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Spear’s response to assault ‘inadequate,’ report finds. University of Idaho criticized, too.

Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear told the ASUI Senate in April that there was “mass confusion” in April 2013 about a policy that governed off-campus incidents and he was not properly trained on that policy. (Jason Lantz / Idaho Statesman)
By Chadd Cripe Idaho Statesman

University of Idaho leaders and Athletic Director Rob Spear were among those who made mistakes that contributed to the controversial handling of a 2013 sexual assault complaint against a football player, according to an independent investigative report commissioned by the school.

Spear remains on paid administrative leave and his long-term fate has not been determined by the State Board of Education, according to a memo sent to the U of I community on Tuesday.

“The State Board stepped in” and will make the decision on Spear’s future, U of I spokeswoman Jodi Walker said. School President Chuck Staben is in his final year at the helm because the State Board decided not to renew his contract.

The university doesn’t know when a decision will be made, Walker said. The State Board doesn’t have a meeting scheduled until Aug. 15, spokesman Mike Keckler said. The board has called two special meetings since July 13 to discuss a U of I personnel matter in executive session.

Staben wasn’t available for comment Tuesday. State Board members won’t discuss Spear publicly because it’s a personnel matter, Keckler said. Spear’s attorneys didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The U of I independent report was released to the Idaho Statesman late Tuesday afternoon. (Here are the public summary of the report and the redacted full report.)

The case that sparked the investigation was a sexual assault complaint by diver Mairin Jameson in April 2013 against football player Jahrie Level. Jameson wrote online early this year about her experience, including her frustrations with Spear’s response. The Idaho Statesman followed with reporting that highlighted the mistakes made in her case and uncovered two prior complaints to police and university officials by women involving Level.

Level was dismissed from the team when a surveillance video surfaced backing Jameson’s allegation.

Spear emailed Jameson an apology almost five years after her incident occurred. Football coach Paul Petrino apologized in person when Jameson returned to campus the next semester.

“We believe if Dr. Spear had made the same effort as his head football coach by apologizing in person and without trying to explain how the university failures caused him to respond inadequately, the university may not have to address these issues five years later,” the independent report says. “An athletics director likely is viewed by student-athletes and parents as the primary face of the university administration. As such, taking an approach that problems resulted from university shortcomings, as if he or she is separate from the institution, is unacceptable.”

The investigators indicated that they examined whether the university properly addressed allegations of misconduct by Level during the 2012-13 academic year. However, there’s no indication in the report — which has some sections redacted — that they looked into the two other incidents involving Level.

Former track athlete Maggie Miller, who told police and coaches that Level had threatened her, wasn’t contacted by the investigators, she said.

“I had hoped for a thorough and independent investigation, but the fact that I wasn’t even contacted, nor referenced in the final report, is a bit breathtaking,” Miller said, “considering the fact that had the university taken action regarding my incident with Jahrie Level it’s quite possible that Mairin would have never been sexually assaulted.”

Jameson waived her student-privacy rights for the report to allow the university to offer more details to the public than otherwise would be possible.

“My initial reaction to the report was that it was focused solely on the policy,” Jameson said. “It wasn’t a full investigative report into what had happened prior to me bringing Jahrie to their attention. … That’s what concerns me.”

The report found that insufficient education and notification about university policies contributed to the athletic department’s mishandling of Jameson’s case.

“We found there were a number of ways the university failed to respond appropriately to allegations of misconduct,” the report concludes.

What the report says about Spear

The investigation provides some support for Spear’s statements that there was confusion about university policy and a lack of training about Title IX in 2012-13. The university made changes to the Student Code of Conduct in 2012 to expand jurisdiction off-campus for incidents of sexual harassment (including assault) to comply with federal guidelines. The change was made in two steps — first with an emergency policy, then with a permanent policy.

However, the investigators say they found the notification of the policy changes insufficient considering the gravity of the matter. The notifications were within routine communications. The university also failed to conduct Title IX training, they wrote, and could have made the requirement to report incidents to the dean of students office more clear.

“Schools are required to train all employees to know how to report harassment and how to respond,” the report says. “… Our investigation revealed such education did not take place prior to the incidents reported by Ms. Jameson.”

Spear and Staben, who wasn’t at Idaho at the time, have admitted that university policy wasn’t followed in the case.

“The policy was clear,” Walker said Tuesday. “The policy is the written piece. What the report showed we could have done better was communicate that policy out once it was in place.”

Still, the investigators write that Spear “must shoulder some of the responsibility for the manner in which he responded inadequately.”

Jameson told Spear, swimming and diving coach Mark Sowa, academic coordinator Susan Steele, Petrino and Moscow Police Lt. Dave Lehmitz about her assault in various meetings. None of them reported the incident to the dean of students office, as required by university policy. Lehmitz, who wasn’t a university employee, “erroneously told everyone that the university could take no action because the incident occurred off-campus,” the report says. Lehmitz declined an interview request from the investigators but this information also was included in a 2013 report produced by U of I legal counsel. That report was added as an appendix to the new investigation.

