Baylor sexual assault victim files Title IX suit against school

ByPaula Lavigne ESPN logo
Thursday, March 31, 2016

A former Baylor University student who reported to campus officials that she had been raped by former Bears football player Tevin Elliott filed a Title IX lawsuit against the university Wednesday, claiming the school knew Elliott had a history of assaults, failed to protect her and other women, and ignored her when she sought help after her assault.

Elliott was convicted in January 2014 on two counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison for attacking the student, Jasmin Hernandez, on April 15, 2012. ESPN typically does not name victims of sexual assaults, but Hernandez planned to file the lawsuit using her name and is no longer requesting anonymity about her case, according to her attorneys.

Hernandez reported her 2012 assault hours after it occurred to Waco police and a nurse at a hospital. Outside the Lines reported in late January that, days later, she went to Baylor's campus police department, told officers about it and was told they were powerless because the rape had happened off campus. She contacted Baylor's student health center, seeking counseling, but was referred elsewhere. Her family sought assistance from Baylor's academic services group, to no avail.

Within weeks of Hernandez's assault, Elliott was suspended from the football team and later was expelled. His trial revealed that three other women claimed Elliott had raped them, including one report made just weeks before the assault against Hernandez. Outside the Lines reported that Baylor officials also were aware of an alleged attempted assault against a local community college student, for which Elliott received a misdemeanor citation in 2011.

An email announcing the lawsuit states that, "Baylor authorities were negligent in that they had notice that Elliott had sexually assaulted at least one other female student prior to his sexual assault of Jasmin. Knowing this, the university failed to take reasonable measures to prevent him from hurting other students."

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Texas by the Zalkin Law Firm in California.

Baylor officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Among other actions, Title IX requires universities to provide counseling and academic support to students who report sexual assaults in order to help them stay in school. A copy of the lawsuit obtained by Outside the Lines states that Baylor failed to do this for Hernandez, who was attending Baylor on an academic scholarship.

According to the lawsuit, Baylor "failed to properly train and educate their employees, including school officials, officers, investigators, and adjudicators in appropriate response to allegations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and retaliatory conduct, as well as necessary Title IX policies and procedures." It also pointed out that the school did not have a Title IX coordinator, as required by the U.S. Department of Education, until November 2014.

Hernandez's story, and those of two other women, was featured in January's Outside the Lines investigation into how Baylor failed to follow federal rules in responding to allegations of sexual assaults against student athletes, including Elliott and former defensive end Sam Ukwuachu. Ukwuachu was convicted of sexual assault in August after a Baylor soccer player reported to Waco police that he'd assaulted her in October 2013. That woman reached a settlement with the school in December, the terms of which were not disclosed; no lawsuit was ever filed.

The Outside the Lines story prompted other sexual assault victims to come forward, in online postings and during a vigil outside the home of Baylor President Ken Starr, about their experiences with Baylor officials, who have since vowed to improve their adjudication of reports and treatment of alleged victims. The university hired a Philadelphia law firm to review how it has responded to sexual assaults. It's unclear when that report will be finished and if it will be made public.

The lawsuit also names head football coach Art Briles and details phone calls that Hernandez's mother and father made to Briles. They never received a return call from the coach, or a follow-up from anyone at the university except a secretary who said athletics officials "were looking into it."

"Despite Hernandez's multiple reports to several administrative offices that she had been raped by another Baylor student, Baylor did not take any action whatsoever to investigate Hernandez's claim," the draft lawsuit states.

In the January Outside the Lines story, Hernandez, who spoke using the pseudonym "Tanya," said the emotional stress of dealing with the assault, and the pending court case, distracted her from her studies. Her grades dropped, and she lost her scholarship.

Hernandez said she couldn't afford tuition without the scholarship, so she left Baylor after her sophomore year, moved home to California and is attending a local community college.

"Rather than following the law intended to protect victims like our client, Baylor failed to investigate these allegations, allowed Elliott to remain a threat to other female students, and did nothing to offer any counseling or academic support which ultimately forced her to drop out of Baylor," wrote Hernandez's attorney, Alex Zalkin, in a news release.

The lawsuit asks for unspecified financial compensation for physical and emotional damages, medical expenses for counseling, and other punitive damages.

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