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University: Lawsuit in sexual assault, expulsion case is “meritless”

University: Lawsuit in sexual assault, expulsion case is “meritless”

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By Timothy Fanning

In March, the university says, a former leader of Student Government acknowledged that he had non-consensual sexual intercourse with a female student last year in his dormitory room.

But when Samuel Goetz appeared at a student conduct board hearing two months later, he denied it.

Reminded that he was contradicting his earlier statement, the university says, Goetz “admitted that he had confessed but claimed he had done so only because he was ‘scared,’ ‘so confused,’ ‘wanted it all to stop’ and ‘wanted everything to be over.’”

The university cites that contradiction in responding to Goetz’s contention that the charges against him are false and he was denied due process before his expulsion in May.

In arguments filed Aug. 25 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, the university offers a point-by-point rebuttal to a lawsuit Goetz brought after administrators concluded he sexually assaulted the woman in his dorm room in September 2016.

“All of these arguments are meritless, and the petition (by the student) should be denied,” the university says.

The student is not named, but it clearly is Goetz, who abruptly resigned as vice president-elect of Student Government on April 17, just seven weeks after he was elected.

The university was investigating the allegations when Goetz and his mother met March 7 with Heather Klisanin, the university administration’s assistant director of student conduct.

“When I asked (him) directly about his responsibility for the potential violations” of non-consensual sexual contact and non-consensual sexual intercourse, wrote Klisanin, “after a couple (of) very thoughtful and quiet minutes, he told me that he was responsible for the non-consensual intercourse but not the (non-consensual) touching/contact one.”

However, at the conduct board hearing on May 3, Goetz – who by then had withdrawn from classes – “denied all of the charges against him.”

The expulsion, Goetz’s lawsuit and the university’s 29-page response grew out of an encounter between Goetz and a fellow student on the night of Sept. 28-29, 2016.

The female student accepted Goetz’s invitation to come to his dorm room to “cuddle” and spent the night there.

The encounter led to what the woman called sexual interactions that “went further than she intended or had given consent to” and what the university calls “non-consensual sexual contact” and “non-consensual sexual intercourse.”

But Goetz told university investigators that he did not “force or coerce her to engage in sexual intercourse … Every moment of my encounter with (the woman) was consensual.”

The university’s lengthy investigation, which began after the woman filed a formal complaint on Nov. 16, ended when the student conduct board – a panel of students and faculty members – concluded that Goetz was guilty of both non-consensual sexual contact and intercourse and recommended his expulsion.

Dean of Students Jacob Diaz upheld the expulsion on May 10, then denied Goetz’s appeal on May 31.

In his unsuccessful appeal of the dean’s expulsion order, Goetz did not ask him to overturn the conduct board’s findings, the university says.

Instead, the university says, Goetz said he would pursue his education elsewhere. He asked the dean to overturn the expulsion so it would not cloud his record, “similar to an employee being permitted to submit his resignation prior to being fired – an offer made to many adults under similar situations.”

In his lawsuit against the university, filed a month after his unsuccessful appeal to the dean, Goetz contends the university denied him due process because it violated its disciplinary procedures, failed to give him notice of the allegations and evidence against him, and denied him the opportunity to cross-examine his accuser.

He contends the university wrongly interpreted Title IX – the federal law that bans discrimination against women on college campuses – in punishing him. And he contends his expulsion was not supported by “competent substantial evidence.”

In its counter arguments, the university stresses that Goetz – 19 at the time of the incident – contradicted himself during the investigation.

It says that Goetz’s assertion that the university did not follow Title IX is “absurd.” He was disciplined for violating the university’s student code of conduct and policy on sexual misconduct, the university says, but his behavior also violated “a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

The university says it adhered to the rules of procedure under the code of conduct and gave Goetz notice of the allegations and access to all the details in its case against him.

Since his accuser did not testify at the conduct board hearings, Goetz “had no right to cross-examine her,” the university says.

Even if she had testified, it says, the code of conduct would have given her the right to decline cross-examination.


University policy on ‘consent’

The university’s sexual misconduct policy has several provisions that define “consent.” Those provisions say this:

“’Consent’ means an informed, knowing, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Consent to engage in sexual activity must exist from beginning to end of each instance of sexual activity. Consent is demonstrated through mutually understandable words and/or actions that clearly indicate a willingness to engage in a specific sexual activity. Silence or an absence of resistance alone, without actions evidencing permission, does not imply consent.”

“The responsibility of obtaining consent rests with the person initiating sexual activity.”

“Consent to engage in sexual activity may be withdrawn at any time. Once withdrawal of consent has been expressed, the sexual activity must cease.”

“A current or previous consensual dating or sexual relationship between the parties does not imply ongoing future consent to sexual activity with that person.”


 

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