FAU allegedly violates crime reporting law in QB sexual battery investigation
An FAU student says quarterback Chris Robison raped her. She felt guilty for it, so she told police it never happened — then told FAU it did. A lawyer says FAU was right in clearing Robison, but how they told her about their decisions might’ve violated a federal law.
August 31, 2019
Editor’s note: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted at FAU, look at the UP’s resource guide to see what emotional, medical and reporting options are available on and off campus.
On a December night in a Pollo Tropical parking lot, Sarah sat next to FAU quarterback Chris Robison in her gray Honda Civic and watched him cry.
Sarah said it made her feel guilty, even though just days earlier, she says he raped her in his IVA North apartment.
Sarah said he told her if she went forward investigating the rape with FAU police, it would “ruin his life,” and he needed her to tell police that everything between them was consensual.
“He begged and cried for me to end the police investigation … because he didn’t want to end his future, and I felt guilty because I felt like the whole situation was my fault, and I didn’t want to be responsible for ruining someone’s life,” Sarah told the UP.
So, Sarah changed her story — something she would regret for months to come, to the point where she thought of killing herself. She told the police she was able to recall everything that happened between them was consensual, but there are conflicts in the police report that tell another story. And after a Title IX investigation through FAU, and from what Sarah’s story and supporting documents show, FAU may have violated federal law.
What happened on Dec. 2, 2018?
Sarah was hanging out with FAU football players at an apartment off-campus on the night of Dec. 2, 2018. She drank with players including offensive lineman William Tuihalamaka, linebacker Sioeli “Joe” Pohiva, defensive end Ernest Bagner, and Robison.
She had two or three drinks and she felt sober, police documents say, but after she was given the rest of a nearly empty bottle of Hennessy to drink, her memory went fuzzy.
The next thing she remembers is being placed in a car that resembled a black Mustang. After that, she says she was being tossed into Robison’s bed where she says he raped her.
Three days later, she reported her assault to the police, then met with Robison. So, she went to the police again, said everything between the two of them was consensual, and she dropped the charges.
But during a phone call between Sarah and Robison that took place before they met at Pollo Tropical — that was monitored without his knowledge by FAU police — Robison “broke down crying,” and admitted Sarah was a “little hesitant” to have sex with him, and that he was “regretful,” according to FAU police documents.
Story continued below.
After an interview with police where they told Robison they’d heard the phone call, he started calling and texting Sarah, asking to meet up, according to text messages, call logs, and voicemails provided by Sarah. A few days later, she recanted her statements.
The UP reached out to Robison’s lawyer for comment via email and phone call several times over the course of a month, but he declined to comment. The UP also asked if Robison had a statement for us regarding the investigation, which his lawyer said he’d ask for, but did not provide one. The UP also texted and called Robison’s cell phone but he did not answer, and his voicemail wasn’t set up to leave a message.
Robison is cleared twice
Sarah told the police it was consensual, but she carried on an internal school investigation with FAU’s Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Compliance (EIC).
Sarah said her Victim Advocate, Candace Harrinarine, said Sarah recanting to police “wouldn’t be an issue,” and her investigation would go on separately.
When she met with EIC Assistant Director Ryan Kelley to tell him her story, Sarah says she told the events of Dec. 2 exactly the same way as she told police, but put more emphasis on proving Robison influenced her to recant. She provided text messages where he’s inquiring about her conversations with police, and she gave them the names of everyone she told the day after the incident.
Sarah walked into the Victim Services office at The Wimberly Library to view the findings of her case against Robison on June 17 and found they cleared Robison of any charges.
“I offered text messages and phone records and they took none of that, but they took texts from Chris where I’m kind of angry. When I tried to give them texts where he’s asking me about talking to the police, and speaking with the school investigators, they didn’t take it,” Sarah said.
She wasn’t all that surprised to read that Robison was cleared of the charges. From what Sarah remembers about the report (which she wasn’t allowed to take home), EIC said she was “omitting details.” But that didn’t stop her from feeling hurt, defeated, like she didn’t want to live anymore — all things that she told her victim’s advocate. But what happened next, she didn’t expect.
