University releases 15 sexual assault records following four-year lawsuit
Editor’s note: We’ve received several questions about why we chose to name some of the individuals found responsible and not others. We published Jalek Felton’s name because we consider him a public figure due to his involvement with UNC Basketball, and we did our due diligence by getting in touch with his lawyer prior to publication.
We can’t promise that we will not publish any additional names. But we can promise that we will continue to reach out to these individuals prior to publication and think critically about why we want to publish their names in the first place. We understand the weight of these records and their history, and we would never want to put any survivors at risk.
If you have additional questions about this story, please email our Editor-in-Chief Anna Pogarcic.
According to records the University released on Thursday, 15 students have been found in violation of UNC's sexual assault policy since 2007.
The North Carolina Supreme Court ordered the release of these records on May 1, following a four-year lawsuit.
Individuals found responsible of sexual assault or sexual violence include Jalek Felton, former UNC basketball player.
The Supreme Court ordered that the University was required to "release, as public records, disciplinary records of its students who have been found to have violated UNC-CH’s sexual assault policy," Justice Michael Morgan wrote in the majority opinion.
The University produced 15 cases of sexual assault or sexual violence, sexual misconduct or deliberate touching of another's sexual parts without consent, pursuant to the court order.
"This is everything that the University identified, and that the court identified, as being responsive to the Supreme court's opinion," said Hugh Stevens, the lawyer representing DTH Media Corp.
According to the 2019 Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, 35.3 percent of undergraduate female respondents reported experiencing sexual touching or penetration involving physical force (including attempted penetration), inability to consent or stop what was happening because the student was passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, coercion or no voluntary agreement.
45 percent of women in their fourth year or higher reported the same.
Vice Chancellor of University Communications Joel Curran commented about the release of the records in a statement via UNC Media Relations.
"We have notified the parties involved in those cases and taken a responsible approach to these disclosures," Curran stated. "It is important to note that the University’s Title IX policy and process are mandated by the federal government and are separate and distinct from any criminal process."
In the records obtained by The Daily Tar Heel, there were:
10 cases of sexual assault or sexual violence
Four cases of sexual misconduct
One case of deliberate touching of another's sexual parts without consent.
The original 2016 lawsuit requested the records from 2007 to the present.
Based on the records released earlier Thursday, sanctions for sexual assault or sexual violence range from expulsion from the UNC System, definite suspension, indefinite suspension or a set ban from the University's campus.
For sexual misconduct, sanctions range from definite suspension to indefinite suspension.
UNC had previously announced that Felton had been suspended from the University in the spring of 2018, before his attorney Kerry Sutton said on Twitter that Felton was withdrawing from the University.
Felton was found responsible of sexual violence or sexual assault and was sanctioned with expulsion from the UNC System, order of No Contact and a ban from the University's campus for four years.
Sutton said that Felton withdrew from the University before he was expelled. Sutton declined to comment on whether or not Jalek was informed of his ban from the University's campus, but spoke with him earlier today to inform him of the courts' decision to release the documents.
UNC Athletics declined to comment or answer questions.
Curran said in the statement that the University will seek review from the U.S Supreme Court in the case.
"Later this year, the University will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state court’s 4-3 decision, resolute in our view that universities should not be forced to release student records that could identify sexual assault survivors," Curran stated.
Hugh Stevens said this petition, in the form of a writ of certiorari, is an order from a higher court to a lower court, extending the case for review.
"They're basically asking the Supreme Court of the U.S. to review the opinion and the ruling of the Supreme Court," Stevens said.
Since the records have already been released, an order like that from the Supreme Court could say that the N.C. Supreme Court was wrong and therefore prevent this case from serving as a precedent that would be applicable to future records requests. This action from the Supreme Court would also prevent others from citing this case to try and get similar records from other schools.
"As a practical matter, it wouldn't change anything now," Stevens said. "But it would have huge ramifications for the future."
How did we get here?
The N.C. Supreme Court ruled that UNC must turn over the disciplinary records for individuals found responsible for rape, sexual assault or related acts of sexual misconduct on May 1 — four years after the DTH Media Corp filed its initial lawsuit.
The DTH Media Corporation, along with WRAL, The Charlotte Observer and The Durham Herald Sun, sued the University for the records during the fall of 2016.
The lawsuit alleged the University had violated North Carolina public records law by refusing to release disciplinary records for students or faculty found responsible for sexual misconduct. Then-DTH Editor-in-Chief Jane Wester said in a column that the lawsuit was a fight for more than just records — it was a fight for transparency and the ability to hold the University accountable for what occurs on its campus.
“The issue of sexual assault on college campuses is far from theoretical. It is real, painfully real; it is holding friends while they cry and watching personalities change and not assigning stories to reporters anymore because people are drained, because we do not get a break from this issue,” Wester wrote.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in August 2019. The University argued that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act gives it the discretion to choose whether to release records in this case, regardless of the state's Public Records laws.
The Supreme Court ruled nine months later that the University must turn over the records.
The release of the records on Thursday comes after a delay on the part of UNC over the summer.
Special Deputy Attorney General Stephanie Brennan informed Hugh Stevens, who represents the media corporations in the lawsuit, in an email on June 15 that the University expected to release 11 records and set a deadline of June 30 provided there was no further court intervention.
On June 23, two students who had been found responsible for violations of UNC’s sexual harassment policy filed a motion to intervene, seeking court permission for the records to use general neutral pseudonyms. The students believed releasing their names “will cause them immediate and irreversible reputational and economic harms.”
By July 1, the records were not released, due to new developments over a “handful of issues,” Brennan said in an email to Stevens.
Also this summer, UNC settled with the U.S. Department of Education for a $1.5 million fine after UNC was found responsible for violations of the Clery Act.
This fine was the third largest Clery Act fine settlement to date, S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses LLC, told the Daily Tar Heel in June.
The University was found responsible for violating campus safety laws for years between 2009 and 2016. These violations include inadequate systems for sexual violence victims, omitting serious crimes from annual reports and violating a federal non-retaliation provision.