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Special prosecutor appointed for CU allegations

Governor: Subpoena power vital to investigation

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, left, appointed Attorney General General Ken Salazar as a special prosecutor in the CU investigation.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, left, appointed Attorney General General Ken Salazar as a special prosecutor in the CU investigation.

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University of Colorado
Crime, Law and Justice

DENVER, Colorado (CNN) -- Promising "no spin, no whitewash and no excuses," Colorado Gov. Bill Owens appointed state Attorney General Ken Salazar on Friday to act as a special prosecutor to conduct an investigation of sexual misconduct and rape allegations swirling around the University of Colorado football program.

The governor also asked the Legislature to give subpoena power to a university commission already probing the scandal, and he called on the state Board of Regents to let him appoint to the panel a victims' advocate and a prosecutor experienced in handling crimes against women.

The governor said the appointment of Salazar "shows that we are united in our effort and determination to root out any misconduct, to take action against any person who's done wrong, as well as clear any person who's been falsely accused.

"There can be no perception at this university, or at any other in Colorado, that sexual abuse or assault will be tolerated, or that criminals will be coddled, if there are in fact any," he said. "Women need to know that they can and should come forward, and that they'll be supported and protected when they do."

Owens, a Republican, invoked a seldom-used state law to give Salazar, a Democrat, statewide investigative powers to conduct the probe.

"These charges cross county lines, they cross judicial districts, and the integrity, reputation and public confidence in a statewide institution -- the University of Colorado -- is at stake," Owens said in explaining why he took the step. He said both the university and the local law enforcement officials involved in investigating the allegations support Salazar's appointment.

Salazar, appearing at a news conference with the governor, promised to conduct an investigation "that is complete and comprehensive and accomplishes the goals that the governor has outlined." He said he has begun assembling a team of investigators and prosecutors, both from the attorney general's office and from several district attorneys' offices across the state.

The Board of Regents, an elected body that oversees the state's universities, has appointed a commission to investigate the scandal. Critics of the internal probe had been pushing Owens to appoint his own independent panel, but he said he decided that would be duplicative.

However, the governor said a special prosecutor was needed because the commission lacks any authority to investigate or prosecute crimes.

Owens also called on the Legislature to pass a law giving the regents' panel subpoena power, which he said is "an indispensable tool that is critical to the success of the investigation."

"There will be situations perhaps where, without subpoena power, people will simply choose not to appear before the commission," he said.

The football program has been rocked by six allegations of rape against CU football players since 2000, as well as other claims that the football team used sex parties to lure recruits and that the athletic department may be linked to an escort service.

No charges have been filed in connection with any of the allegations.

The scandal gained momentum last week when Katie Hnida, a CU placekicker in 1999, told Sports Illustrated that she was raped by a teammate and that she was verbally abused, harassed and molested by her fellow players. (Full story)

Coach Gary Barnett was suspended after he reacted to Hnida's allegation by calling her an "awful" player.

"Katie was a girl. Not only was she a girl, she was terrible. And there's no other way to say it," Barnett said.

Asked about Hnida's allegations, Owens told CNN that "it's very clear that there were problems with the way the team dealt with Katie. And I think that that's one issue that the attorney general will be looking at, in case there is criminal involvement in her allegations."

"We want to be a state and a university which is open to everybody. We're proud of this university and our state, and we're sorry for anybody who feels they've been mistreated at this university."

Asked for his views on Barnett, the governor said it would be "premature" to comment.

"I don't know Gary Barnett, but I want to give him every benefit of the doubt," he said. "In this country, everybody is innocent until proven guilty."

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