The confusion about the off-campus policy obscures the fact that Jameson reported other harassment incidents that occurred on-campus. Those should have been reported even under the previous university policy. They weren’t. Miller’s complaint also was about an on-campus incident and wasn’t investigated.

Spear informed then-President Duane Nellis about Jameson’s assault complaint. Spear spoke to Nellis briefly at an engineering expo, according to the 2013 report. Nellis, who was in his final weeks on the job, confirmed he was notified at the time. He didn’t provide Spear with any direction, according to the 2013 report.

“None of the athletics staff or … Lehmitz was aware of the change to the student code that subjected off-campus sexual misconduct to university policies,” the 2018 report says. Federal guidance “required that each individual in the meeting should have advised or escorted Ms. Jameson to the dean of students office to immediately report to the Title IX coordinator. None had training to do so and none did.”

Much of the criticism of Spear in the independent report involves his interactions with Jameson and her parents. Had Jameson been referred to the proper university resources immediately, “the anxiety created for her and her family, even for a few days, could have been avoided,” the report says.

An email exchange between Spear and Jameson’s parents, in particular, caught the attention of the administration in 2013 and the investigators in 2018. The 2013 report indicated that Spear found “hurtful” the Jamesons’ email questioning his response to the assault.

“Dr. Spear’s initial statements were defensive, rather than compassionate and understanding,” the 2018 report says.

Spear was placed on an initial 60-day leave April 3 — the day before the ASUI student senate voted 10-5 to ask for his resignation. The leave was extended May 31 to provide more time for investigation.

Spear took over the Vandals athletic department more than 14 years ago. He is on a four-year contract through February 2020 at $196,958 per year.

The independent investigators say they aren’t advising the U of I on its personnel decision. The report does mention the language in Spear’s contract requiring him to “know, recognize and comply with all applicable policies, rules and regulations of the university,” and to ensure his employees do as well.

“A shared responsibility of the employer is that adequate notice is provided to employees of significant policy changes,” the report says. “We find that did not happen in this case.”

What the report says about U of I

In addition to the lack of education about policy, the report says the university failed to complete its own investigation into the handling of Jameson’s case in 2013. Senior Associate General Counsel Debra Ellers was asked to investigate in May 2013 after the university learned of the mistakes that were made. Spear, Petrino and Sowa met with university legal counsel on May 7, which is when Spear has said he realized the case wasn’t handled correctly.

Ellers produced a draft report dated June 3, 2013. There’s no indication a final report was ever made, the independent investigators say. Ellers spoke to Lehmitz, Spear, Petrino, Steele and Sowa — but not Jameson — and reviewed documents, emails and some text messages.

“Had this issue been fully treated at the time, perhaps it would (have) avoided the controversy this year that resulted in this inquiry,” the 2018 report says.

The Title IX coordinator in 2013 even raised concerns about Spear’s email exchange with Jamesons’ parents.

“If a critique of his response had been done, and assuming there were concerns similar to ours about it, Ms. Jameson and her family could have been appropriately contacted, proper apologies made, and corrective action taken at the time,” the 2018 report says.

Ellers, who is no longer employed by the university, declined an interview request from the Idaho Statesman.

Spear told the Idaho Statesman in March that no employee in his department was disciplined over the Jameson case. He vaguely remembered Ellers’ inquiry.

“I was contacted later on, probably late May, about timelines and processes that we used in this,” he said in March, “and I turned everything over to legal counsel. I never heard anything back.”

What the report says has improved

The improvements section of the independent report indicated that Spear was quick to make changes after the Jameson incident, increasing training for his staff and athletes.

“Some reported he was more engaged in seeking such training than other departments on campus,” the report says.

The football program’s attitude toward women changed under Petrino, who arrived in 2013, the report says. His predecessor was Robb Akey, who also was hired by Spear.

“Several staff members and student-athletes indicated that the current head football coach has completely transformed for the better the culture of the team,” the report says. “Some of the female athletes reported the feeling that the football players protected them and made them feel safe, which was contrary to the perception of the football student-athletes recruited by the previous staff.”

And the university has improved its processes for handling sexual misconduct since 2013, including a switch to professional investigators.

“The university is now focused on using the report as a basis to further improve knowledge, support and education around Title IX reporting to best support our entire student body,” Staben wrote in his memo to faculty, staff and students.

The U of I’s Task Force on Campus Safety and Wellness will start work this fall to conduct a campus climate survey and review survey results, programming and processes “to develop a full picture of sexual misconduct reporting and support.”

University leadership plans to ensure that Moscow Police notifications go to the appropriate office, review policies and processes for reporting sexual misconduct for clarity, review and enhance how major policy changes are communicated, add an investigator and make other improvements to the Office of Civil Rights and update bias and discrimination training for faculty and staff with a section on Title IX compliance.

“It is incumbent on all of us to continue to improve how we react to the needs and concerns of our students and colleagues,” Staben wrote. “We each need to know what is legally required of us and continue to proactively engage with empathy and caring as members of the Vandal Family.”