Police showed up to the Victim Services office, and told Sarah she was being taken to “talk to a psychiatrist,” she said. Police asked for her I.D., which she reluctantly gave them, and took her to a psychiatric hospital for a 24-hour stay among those with mental illnesses, according to Sarah’s Baker Act discharge records.
“So here I am, depressed, being handcuffed and put into the back of a police car, and he gets to walk out onto the field like nothing ever happened,” Sarah said. “That was the worst experience of my life. Like being raped all over again, but this time you remember it.”
After about a week of contemplating whether to appeal her results, she decided to try one last time to right what she thought went very wrong, but to no avail. The EIC stuck with their original decision, and cleared Robison for a third time.
All the mistakes
Laura Dunn, a Title IX lawyer and founder of SurvJustice, a nonprofit organization that offers legal assistance to survivors of sexual violence, said both FAU and Sarah made mistakes in the investigations.
Mistake No. 1: Sarah didn’t get a lawyer.
Dunn says that if Sarah had called her for a free consultation, she would’ve told her not to go to the police in the first place because she was having doubts about pressing criminal charges. She would’ve told Sarah to file a Title IX report instead.
“What breaks my heart is when survivors try to navigate the system themselves without getting legal support or guidance,” Dunn said.
Dunn says there are two ways for an advocate to assist a recent survivor: take a “victim-centered” approach, where victims are presented with options, and can choose what they want to do, or suggest options for them based on their situation.
From what Sarah described, when she went to Victim Services at FAU, Dunn says they took the victim-centered approach. Sarah said she asked her victim advocate whether she should get a lawyer. Sarah says Harrinarine told her she couldn’t give her a definite “yes” or “no,” leading Sarah to make uninformed decisions from the start.
Dunn says this approach isn’t correct because the victim is acting on their recent traumas. If she spoke to a lawyer, they would’ve provided “informed options,” to Sarah, and allowed her to weigh those options.
“They’re traumatized, confused, the system is foreign to them. They’re so unsure and they’re so afraid, but I see this every day,” Dunn said. “We live in an era where it’s traumatizing, it’s scary, and the best thing you can do is get someone who’s in your corner and no one else’s corner.”
Mistake No. 2: Sarah recanted her statements to the police.
“Once the survivor recants, her credibility is forever in question,” Dunn said. “The fact that she recanted to law enforcement, it would really hurt her claim.”
After that, once the EIC investigation concluded with Robison being cleared, Dunn said the decision was justified.
Mistake No. 3: The EIC office didn’t send Sarah a written record of their investigation findings.
Although the EIC’s findings were justified after Sarah recanted, how they told her about that decision violated the Clery Act.
The Clery Act requires that both the accused and the accuser in a sexual misconduct investigation be sent a notification in writing of the result of the investigation, something Sarah says she didn’t receive during the first round of the investigation, before she appealed the results. Here’s the language in the Clery Act:
So, the parties in the investigation are entitled to a report of the outcome, and according to the Clery Act, that report should be the full investigation including results, evidence, any sanctions for the accused, and the rationale for the decisions made. Sarah says her victim advocate called her in to view her report on campus, and that she never received a written notification.
The UP asked the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Compliance for comment on Sarah’s accusations multiple times, but has not received an answer as of publication time.
A university spokesperson said via email “both parties are notified of the outcome of an EIC investigation.” They did not specify whether the parties are notified in writing as required by law.
Mistake No. 4: Harrinarine called Sarah to discuss the EIC findings before Sarah received any written final report.
After Sarah saw the results of the EIC investigation, she decided to appeal them with all of the evidence she says they didn’t include in the initial findings. She included text messages with Robison, call logs, and a voicemail from him. Then, they cleared Robison again, and closed the case.
Once again, Sarah’s victim advocate called her to tell her about the results of the case, and that it was closed, according to a letter to Sarah from EIC — something the Clery Act prohibits.
