Old Dominion University paid $249,000 to settle a lawsuit with a former student who claimed campus police mishandled her reported sexual assault.
The case was settled during the run-up to a jury trial scheduled for February 20 in U.S. District Court, shortly after Judge Henry C. Morgan Jr. denied a motion made by the school’s attorneys to dismiss the case, reports Pilot Online.
“The Parties have reached a mutually agreeable compromise of the lawsuit in order to avoid the expense and uncertainties of trial. This agreement includes no admission of wrongdoing by either party. The settlement amount is $249,000,” said university spokeswoman Giovanna Genard.
The alleged victim says she met her attacker at an off-campus party on October 12, 2014. They went back to her dorm room where she told him he could sleep on her couch. The man, who was not an ODU student, allegedly raped her while she slept.
The 18-year-old woman called 911 the next morning and an ODU police officer picked her up. Instead of taking her to the hospital, the officer took her in for nearly eight hours of questioning where she was denied water and food and kept separate from her family and a YWCA victim advocate, according to the lawsuit.
The suspect was questioned at the same time and was provided with a drink and a meal before being released, says the lawsuit.
The woman was eventually taken to a medical facility for a forensic exam where a nurse found evidence of trauma. She was contacted later that week by a detective who said the department was not going to pursue charges against the man because of a “lack of probable cause”.
Prior to the settlement, the school’s defense attorneys attempted to gain access to documents containing private communications between the woman and her victim advocate.
Judge Morgan ordered the documents be turned over to him for private review to determine if they were relevant to the university’s defense.
Carly Mee, an attorney for the woman, says making her client turn over the messages would set a bad precedent.
“Compelling the production of these documents, and denying the existence of a victim-advocate privilege, would gut the relationship between a sexual assault victim and his or her advocate,” she said.
The suit initially sought damages in excess of $75,000 and several significant changes to how campus police manage reported sexual assaults. Those changes included the firing of ODU Police Chief Rhonda Harris and the requirement of security officials to transport alleged sexual assault victims to a hospital capable of collecting forensic evidence.
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