Testimony Begins in University of the South Federal Case
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A former student at Sewanee: The University of the South testified Thursday that university leaders damaged his future when they wrongly decided that he raped a female student in his dorm room.
Identified in court only as John Doe, the former student at the private, Episcopal campus in southeastern Tennessee was never criminally charged. A university disciplinary panel in 2008 decided that he raped a female student who later told them she has prescriptions for mood-altering medications, had been drinking alcohol and was incapacitated when assaulted.
At the request of the former student's attorneys, U.S. District Judge Sandy Mattice is allowing him to conceal his identity as he asks a jury to force the university to pay him at least $1 million in damages. His testimony resumes Friday.
The former student contends the female student consented to having sex with him in his dorm room.
His suit contends the university harmed his reputation and career prospects by violating its own rules in the way it handled the accusation. Instead of a suspension, he accepted the university's other offer to remove the disciplinary finding in return for him leaving the university and reapplying a year later. He did not apply for readmission and said he realized that applications for officer candidate school, military intelligence clearance and law school would reveal the university's disciplinary action that he contends was mishandled.
"I've been wanting to be a Marine for a long time," he said in response to a question by his attorney.
An Eagle Scout and athlete, the former student said an application that he sent to Presbyterian College was sent back to him requesting an explanation of his departure from the university at Sewanee.
University administrators involved in the finding that the former student was responsible for violating the sexual assault policy testified that the process was handled properly and that they treated the former student fairly.
Eric Hartman, the university's dean of students, testified that the disciplinary process is different from a criminal case and is intended to "find the truth." He said there was no recording or transcript of the disciplinary panel's hearing. Hartman said there have been about 10 such disciplinary actions related to accusations of sexual assault at the university. About four ended with decisions that there was not enough evidence to hold the accused responsible. He said there has never previously been a lawsuit.
After testimony concluded and the nine jurors left the courtroom Thursday, the judge questioned attorneys about the value of having jurors hear expert witness testimony about the female student's ability to consent to having sex.
"This case is not about rape. It is about whether the (disciplinary) process was adequate or not," Mattice said. "We are never going to know what went on in that dorm room that night."
Records show the former student was an out-of-state freshman when the female student contends she was raped in his dorm room about 1 a.m. on Aug. 30, 2008. She left about 7 a.m., walked to an emergency phone and called university police. Records show that when officers arrived, she told them she had been raped and they took her to a hospital. Investigators prepared a report, but records show a case was never taken to a prosecutor.