Michigan State: Travis Walton sexual assault report would be handled differently now

Michigan State officials have provided more information about how the university handled an allegation of sexual assault in 2010 involving former student-assistant basketball coach Travis Walton, telling Outside the Lines that administrators would "handle it differently" if such an allegation were made today.

The university also has provided personnel documents that show Walton has held multiple jobs with the university; MSU officials had previously told ESPN that no such records existed. Walton also had denied he was ever employed by the university.

In late January, Outside the Lines reported that Walton was allowed to continue working under coach Tom Izzo while facing a criminal charge for allegedly punching a female MSU student at a bar in January 2010. That summer, another female student accused Walton and two basketball players of having sexually assaulted her in April of that year, according to a university document.

Walton has denied that he sexually assaulted anyone. He never faced sexual assault charges related to the 2010 allegation. He also denied punching the other woman; that case was dismissed in lieu of him pleading to a civil infraction for littering.

The April 2010 sexual assault allegation involving Walton became public in January after Outside the Lines obtained a letter written by former Michigan State sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede. The woman did not report the incident to police, but according to Allswede's letter, the woman's parents did report the incident to representatives of the athletic department, including then-athletic director Mark Hollis. The letter states that Hollis said he would "conduct his own investigation."

The woman reported the alleged incident when she "became very concerned after hearing that the same men attempted an assault on another student co-worker in a similar manner," the letter states.

Ahead of the Outside the Lines reports in January, reporters sought information from MSU officials about the letter's contents and how the university handled other alleged incidents involving athletes. MSU officials issued a general statement instead of answering specific questions. In February, Hollis criticized the reports publicly in an email to athletic department staff, and MSU interim president John Engler has called the reports "sensationalized" and inaccurate but has not offered details.

Outside the Lines requested an interview with Engler, but he was not made available.

On March 6, MSU announced the hiring of Emily Gerkin Guerrant as a vice president and university spokesperson. Outside the Lines repeatedly asked Guerrant for details about what Engler found inaccurate about the January reports, but she did not provide any examples.

Outside the Lines also submitted to Guerrant several questions about Allswede's letter. Guerrant said the overall contents of the letter were not in dispute. She said, though, that it remains unclear what the letter means when it states that Hollis would "conduct his own investigation" -- whether that meant he would handle it himself or the athletic department was going to look into it.

Guerrant acknowledged that the female student's parents came forward in early July 2010 to discuss the incident. Guerrant said she did not have further details on the alleged incident but the "parents admit that maybe the daughter had put herself in a questionable situation" though they thought the sex "was not consensual."

Neither Hollis nor associate athletic director Alan Haller reported the incident to MSU's Title IX investigators at the time, Guerrant said. Officials in such positions have been required by federal law to report such incidents to a Title IX office for investigation; it wasn't until 2011, though, that federal education officials put out specific reporting guidelines in response to universities confused by the existing law and struggling with compliance.

Allswede wrote the letter to university officials in August 2011 in response to a request for information about complaints of sexual assault and harassment, including those involving members of the men's basketball team. The university sought the information from her as it gathered material to respond to a Title IX complaint that had been filed against MSU by a different woman who had reported being raped by two basketball players in August 2010.

That complaint would in part prompt a broader investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights into MSU's overall handling of reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

A letter received Wednesday from Engler responding to an Outside the Lines' public records request appeal stated that OCR investigators asked Hollis, Haller and Izzo about the April 2010 allegation against Walton during interviews in September 2012. Guerrant had referenced those interviews in a prior email to Outside the Lines.

"Coach Izzo and Mark Hollis told the OCR that [they] felt they had handled the situation appropriately at the time, and [were] following the policies in place at that time," Guerrant wrote, noting that there had been several policy changes since 2010. "But if that same scenario were to happen today, they would handle it differently."

On Sept. 1, 2015, the Office for Civil Rights released the results of its investigation. Regarding the alleged August 2010 sexual assault -- one of two complaints that prompted the investigation -- OCR determined that MSU's review, in which it was ruled that the two basketball players had not violated the school's sexual harassment policy, was acceptable but took too long to start.

In their wider review, OCR investigators found that a "sexually hostile environment existed" on campus and MSU's "failure to address complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, in a prompt and equitable manner caused and may have contributed to a continuation of this sexually hostile environment," according to the report.

The 42-page report of findings and resolution agreement states that OCR investigators reviewed about 150 reports of campus sexual harassment, sexual violence and sexual assault from 2011 to 2014. The report states that investigators found "significant concerns" with 30 of the instances but does not list them; it includes only specific findings and details for the two complaints that triggered the OCR investigation and limited details and suggested actions for a few claims of sexual harassment made against MSU employees. The report notes that investigators were unable to make determinations in several cases due to a lack of a formal investigation or available records.

The OCR report does not reference the case involving Walton in any way. Guerrant said in a phone call that there were "no findings on that situation specifically."

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education, in response to a question from Outside the Lines about the Walton allegation, said the office could not comment, saying the agency was "prohibited by federal privacy laws and regulations from identifying people involved with our Office for Civil Rights' cases." Dorie Nolt, who was the press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education in 2015, said in an email that "no findings" means "only that OCR did not make findings related to that specific set of facts. It does not mean OCR approved of or had any view about those facts."

