Feds open investigation into FSU

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The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into Florida State's handling of sexual assault allegations against quarterback Jameis Winston and potential Title IX violations by the university.

USA Today Sports first reported the investigation Thursday. It stems from a complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights by the accuser in the Winston case.

"Our client is particularly gratified by the OCR's decision to investigate and look for discrimination and find remedies to it,'' the accuser's lawyer, Baine Kerr, said, "because her primary goal, from the beginning, has been affecting change that will make women at Florida State safer on campus.''

The accuser, a Florida State student, said she was raped by Winston in December 2012. Deadspin.com reported Thursday that school officials met with Winston in January 2013 to discuss the matter. But the school might have violated federal law by delaying its investigation and meeting with Winston, alone, despite legal advice to the contrary.

No charges were filed by State Attorney Willie Meggs against Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

Winston's accuser filed her complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in March, 16 months after she first reported the incident.

The OCR tells schools that "conduct may constitute unlawful sexual harassment under Title IX even if the police do not have sufficient evidence of a criminal violation. In addition, a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably.''

Failure to comply with federal Title IX laws, which cover sexual harassment and violence, can result in a school losing its federal funding.

A spokesman for the Department of Education says the OCR has not done that or needed any other procedures to force compliance in the last 10 years. An agreement is typically reached with the university.

"We can confirm that we have been notified of the OCR investigation; however, due to federal and state privacy laws the university cannot comment,'' Florida State spokesman Browning Brooks said in a statement.

The OCR will investigate all sexual assault complaints at the university during the last three years.

Winston, who won the Heisman in the week after learning he would not face charges, is currently playing for the Seminoles baseball team. He will be a sophomore for the coming football season.

It is unclear if the accuser will pursue a civil case against Winston or the university. Her family accused the Tallahassee Police Department of delaying the investigation and discouraging her from going forward with the case because of the public attention it would receive. Tallahassee police have defended their handling of the case.

A civil case can still be filed after the OCR investigation.

Kerr confirmed a Deadspin.com report that football players Chris Casher and Ronald Darby were recently charged with violations of the school's Code of Conduct. Both Casher and Darby told police they witnessed the sex between Winston and the accuser. Casher told police that he attempted to join, but was told to leave by the accuser.

Punishments under the code include expulsion from the school. Darby is a starting cornerback on the team.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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