Justice

What Did Baylor University Know About a Football Player's Past Sexual Assault Allegations?

August 24th 2015

By:
Alex Mierjeski

A former Baylor University student and talented football player was found guilty last week of sexual assault against another Baylor student in 2013. Sam Ukwuachu, 22, who had previously played for Boise State University, was sentenced Friday to felony probation in a Waco, Texas, State District Court, the Waco Tribune newspaper reported.

According to the paper, a jury denied the prosecutor's request for a lengthy prison term, instead favoring an eight years probation sentence. Judge Matt Johnson, who presided over the case, tacked on an additional two years of probation, in addition to sentencing Ukwuachu to 180 days in county jail. The defensive end will also perform 400 hours of community service.

Ukwuachu's case has brought national attention to the varying procedures schools rely on when they investigate sexual assault cases, especially those involving top-performing athletes. Portions of the trial reportedly focused on Baylor's internal investigations into the female student's allegations, as well as the local police department's investigations.

Even though the incident occurred nearly three years prior, no public details were known about the alleged assault until details emerged in last week's trial. According to news reports, Waco police interviewed the victim after she filed a complaint the morning after the incident, but after the report was filed, the case was suspended and Ukwuachu was not arrested. It was only when the case was sent to a district attorney's office in March of last year that the wheels began to turn, and Ukwuachu was indicted in June.

Ukwuacha was suspended from Baylor's team in 2014 for undisclosed reasons, but the school had expectations that he could play for the 2015 season despite the June indictment, CNN reported. The defense maintained that Baylor would not let Ukwuachu play following the indictment, but would allow it if he was acquitted of the charges. The Waco Tribune reported that Baylor's Associate Dean Bathany McCraw testified that she had determined "by a preponderance of the evidence that there was not enough evidence to move forward." But by many measures, that investigation revealed no inspired attempt by school officials. According to a district attorney cited by Texas Monthly, Baylor's investigation consisted of interviews with Ukwuachu, the victim, and a friend of each party. Not even the rape kit collected by a nurse examiner—which reportedly showed signs of sexual assualt—was examined in that investigation.

Ukwuachu was reportedly taking graduate classes in the run up to his trial—he had graduated—and was eligible to play for a year following graduation, per NCAA rules. But the case has raised questions about how Baylor handled information linking a potential player in a sexual assault case, none of which were helped by the fact that court documents obtained by Texas Monthly showed Baylor officials had communicated with Boise State, where the student transferred from, and whose dubious record there was made known by Boise State.

Both Baylor's head coach and the assistant dean said they were unfamiliar with Ukwuachu's past at Boise State, from which he was dismissed for violating undisclosed rules. But Boise's former head coach said Friday that he had called Baylor's coach after learning Ukwuachu wanted to transfer there to "thoroughly appraise" the coach "of the circumstances surrounding Sam's disciplinary record and dismissal."

In response to the scrutiny, Baylor president Ken Starr called Friday for a "comprehensive internal inquiry" into the case "and the conduct of the offices involved," the Waco Tribune reported.

Other cases cited by CNN illustrate that Ukwuachu's case is not the only time a university has looked the other way on a football player's unclear past. Jonathan Taylor was a University of Georgia football player who had been connected to domestic violence issues. He was able to leave Georgia and play at the University of Alabama, though he was dismissed after being arrested again and charged with domestic violence third-degree assault and domestic violence third-degree criminal mischief. Although his accuser in Alabama recanted her story to police, both cases are still pending.

But second chances for student athletes such as Taylor and Ukwuachu, while sometimes a virtuous act, often conflict with school policy. After Ukwuachu's conviction, Baylor released a statement reiterating that "acts of sexual violence contradict every value Baylor University upholds as a caring Christian community." The university also said it would look into sexual assault counseling and hiring investigators for a Title IX office.