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Last Wednesday, the Michigan Messenger news website reported that two MSU basketball players had been accused of sexual assault, and that Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III had not taken the MSU Police Department’s recommendation to bring the case to court.
The storys claim that the MSU Police had recommended that the players be charged was based on the appearance on a police incident report of two lines that say "Sexual penetration penis/vagina CSI1" and "CSC 1st degree - pentration penis/ vagina" in a section called offense.
But when MSU police spokeswoman Sgt. Florene Taylor was asked — in general — if MSU police ever make a recommendation in an incident report on a possible charge, she said no.
“It’s not a recommendation or a suggestion,” Taylor said. “It’s a criminal report.”
MSU spokesman Kent Cassella did not respond to specific questions about whether police recommended the charge, or believe, still, that charges should be brought.
The story was picked up from Grand Rapids to Detroit to USA Today — likely because “rape” and “Michigan State University basketball team” were part of the story but also because Michigan Messenger flatly reported — with no corroborating information — that Dunnings was ignoring the police recommendation.
Then there was outrage about Dunnings’ decision, which played out last Friday when about a dozen protesters gathered in front of the county courthouse in downtown Lansing to rebuke the prosecutor.
However, the Michigan Messenger story did not explain why — if it was not for a lack of evidence — Dunnings refused to prosecute the case.
Michigan Messenger is part of the American Independent News Network, a nonprofit Washington-based media company that operates similar news websites across the country. Its staff includes former writers and editors of publications like Wired, National Geographic and Adbusters. Its slogan is "Impact journalism in the public interest."
Last week, Dunnings responded in an e-mail about the “recommendation.”
“Recommendation is a mischaracterization. Every warrant request from any agency has a designation from the agency that indicates what statute they think may be involved. We may charge that, something different, send for more information or deny,” he wrote.
In response, Michigan Messenger reporter Todd Heywood, who wrote the story, said: “We have provided the police report to the public to read for themselves. We have also spoken with former prosecutors who confirm that they considered similar language in other police reports to be recommendations. Michigan Messenger will continue to investigate and report on this matter, and looks forward to Mr. Dunnings returning our calls.”
Heywood, who has reported for a number of local and state news organizations, including The Towne Courier in East Lansing, the GLBT publication Between the Lines and City Pulse, has a reputation as an advocacy journalist.
In response to questions about his decision, Dunnings on Friday released his own statement, a transcript of an interview conducted by two MSU police detectives with one of the suspects and a couple of the police incident reports.
Dunnings — who will not offer any comment on the matter further than his written statement —insists that the evidence, including interviews with the alleged victim and one of the basketball players, was insufficient to bring charges. The other player declined to be interviewed by officials.
As part of the investigation, Assistant Prosecutor Debra Bouck interviewed the victim and asked her questions in a sort of mock trial, so she would know what it would be like to be questioned by a defense attorney. That interview was not made public.
Until Monday, the only side of the victim’s story available was in fact not hers.
It’s what an MSU police officer wrote in summation of his interview with her. The report is, in a word, horrific. It describes a long session where all manner of sex acts were done to her by two men whose size and strength scared her.
But the police interview with one of the suspects tells a different story. The man told the detectives that he had met the girl in the lobby of his dorm, they chatted and she eventually came back to his and his roommate’s room. The trio played a strip game, “Love and Basketball,” named after the movie. Clothes came off, sex was had. And, at one point, it appeared the woman wanted it to stop. The victim apparently said she was “just done.” The suspect also said the victim said, talking to her after the sex, that she was afraid to leave because the two men were bigger than she was.
He told detectives that after the sex was finished: “So we was talking, and everything, and so she was, like — I feel like she was like — basically. I’m, like, ‘So you could have just left.’ And she was just, like, ‘Well, y’all big and stronger than I am. All of you.’ ‘Well, if you wanted to left, I would have let you leave.’” The suspect tells police that he tried to calm the woman down after the sex was over, noticing that she was upset and expressed that the duo had disrespected her. He forced his roommate to apologize to her.
On Monday, Dunnings released the victim’s interview with police — but not her interview with Bouck. She alleged, as described in a police report, that the strip basketball game was one sided — the men took off all their clothes, she only removed a shirt, but was then repeatedly asked to remove her clothes in the dark, feeling like her only exit was blocked by a tall, strong basketball player.
She then describes that she took off her clothes, except for her underwear, which was removed by one of the players. Then, one of the players — whom she cannot identify — lowered her to the ground and began having sex with her.
“They kind of took my arm, but I don’t know,” she tells the police officer. “One — like one of them may have been sitting in a chair.”
The girl said she protested during sex, at one point striking one of the players (which she admitted was a weak blow, “Even for a girl”) with her elbow.
To view documents in this case click the link below.