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CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - A former Coastal Carolina University football player who was expelled after a cheerleader accused him of rape filed a federal lawsuit against the university last week, alleging in court papers that he lost his scholarship because of false allegations and a flawed disciplinary system.
The former player, who is identified only as John Doe in court records, contends he was cleared by the Conway Police Department and a student conduct panel, but he was still kicked out of school last year because of the cheerleader's complaint, according to the lawsuit, which was filed on Jan. 31.
Coastal disputes the former player's allegations.
"The lawsuit alleges that the university erred by dismissing him; however, the university acted properly and will vigorously defend the lawsuit," Coastal spokeswoman Martha Hunn said via email.
The athlete was a standout high school player who was captain of the Fork Union Military Academy football team and received walk-on offers from the University of North Carolina and Coastal before ultimately picking the Chanticleers, according to court records. After a strong showing in spring practice, he made the team.
The lawsuit alleges the former player, who lives in Anderson, was a freshman when the incident that led to his expulsion occurred on Aug. 27, 2016.
The football player and the cheerleader had been drinking and flirting at an off-campus pool party that afternoon when the player asked the cheerleader if she wanted to have sex at her apartment, the lawsuit states.
The woman told him she did, but she didn't want to be seen leaving with him because she had a boyfriend, according to the lawsuit.
They met at the back gate of the pool and walked to the apartment she shared with three other women, according to the lawsuit. Surveillance video shows the former player playfully carrying the cheerleader on his back.
The lawsuit states the two had sex, the woman fell asleep and the former player left.
Later that night, the Conway Police Department received a report about a sexual assault at the Coastal Club Apartments, according to police records and the lawsuit.
The woman named two suspects, the plaintiff and another male Coastal student who had been in the apartment after the plaintiff left, the lawsuit states.
"She was very casual, unconcerned about the incident involving John Doe," according to the lawsuit. "Instead, she appeared far more concerned about another male Coastal student who had been present in the apartment following her rendezvous with John Doe and while she had been asleep."
Police records indicate the suspect from Anderson (the plaintiff) was not charged in the assault, but another person was. Miguel Valdes of Bel Air, Maryland, was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, according to Conway police reports.
Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said the case against Valdes is still pending. A trial date has not been set.
The woman told police she and the unnamed former player had gone to her apartment after the pool party, but she also said she had been dragged in the parking lot near the stairs, and that scene conflicted with the surveillance footage, the lawsuit states.
"During the interview with the city of Conway police, Jane Doe stated she felt compelled to make the report because the cheerleading coach urged her to do so," the lawsuit states.
Prior to the incident, the former player contends he and the cheerleader had consensual sex on multiple occasions, including at her family's Conway area home and in his dorm room, according to the lawsuit, which says the cheerleader is not named because of privacy concerns.
Although the former player was not charged criminally, he was required to appear before the Student Conduct Board, which was comprised of five faculty members.
"On Tuesday, December 6, 2016, the Student Conduct Board adjudicated the rape allegation for four hours, hearing testimony from three witnesses, including Jane Doe and John Doe, and reviewed documents," the lawsuit states. "The General Counsel for Coastal, who heads a two lawyer Legal Department and is its most experienced staff attorney, had been present at all times during the Board proceeding and deliberations to provide legal advice and guidance to its five members.
"After deliberating approximately two hours and by unanimous decision, the Student Conduct Board found in favor of John Doe, determining there was insufficient evidence to support the sexual misconduct allegation of rape against him."
Email records filed with the lawsuit back up those claims.
The same panel also heard sexual misconduct allegations against the other student in the cheerleader's apartment that night (Valdes), but the board ruled against him, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states that Coastal's student handbook provides that either party in a conduct hearing can appeal a board decision within three business days of the result. However, the accuser waited until Dec. 15, 2016, to file her written appeal, the lawsuit states.
"On this basis alone, no appeal by Jane Doe should have been considered by Coastal and instead, summarily rejected because by missing the appeal deadline, the Student Conduct Board decision was final," the lawsuit states.
Despite the board's decision and the student missing the deadline, Coastal Provost Ralph Byington agreed to grant her another hearing, this time before a new panel, the lawsuit states. The plaintiff contends the appeal showed no evidentiary or procedural reason to justify another hearing.
"The decision by Provost Byington cited provisions of the Code of Student Conduct and states only, 'that the accuser has an opportunity to submit an appeal in Title IX cases.' That's it, nothing else!" the lawsuit states. "As a result, Provost Byington ordering a rehearing of the original Student Conduct Board is a decision supported by neither substantial nor even a scintilla of evidence, making it not only a capricious and arbitrary decision, but so grossly erroneous that it constitutes a willful and wanton act of bad faith, with an anti-male gender bias."
The newly constituted Student Conduct Board heard the case on March 31, but listened to no witnesses. Football players who knew both the accused and the accuser testified at the first hearing that they had seen the two interact at the pool on the day of the incident. But those teammates were not available for the second hearing because of a football-related trip on that date, according to the lawsuit.
After deliberating for 25 minutes, the second panel determined the former player should have known the cheerleader had consumed too much alcohol to consent to sex, according to the lawsuit.
"The board found a preponderance of evidence to indicate that student [Jane Doe] was incapacitated by alcohol consumption, based on the statements provided," according to Coastal's statement, which is included in the lawsuit. "[John Doe] was familiar with [Jane Doe] from previous interactions and therefore reasonably should have known that [Jane Doe] was incapacitated and therefore unable to give consent."
But the lawsuit argues the cheerleader was not incapacitated and a blood alcohol test showed her alcohol level was below the legal limit for driving in South Carolina.
The plaintiff also argues in court records that the cheerleader violated school policy during the disciplinary process.
The cheerleader contacted NewSpring Church of Anderson and told them the former player had been accused of sexual assault, the lawsuit states. As a result of the call, the plaintiff was banned from volunteering at the church and lost his job working with summer school programs there. The lawsuit argues those actions violate the school's policy about retaliating against those involved in an investigation.
The former player's lawsuit accuses Coastal of gender discrimination — against men. It says the school's policies "are set up to encourage and facilitate the reporting of false reports of sexual misconduct and/or other grievances without any recourse for the falsely accused."
"Coastal has created an environment in which an accused male student is effectively denied fundamental due process by being prosecuted through the conduct process under the cloud of a presumption of guilt," the lawsuit states. "Such a one-sided process deprived John Doe, as a male student, of educational opportunities at Coastal on the basis of his sex."
The lawsuit asks that the university's decision be reversed and the former player be readmitted to Coastal this year. The plaintiff is also seeking damages.
Clarence Davis, the Columbia attorney representing the former player, could not be reached for comment.
Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236