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Attorneys defending the University of Northern Iowa are heavily scrutinizing the life of a former student who was sexually assaulted by two football players in 2004 and is now accusing the school in a civil lawsuit of mistreating her and mismanaging its athletics department, court records show.
The Iowa Attorney General‘s Office has been seeking details of the woman’s history on social media sites like Facebook since 2003, years of her cell phone records and personal photos and records detailing her mental health treatment before and after the assault, records show. In addition, the office has repeatedly asked for records about her employment as a dancer at a strip club, a copy of her personal journal, and documentation related to her father’s mysterious death when she was a young child.
The woman was an 18-year-old freshman in November 2004 when she reported that UNI player Baylen Laury had sex with her against her wishes in a dorm room and then arranged for teammate Joseph R. Thomas III to do the same. Thomas pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual abuse and testified against Laury, who claimed the sex was consensual but later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault with intent to inflict serious injury after three trials resulted in hung juries. Both men, freshmen recruits from Texas, served prison sentences.
The woman filed a civil lawsuit in 2007 alleging that most university administrators treated her with “great animosity” after the assault. She claimed they failed to make academic accommodations she requested, declined to let her move to another dormitory and did nothing when she reported receiving harassing calls from players. After she quit school weeks later, the university sent her tuition bill to a collection agency and the dean of students told her she was disappointed “she didn’t tough it out,” according to the lawsuit.
The Associated Press is withholding the name of the 25-year-old Davenport woman under its policy of not identifying sexual assault victims.
The lawsuit seeks damages for the loss of her access to education at UNI, pain and suffering and an order requiring the school to reform policies on assault and harassment to rein in what her attorneys call a culture where football recruits are more likely to show violence toward women. UNI has broadly denied her allegations in court documents.
A judge last week granted a joint request to delay the November trial. No trial date has been set and attorneys reported they were in settlement talks, although no deal appears imminent.
UNI spokesman Jim O’Connor referred questions about the case to the Attorney General’s Office, which defends state agencies accused of wrongdoing.
Spokesman Geoff Greenwood defended the attempt to pore through the woman’s personal life, saying plaintiffs must substantiate their claims for monetary damages. He said the information requested “is pretty standard” in such cases and noted that a judge ordered her in July to provide most of the records sought, including her Facebook history.
“We’re not defending the people who did this. We’re defending UNI and ultimately the state,” Greenwood said. “We’re not blaming the plaintiff. We’re gathering information about her claims against UNI and her claims for damages.”
Greenwood said the woman has turned over partial information about her medical, employment, educational and social history but missed an Aug. 1 deadline set by the judge to provide additional records.
The woman’s attorneys say they have turned over all relevant material and many of the additional records sought either do not exist or are not in her possession. They claim some requests are harassing, irrelevant and overly burdensome.
Her lead attorney, Pressley Henningsen, said he could not comment on the specifics of each evidentiary dispute and acknowledged filing a lawsuit can be an invasive undertaking. But Henningsen said he’s been surprised by the state’s aggressive stance given that no one disputes she was assaulted and the college should have a strong incentive to fix problems related to campus safety and athletics.
“It just furthers the hostile environment towards my client,” he said. “It appears as though they are taking a tactic that has been shunned by pretty much every person on the topic for decades — attack the victim — and I don’t understand why.”
“My client is resolute that what happened to her shouldn’t happen again. Given the fact the university is taking the approach they did nothing wrong, it’s clear they have a lesson to learn. We’re going to proceed forward.”
Assistant Attorney General Joanne Moeller has argued in court documents that the woman’s social media history is “fair game” and could show evidence about her activities since the assault. She argued cell phone records are needed to shed light on claims that she received harassing calls and that the assault damaged her ability to interact socially and professionally. And she has defended a longstanding request for personal photos as specific and limited.
Moeller has requested hospital records related to a 2005 “cutting incident” and a 2007 suicide attempt and argued the woman’s counseling records from before the assault “would document the plaintiff’s mental health prior to the event upon which the petition is based.” Moeller also has repeatedly requested documents relating to her employment from 2006 to 2008 as a dancer at Amsterdam Gentleman’s Club, records Henningsen has said do not exist.
But perhaps the most unusual request relates to the 1991 death of the woman’s father, who she testified during a deposition went missing and was found dead in his car in an area river. Moeller says the state has been unable to substantiate that testimony and has asked for “all documentation” she has supporting the claim. Her attorneys have called the details of her father’s death 20 years ago irrelevant to the case.
In a joint motion last week, both sides promised “every good faith effort” to resolve their disputes.