All references to Grizzlies football players and their coach were removed from a report by an “independent investigator” on allegations of sexual assault at the University of Montana when campus officials released an altered version of the document to the public.
The discrepancies were discovered among hundreds of emails recently released to the Missoulian and the Wall Street Journal, which filed a public records request.
In December 2011, UM President Royce Engstrom commissioned former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz to conduct an investigation of two separate reports of sexual assaults that occurred in November and December of that year. Additional sexual assault allegations came to light during Barz’s investigation, and her report ended up including a total of nine incidents.
At issue is the report’s description of events that took place in December 2010.
In the original report, which Barz sent on Jan. 31, the description was as follows:
“Alleged rape against student by multiple football players. Police report filed. No charges brought. Police told the football coach. The coach did not tell the Director of Athletics, the Dean of Students, or anyone else up the chain of command. No effort was taken to try to reach out to the student who had reported the rape. The student has just come forward to University (January 2012) Officials and indicated that she wants to proceed with the student conduct code process.”
When the university released the report to the public on Feb. 1, the description was changed to read:
“Alleged rape against student by multiple students. Police report filed. No charges brought. Police provided limited information about allegations to University employee. The situation was addressed with the students allegedly involved. UM does not have guidelines and procedures requiring reporting of information of the nature received in the manner this information was received. UM is currently reviewing its guidelines and procedures. The student has just come forward to University (2012) Officials and indicated that she wants to proceed with the student conduct code process. Investigation ongoing.”
The reason for the changes, Engstrom said Friday, was student confidentiality.
“In full consultation with Ms. Barz we discussed the importance of student confidentiality in her reports,” Engstrom said. “Because of the ongoing nature of the investigation at that time, and because none of those alleged perpetrators had the opportunity for due process at that time, it was ethically essential to remove any identifying characteristics from the report.”
As to any apparent conflict surrounding Barz’s assignment to conduct an “independent” investigation and the alteration of the report that was eventually made public, Engstrom said, “I did commission Diane Barz to provide the perspective of an independent investigator to help us. ... There was no requirement to make the report public.
“We chose to do that,” he said. “I chose to make that report public, and in making the report a public document we had to abide by public and state laws that protect student identity.”
The changes, Engstrom said, were made with Barz’s consent and knowledge, and by a small group of UM administrators who had been discussing the nature of the report, including Lucy France, director of equal opportunity and affirmative action, and Charles Couture, former dean of students.
“The final report that is out there is a report that Diane Barz was comfortable with, and approved,” Engstrom said, “and knew was going to become the public document.”
As explained in her report, Barz considered her efforts to be thorough, but less than legendary.
“In this investigation I assumed the process would compare to an ‘internal audit’ on whether (US. Department of Education Office) guidelines were followed in the reporting of sexual assaults on campus and ensure the UM adequately addressed particular cases of sexual assault,” Barz wrote. “The expectation that I would come on campus as a ‘private investigator’ like the Kinsey Millhone character in Sue Grafton’s books to solve the crimes of sexual assault has not happened.”
Since the Barz report was made public, UM has worked with the Missoula Police Department to improve the reporting and handling of campus sexual assaults.
Two federal investigations have begun into the handling of sexual assaults at UM and in Missoula.
The university, UM’s Office of Public Safety, the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office are the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, while the U.S. Department of Education is examining UM and the Grizzlies football team.
The NCAA is investigating the Grizzlies football team, though the intent remains unknown.
Engstrom in March fired UM Athletic Director Jim O’Day and head football coach Robin Pflugrad for as-yet-unspecified reasons.
Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at email@example.com.