Police Find No Evidence of Rape at UVA Fraternity
The police here said Monday that they had found no evidence that a woman was gang raped at a University of Virginiafraternity house in 2012 and that they were suspending their investigation, after a lengthy inquiry in which the accuser refused to cooperate. But they said the inquiry was not closed.
“I can’t prove that something didn’t happen, and there may come a point in time in which this survivor, or this complaining party or someone else, may come forward with some information that might help us move this investigation further,” Police Chief Timothy Longo told a roomful of reporters here.
“That doesn’t mean that something terrible did not happen to Jackie on the evening of Sept. 28, 2012,” Chief Longo said, referring to the accuser and adding that his department was simply unable to corroborate her account. He added, “This case is not closed by any stretch of the imagination.”
The announcement came four months after a now-discredited report of the sexual assault was published in Rolling Stone, roiling the historic university — and the world of journalism. But it was not entirely unexpected; university officials said in January that the police had informed them there was no “substantive basis to confirm the allegations.”
But Monday’s news conference did little to clear up the sense of confusion that has surrounded the Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus,” which detailed what appeared to be a brutal gang rape of a student, identified only as Jackie, in an upstairs room of the Phi Kappa Psi house in 2012, followed by a botched response by the school’s administration.
Asked why he did not officially clear the fraternity and its members of wrongdoing, Chief Longo replied, “I think I just did.”
The 9,000-word article set off a national debate about sexual assault on campus — and the fraternity culture more broadly — and cast an unflattering spotlight on the University of Virginia, depicting one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious universities, founded by Thomas Jefferson, as a place where partying took precedence over learning. But within days, the magazine admitted serious flaws in the article.
While Chief Longo said the authorities have “no basis to conclude that anything happened in that fraternity house,” he also made clear that his officers believe that something may have happened to Jackie — just not what was reported in Rolling Stone. “There is a difference between a false allegation and something that may have happened that may be different than something that is reported in that article,” he said.
The four-month inquiry included an examination of records and interviews with those connected with the case, including university officials, members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and another fraternity house, two of Jackie’s best friends and others.
Investigators also made “numerous attempts,” the chief said, to identify a man identified in the Rolling Stone article as “Drew,” who was said to be Jackie’s date on the night she was said to have been raped. But they were unable to find him. The authorities also discovered a time-stamped photograph of the Phi Kappa Psi house on the night that the rape was said to have taken place; it showed that the entrance corridor of the house was empty.
“We weren’t able to support that a party was taking place,” the chief said.
Since admitting flaws in the article, Rolling Stone has commissioned ateam of investigators, led by Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, to examine its report. The magazine’s managing editor, Will Dana, said Sunday that the external review would be published “in the next couple of weeks.”
At the university, officials have required fraternities to agree to new rules for parties: Beer kegs are not permitted, security workers must be present, and at least three fraternity members in attendance must be sober.
At a meeting of the university’s Board of Visitors last month, the school’s president, Teresa A. Sullivan, detailed a list of steps she was taking to change the social culture of the school and to improve safety on the campus, which students call the Grounds. She and other officials said the university had been unfairly tarnished.
“UVA’s climate and culture are generally healthy,” Ms. Sullivan said then.
For Ms. Sullivan, and for the university, the last few months have been trying ones; the rape allegations are only one in a series of communal traumas that the university has experienced. In September, Hannah Graham, a second-year student (as sophomores are known), disappeared and was later found dead. In November, another second-year student, Peter D’Agostino, the great-grandson of the supermarket founder, committed suicide.
And last week, the Grounds erupted in protest over police treatment of a third-year student, Martese Johnson, an African-American who was bloodied during an arrest by Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents. The university’s Black Student Alliance will convene a meeting Monday night to discuss ways to change the university’s culture.
“This year, our community has experienced trying, tragic and traumatizing issues that have personally affected the lives not only of students on our own Grounds, but those in the larger communities of which we are a part,” the organization said, in announcing the session.
Administration officials and student groups continue to send emails and post reminders around campus about counseling services as part of a move to support students through the events of the last few months. Dozens of black flags advocating suicide awareness were flown Monday on one of the main quads.
The flags reflect what a second-year student, Alejandra Gutierrez, said was an emotionally drained student body. Ms. Gutierrez said the episode involving Mr. Johnson added to the discouragement felt by many students.
“We were already low with what happened last semester,” she said, “so it’s made things even worse.”
A fourth-year student, Marcus Leibowitz, said that many students were ready for a return to normalcy at a university that has had off-and-on national media attention for months.
“I think it’s really frustrating,” Mr. Leibowitz said. “We’re tired of these slip-ups and we know we live in a good community, but these bad incidents keep on happening.”
One bright spot — the prospect for an N.C.A.A. basketball championship — faded Sunday night when the Cavaliers lost to Michigan State.
“This might sound ridiculous, but the basketball loss took an extraordinary toll on the community,” said Abe Axler, a second-year student from Manhattan who was recently elected president of the Student Council. “Our community relied on basketball for a lot of strength and joy when it seemed like everything else was going wrong.”