The UP asked EIC to comment on Harrinarine’s conversation with the complainant regarding the result, but they have not responded as of publication time.
The Clery Act states that there can’t be substantive conversation regarding a case’s results before the written notification. Sarah received the written notification, in the form of a letter she showed the UP, but after discussing the results with her victim advocate, the letter says.
“In my professional opinion as a lawyer, I believe that’s a violation of federal law and not compliant,” Dunn said.
Dunn says many of the mistakes could’ve been avoided had Sarah been given legal guidance to begin with.
“What I would say is as much as our legal system is meant to serve survivors, that’s often not the case. I would suggest you seek out a victim advocate or a lawyer, because the decisions you make can make or break the outcome, there are many free legal services and free victim advocacy processes,” Dunn said. “There’s no reason a survivor should go through this process alone.”
Sarah says she wasn’t alone, but she didn’t have anyone in her corner. Throughout the police investigation, she was talking to Robison, as shown by text messages provided by Sarah.
He maintained he didn’t rape her and he never meant to hurt her, and when they met in the parking lot of Pollo Tropical, she says she believed him.
“I wish I had the mindset seven months ago that I have now. When everything happened I was really weak minded,” Sarah said, getting choked up. “And I felt guilty and blamed myself. For going to hang out with guys, for drinking around people I wasn’t familiar with, and I didn’t want to ruin someone’s life for what I considered my mistake. If I could go back in time and just not stop the police investigation, I would.”
Editor’s letter: What happened with case No. 18-0925?
Everyone’s excited about the first home football game, but I’m still torn up about what happened during the off-season. A woman alleged quarterback Chris Robison raped her, then FAU decided it didn’t happen. After that, it seems like everyone let it go, except for the woman who filed FAUPD Case No. 18-0925.
This Editor’s Letter is part of our first special issue of the school year. Read the full issue here.
When an FAU senior told police quarterback Chris Robison didn’t rape her last December, and that they actually had consensual sex, the case was closed. Robison was cleared and took the field. Life moved on – for everyone but the woman who first claimed rape and then recanted.
One question I’m sure to be asked is this: Why are you dedicating an entire issue of your newspaper to a rape that at one point she said never happened?
My answer is as complicated as this case. I can’t say a rape happened, but the process of investigating led to a downward spiral for one woman.
Robison wouldn’t speak to me, and his lawyer deflected all my questions, but I spent hours upon hours with the woman who filed the report. We’ll call her Sarah to protect her identity.
Sarah recanted her statements to the police and said the whole incident was consensual — but told me it was because Robison cried to her in a car and pressured her to stay quiet.
She said she didn’t want to ruin his life, so she went along with it. She said she lied to the police, but she pursued an investigation into the sexual battery allegations with FAU. But what she said was that the process of investigating at FAU served as a constant reminder of her alleged rape and made her suicidal at one point.
We aren’t reporting on this to give more publicity to a case where a football player was cleared of allegations of sexual battery. We’re doing this because a Title IX lawyer says FAU could have been more transparent with Sarah’s options from the beginning and violated a federal crime reporting law. Also, the NCAA lacks a policy punishing athletes who commit sexual assault.
The UP spoke with the Title IX lawyer about how FAU handled Sarah’s case, and she said the outcome — Robison was cleared — was valid. However, she said FAU violated a federal law when they told Sarah about their decision.
Only about 23 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Of those rapes that get reported, 99.5 percent of the perpetrators will walk free.
Still, people criticize survivors of sexual abuse for coming out months or years after the incident, as if they had nothing to fear in
the first place. But, as Sarah put it, women are called liars even when they “came out and said something a day after it happened,” especially if their alleged abuser is of high standing — someone like the quarterback of the football team.
While Sarah didn’t do all she could to advance her case, it isn’t all her fault. A Title IX lawyer says FAU didn’t follow the law, and experts on sexual misconduct in athletics says there needs to be a cultural shift if we want gendered violence to stop.
Cameren Boatner is the editor in chief of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].