Expelled Amherst College student files lawsuit over handling of alleged 2012 rape

By Anthony Rentsch

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The lawyer of an Amherst College student expelled in 2013 following a disciplinary board’s conclusion that he had raped a female student in 2012 filed a lawsuit in Springfield District Court Friday, claiming a miscarriage of justice against his client.

The student, who goes by the pseudonym “John Doe” in the lawsuit, brought new evidence to the college last April, including text messages sent by the accuser suggesting that the encounter was consensual and even inviting another male student to her room to “entertain” her later that night.

In the Dec. 13, 2013, letter Amherst sent notifying Doe of his expulsion, it was noted that he could appeal the decision within a week, on the basis of a material procedural error, bias by chair or member of the board or new, relevant and substantive evidence.

The lawsuit states the college has done nothing to revisit its expulsion decision. Amherst College spokesperson Pete Mackey told the Boston Globe, “‘We are confident that the process the college followed was appropriate and that the court will conclude that the College’s process was fair.’”

Doe was found responsible on a “preponderance of the evidence,” which, according to the Globe, means it was determined it was more likely than not that Doe was responsible. In the past, there was a greater burden of proof on the college, the Globe article stated.

The lawsuit also claims that a stricter climate for sexual assault discipline has been present since former student Angie Epifano published an account in the Amherst College newspaper about the college’s response her to report of sexual assault. Epifano wrote that she was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility when she refused to forget about an alleged rape and to forgive the alleged assailant in 2012.

Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that Amherst College’s new policies have solely targeted male students of color. Doe is Asian American.

The disputed sexual encounter occurred Feb. 5, 2012, between Doe and a woman going by the pseudonym “Sandra Jones,” the roommate of a woman Doe had been dating. That night, Doe consumed alcohol to the point where he “blacked out” and had no memory of the encounter. The two went to her room and Jones performed oral sex on Doe.

The Amherst College Sexual Misconduct Policy states, “Being intoxicated or impaired by drugs or alcohol is never an excuse for sexual misconduct and does not excuse one from the responsibility to obtain consent.”

According to Jones’ initial written complaint, the entire encounter was nonconsensual. In an interview with an investigator a few weeks later, the lawsuit states, “Sandra Jones admitted that she had begun to perform oral sex willingly on the plaintiff, and that it only became nonconsensual ‘on a break’ during the sex act.”

In a series of text messages with a residential counselor later that evening, Jones said that, to her roommate, it would be “pretty (obvious) that I wasn’t an innocent bystander” during the encounter, according to the lawsuit. The counselor suggested that she “put all the blame on (Doe).”

After Jones’ encounter with Doe that evening, another male student arrived at her dorm room after being invited over. That student testified that she appeared “‘friendly, flirtatious, and spirited” when he arrived and did not appear ‘anxious, stressed, depressed, or otherwise in distress.’”

Text messages between Jones and the counselor regarding the sexual encounter with the male student who came over later that evening indicate that Jones was “anything but terrified and traumatized,” according to the lawsuit.

Doe’s lawyer claims in the lawsuit that there is a “substantial likelihood” that the disciplinary board would have reached a different conclusion if it had been able to use the text messages in its decision.

The Daily Collegian could not reach Mackey for comment Sunday.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.