NEW: Winston categorically denies any rape claim in a statement
FSU student conduct code hearing for football star Jameis Winston begins
Possible punishment ranges from a reprimand to expulsion from the university
The hearing comes just four days before FSU plays for the ACC championship
Just days before the Florida State Seminoles play for the ACC football championship, star quarterback Jameis Winston is appearing before a panel that can decide whether he will continue as a student at the university.
It’s been almost two years since the Heisman Trophy winner was accused of sexually assaulting a then-FSU student. Winston was not arrested in connection with the alleged December 2012 incident, but he still could be charged by his university with a code-of-conduct violation for sexual misconduct, depending on the results of the school’s investigation.
He could face a wide range of sanctions if he is found in violation – from a reprimand or counseling to probation, suspension or expulsion.
“This is the day that Mr. Winston has been desperately trying to avoid for two years,” John Clune, one of the attorneys representing the woman who accused Winston, told CNN on Tuesday. “This courageous young woman finally gets the chance to stand up for herself and against Mr. Winston and big-time college sports, which has long run over the rights and protection of women on campus.
“Neither Jameis Winston nor his lawyer can stop what is coming.”
Winston categorically denied the allegations in a statement.
“I did not rape or sexually assault [the accuser]. I did not create a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment in the short period of time that we were together. [The accuser] had the capacity to consent to having sex with me and she repeatedly did so by her conduct and her verbal expressions.”
He goes on to say, “Rape is a vicious crime. The only thing as vicious as rape is falsely accusing someone of rape.”
It seems improbable that a decision will be known before Saturday, when Florida State – which has won 28 games in a row – plays Georgia Tech with the ACC championship and a bid to the four-team College Football Playoff on the line. According to the university, a formal decision letter will be sent within 10 class days from the conclusion of the hearing.
Florida State’s investigation was launched under Title IX, which requires schools to investigate allegations of sexual assault, even if criminal charges are never filed. The hearing has been delayed twice.
Tim Jansen, who was Winston’s attorney in the criminal investigation, has said Winston had consensual sex with the woman.
According to police documents, the accuser said Winston raped her after she had been drinking with friends at a bar in Tallahassee. She said an unknown man gave her a shot glass of liquid before they left the bar. The accuser said she did not remember little of what happened afterward, but that she did remember being in a ground-floor apartment where a man took off her clothes and had sex with her despite her objections.
The accuser reported the alleged assault to campus police that night. A month later, in January 2013, she said the man who allegedly assaulted her was Winston.
FSU said in October that Winston informed the athletics department of the allegation after he was contacted by a Tallahassee police detective. The university said the athletics department did not initially file a report with the school’s Title IX administrator because no charges were filed and because other players who were with Winston said there was no sexual assault.
A Title IX investigation was opened after media inquiries, and after law enforcement had referred the case to the state attorney’s office.
Tallahassee interim Police Chief Tom Coe said last year that the woman “broke off contact” with investigators in February 2013 and didn’t want to go forward with the case.
The woman’s family says a detective warned her attorney that Tallahassee is a “big football town” and that life could be miserable if she pursued the case.
In December 2013, the Florida state attorney for the judicial circuit that includes Leon County and Tallahassee, announced that investigators did not have probable cause to arrest Winston.
Later that month, Winston won the Heisman, and in January 2014 the Seminoles defeated Auburn to win the BCS national title.
Winston spent the spring playing for the Florida State baseball team, but off the field he continued to make headlines for the wrong reasons.
In April, Winston was accused of shoplifting crab legs from a Publix grocery in Tallahassee. Police said that Winston said he forgot to pay. As part of a civil citation for alleged shoplifting – an alternative to criminal prosecution for first-time, nonviolent offenses in Leon County – Winston was not arrested but was ordered to serve at least 20 hours of community service, authorities said.
In September, Winston was suspended for the Seminoles’ game against Clemson for yelling a sexually explicit remark near the school’s student union. Florida State initially announced Winston would be suspended for the first half of the game after the sexual remark. However, Athletics Director Stan Wilcox increased the punishment the day before the game after hearing eyewitness accounts that differed from Winston’s initial version, a source close to the situation told CNN’s Rachel Nichols.
In October, ESPN reported that more than 2,000 authenticated autographs by Winston were discovered online. However, Florida State said its athletic compliance department has not found evidence Winston accepted payment.