The 2015 report also detailed MSU's ongoing efforts to train staff on reporting requirements for sexual harassment and assault. During an on-site visit in February 2014, then-athletic director Hollis told OCR officials that coaches knew they were to report any incidents directly to the office that handled Title IX complaints.

Izzo appears to have contradicted Hollis in his interview with OCR officials, according to the report: "He stated that he is required to report incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault to the university's athletic director, who would then send the report 'up the ladder.'" The report said Izzo stated that the athletic director would call the Title IX office, which he could as well, "however, he did not indicate that this was mandatory."

Outside the Lines requested an interview with Izzo, but he was not made available to comment for this story. Hollis announced his retirement on Jan. 26, a few hours before the Outside the Lines reports aired and were published. Hollis did not respond to a voicemail message left for him.

Walton in January said the sex he had with the woman in 2010 was consensual and denied any assault. His lawyer, James Heos, said Walton did not know the woman's name. Heos said he had spoken recently to university employees who met with the woman and her parents, "and on each occasion, never did they complain of sexual assault. Rather, their concern was that they didn't think it was appropriate that a coach was having sex with their daughter."

In a statement after the Outside the Lines reports in January, Walton said he "was never hired or fired" by MSU. Izzo said he did not know exactly why Walton had left the program in 2010. Just weeks ahead of the January reports, MSU officials answered a public records request filed by Outside the Lines seeking Walton's personnel records by stating that "no personnel records exist."

In mid-February, Outside the Lines obtained court documents from an Oakland County, Michigan, family court case involving Walton. Those records included a child support order from August 2011, in which a court referee or investigator listed Walton's source of income as "Michigan State Univ Alumni Unemp, Payroll Dept" and his monthly gross income as $1,766. Guerrant said in an email that university payroll records do not show that amount; rather, that Walton received $525 from MSU, of which about $200 was taken out for child support.

On March 7, as Outside the Lines was continuing its reporting on Walton and MSU, university officials sent ESPN a letter and provided 20 pages of records about Walton's employment history. Guerrant said the university's initial search didn't include temporary positions and as a result missed Walton's records, which were found with a subsequent review of payroll data. In response to an Outside the Lines appeal for additional withheld records, the university released another set of documents on Friday pertaining to Walton's employment.

Walton's attorney said a line in Walton's January statement that he was "never hired or fired" by MSU was written "in error." Heos said Walton was trying to emphasize that he was never being paid as an assistant coach in the spring of 2010 while he was a student. NCAA bylaws state that undergraduate student assistant coaches may not be paid.

Walton, who was on Izzo's bench during the latter part of the 2009-10 season, was referenced in multiple newspaper stories during that time as a student assistant coach and was quoted in a Jan. 23, 2018, story in an Ohio newspaper as saying Izzo had encouraged him in 2009 to "return to MSU, work with him as a student assistant coach, and earn my degree."

Heos said Walton was never a coach and was simply working out with the team.

MSU records show that Walton was hired as a "coaching aide" on June 20, 2010, and that his termination date was Sept. 1, 2010. The letter Allswede wrote referencing the alleged sexual assault says Walton was "fired" after athletic department officials learned of the allegation in the summer of 2010. Records show he received $725 in 2010 from MSU. Guerrant said she has been unable to find other details of his employment and departure that summer because of a switch in payroll systems.

Records also list Walton as having been employed at the university from 2011 to 2013 and receiving "project pay" at various times in 2011, 2012 and 2016, which were for coaching at summer MSU basketball camps. In Engler's letter received Wednesday, he writes that Walton also worked, while he was a student-athlete, for MSU summer basketball camps from 2006 to 2009, and records show he received a total of $2,881 those years. Engler wrote that Walton's status as a temporary on-call employee was terminated on March 15, 2018.

In releasing the records to Outside the Lines, MSU officials in their March 7 letter wrote, "We apologize for any inconvenience the delay in providing these records may have caused."

One of Walton's jobs was as a "camp/conference aide" as part of a U.S. Department of Education grant-funded program at the university called Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, which helps low-income middle school through high school children gain college preparatory skills.

In a document provided to Outside the Lines on March 7, Walton's position description for GEAR UP is only listed as, "Performs a variety of duties in support of summer camps and conferences." A more complete version of that same document was provided Friday, and it states that his duties also "may involve overnight supervision of participants."

Guerrant said Walton worked with the GEAR UP program for a short time in the summer of 2013 but was terminated at the end of July after he stopped showing up.

Dr. Pamela Bellamy, the director of MSU's GEAR UP program, told Outside the Lines that she had been unaware of any allegations involving Walton.

"We have youth here, and that would have really been a real serious issue for us to have someone working on that level here with those kind of allegations. I should have been told," she said.

Walton played professionally in Europe in fall 2009 and from October 2010 to April 2011. He played for a variety of NBA G League teams from November 2011 to April 2012. He had been an assistant coach with the G League's Agua Caliente Clippers in Ontario, California, but was placed on administrative leave in January. A Clippers spokesman said last week that his status was unchanged.

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