinary hearing was scheduled to occur before Mr. Dempsey’s criminal preliminary hearing was scheduled to occur before a district judge.

Ms. Stefanowicz found the timing of the Bucknell hearing objectionable because it would give Mr. Dempsey -- the presumptively innocent young man accused of a very serious crime that could send him to prison for many years -- an unfair advantage.  How?  At the Bucknell hearing, Ms. Stefanowicz would be forced to answer questions posed by Mr. Dempsey, and Mr. Dempsey would obtain evidence, including witness testimony, before the local district attorney's office finished compiling its case. This, in the eyes of persons looking to convict Mr. Dempsey of a criminal charge, could impair the criminal prosecution against Mr. Dempsey.

To prevent the criminal prosecution against Mr. Dempsey from being impaired, Stefanowicz filed a motion in Federal Court to enjoin the Bucknell disciplinary hearing -- the hearing that she inititiated -- until after Mr. Dempsey's criminal preliminary hearing. She alleged that holding the Bucknell hearing before Mr. Dempsey's criminal preliminary hearing violated -- you guessed it -- Title IX. She objected to Bucknell turning over to Mr. Dempsey material that could be used by the prosecution at his preliminary hearing. She also objected because, as part of the Bucknell hearing, Stefanowicz would be required to confront Mr. Dempsey and respond to his questions. Moreover, she objected because she was required to face charges of sexual assault and false accusations at the Bucknell hearing.

A Federal Court Denies the Motion for Injunction

Earlier this month, a Federal Court denied Stefanowicz's motion to enjoin Bucknell from conducting its hearing.  The court rejected the argument that the Bucknell hearing would violate Title IX.  The court explained:

"[I]t was [Stefanowicz] who first sought the relief accorded by Bucknell's internal procedures. Moreover, the questions prepared by Dempsey will be read by a member of the hearing board, and not by Dempsey himself. The questions posed are also required to be relevant and appropriate. The hearing board, through the chairperson, is responsible for determining the relevance and appropriateness of respondent's questions and is thus able to protect [Stefanowicz] from any potential harassment or retaliation."  Under these circumstances, "the Court cannot conclude on the basis of the complaint that there is a substantial likelihood that the procedures surrounding the [Bucknell] hearing constitute further sexual harassment that is severe or objectively offensive and that Bucknell was deliberately  indifferent to the harassment."

The Bucknell Disciplinary Hearing: Dempsey Cleared of Sexual Assault

At the Bucknell disciplinary hearing, Mr. Dempsey was cleared of sexual assault charges. He and Stefanowicz were both found guilty of disorderly conduct after an internal hearing that stretched over three days before a board of one administrator, two faculty members and two students.  A news report after the hearing noted: "Defense attorney Stephen Becker said that during the hearing, witnesses testified that Demspey and his accuser were playing and laughing before and after they entered his room."

The Criminal Charges Are Dropped

This morning, it was reported that the criminal charges against Mr. Dempsey were being dropped.  The evidence isn't strong enough to proceed.

So how do you think the sexual grievance industry reacts?  The legal director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape said college hearing boards "don't have the proper skills to handle such delicate matters."  That's right. "Why not leave this serious issue to the criminal courts? It really is important to give the district attorney all the possible leeway and evidence and ability to conduct interviews. This is what he's trained in."


Heaven forbid we should allow a university to proceed with a hearing that the accuser initiated if it might shed light on what really happened in a murky, "he said/she said" scenario.

Does anyone else find that attitude repulsive, morally grotesque, and thoroughly unjust?  The fact that such arguments are posited with a straight face, and that a federal court must spend several pages rejecting them, is frightening.  How does that give the presumptively innocent young man an unfair advantage?

I must note in passing that the reaction of the sexual grievance industry is startling.  Deprive the kangaroo courts that masquerade as college disciplinary hearing boards the right to adjudicate sexual assault complaints?  Do my eyes deceive me?  Of course, this statement is posited only after a case where a young man was cleared of sexual assault charges.  I can't recall hearing any such concerns from the sexual grievance industry when young men accused of sexual assault are routinely deprived of what we normally consider due process protections in college hearings.
-Stefanowicz v. Bucknell Univ., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106333  (M.D. Pa. filed Oct. 5, 2010)