So the perception war begins in the Jameis Winston case, with the public left to determine who is telling the truth, who is covering one’s backside, who might be looking for a money grab, who might be unlawfully protecting Florida State and/or who might be trying to sabotage a national football title and Heisman Trophy in one swoop.
It might be easier navigating the Everglades.
At least now, it can be acknowledged Winston’s DNA matches a sample from his accuser’s underwear. The development, as reported by ESPN.com, is the first firm evidence indicating that the Florida State quarterback and the alleged victim had intimate contact last December. It does not prove anything beyond that — including a claim by the accuser’s family that Winston raped her. It means we’re at a point in this investigation where Willie Meggs, the state attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, has to decide whether relations between Winston and his accuser were consensual or constituted sexual assault. What hangs in the balance here?
A return to championship glory for FSU.
Winston’s future as an American football star.
And whatever enthusiasm we still can muster in this country when a young, compelling athlete enters our collective radar screen.
Again, as I’ve emphasized from the start of what now is a gnarly and potentially devastating story for Winston, you and I have no idea what happened in the wee hours of Dec. 7, 2012 in Tallahassee. Problem is, neither do the prosecutors and lawyers who are paid to pretend they do. Thus, the public is forced to endure an unseemly ping-pong pubilcity match between the two camps that doesn’t answer the core question — did Winston commit sexual assault or not? — but does enable reckless thought processes among amateur detectives in the media and fan communities. Please don’t go there.
Instead, go with what you know so far.
All I know is, almost 12 months have passed since the alleged incident, and Winston has yet to be charged. All I know is, the case was shut down in February because, according to Tallahassee city manager Anita Favors Thompson, the accuser “changed her mind and did not wish to prosecute.” All I know is, that accuser remained quiet for nine months, until, perhaps coincidentally but perhaps not, Florida State climbed to No. 2 in the national rankings and Winston became the Heisman frontrunner. All I know is, more than a week has passed since TMZ, the Tampa Bay Times and other news outlets were tipped off and contacted the Tallahassee Police Department, which prompted the re-opening of a case that likely wouldn’t have been re-opened if the original complaint hadn’t been leaked — any educated guesses on who wanted the complaint made public? — to those organizations.
We also have a powerful accusation now from the family of the alleged victim. Via the Tampa Bay Times, the accuser says she was chased away from pursuing rape charges against Winston because a detective for the Tallahassee Police Department warned that her life there “could be made miserable,” this according to her attorney, Patricia Carroll. When Carroll contacted detective Scott Angulo after the alleged incident, the attorney says Angulo warned her about the initimdation factor in a mid-sized community defined by Florida State football for decades. Angulo, according to the statement, said that “Tallahassee was a big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.”
Based on that comment, and an additional claim by Carroll that Angulo didn’t initially collect Winston’s DNA or interview his roommate, the accuser and her family decided then not to pursue charges. If that is true, I can understand her concern and disgust, and why she felt “she would be targeted on campus.” Who wants to live in a maniacal college football town and deal with the Florida State machine if intimidation tactics are that cruel?
But here’s where my legal antenna goes up: How come we’re not hearing about it from the accuser and her attorney until now? If the Tallahassee police department has a detective that corrupt, that negligent toward a possible rape and that protective of the FSU football mechanism, why wouldn’t the accuser, her family and her attorney have cried foul immediately last December and January? The family also wants to know why the police department didn’t inform the state’s attorney in Tallahassee about the original police reports until last week. Again, why wouldn’t the family be all over these discrepancies during the entire calendar year? “I have no faith in the Tallahassee police department,” Carroll said in the statement.
Her message would have resonated more strongly if she’d said it in January. Or April. Or July. Or September. Why nine months after the case was dropped and almost a year after the alleged incident?
Is it because the case was leaked to the media and the accuser has to re-live a nightmare? Is it because the accuser realized that Florida State and Winston might be headed for a historic season? “Recent media reports compel our family to come forward at this time,” said the statement from the accuser, a former Florida State student from the Tampa Bay area who has been out of the state recently.
Hours later, the Tallahassee interim police chief, Tom Coe, said the department indeed was fully probing the case until Winston’s accuser stopped cooperating with investigators in February. That is when the case was declared inactive. Said Coe, per ESPN.com: “In February 2013, the case was classified as open but inactive, when the victim in the case broke off contact with TPD, and her attorney indicated she did not want to move forward at that time.”
There are too many questions and not enough answers. When ESPN.com asked Meggs if a legitimate and fair investigation is possible almost a year after the alleged crime, he said yes. He also said his office will determine Winston’s fate, not a grand jury. “I’m not stupid,” Meggs told the site. “It is a young man whose life is in a fish bowl right now. I think about that. There’s also a young girl whose life has been turned upside down and her life will never be the same, either. We look at it and say, `Which one of those is most important?’ Both. It is a search for the truth and the truth is kind of elusive sometimes.”
The biggest question: Why now? It can’t be simple coincidence that the story emerges only days after Florida State positioned itself for a likely berth in the national title game — and just as Winston, the Seminoles’ multi-skilled and charismatic quarterback, is becoming the top candidate for the Heisman. In a country where conspiracy theories never should be doubted, and in a state known for hanging chads and sleazy football programs, the stench is pretty thick when Winston’s name suddenly goes public for a 2012 case without even being mentioned in the police report. No one has found reason in almost 12 months to charge him, yet here he is, 19 years old, in what should be the most wonderful time of his life, having to deal with prosecutors who love to make names for themselves regardless of facts while dragging innocent-until-proven-guilty public figures through the media muck.
As the father of two daughters, I am shaken upon reading college-based reports about sexual battery, of course. As a sports journalist who has seen it all, I realize some athletes are animals who feel entitled when it comes to women and sex. But as someone who has dealt with a court case himself — and watched an accuser lie repeatedly while seeking money (and getting none) — I also know that prosecutors, lawyers and alleged victims sometimes have dubious agendas.
There simply isn’t enough substance here, at present, for Florida State to take disciplinary action against Winston. If no charges have been filed, how can the school punish him in any way? “I think the world of the young man. Always have,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher.
Why the state attorney’s office didn’t know about the case until last week, or so it claims, sounds beyond fishy. It’s also curious when Meggs conducts media interview after media interview when he should be providing facts about the case before talking publicly. Everyone involved looks like a legal misfit at the moment, this in the state known for the George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony verdicts and college rivalries that feel like blood sport.
For now, until more is known, Winston remains my Heisman front-runner. But with every back-and-forth volley in the perception war, the possibility intensifies that he still could be charged with a felony, which would require Florida State to suspend him and shut down the championship/Heisman perfecta. With the BCS title teams set to be named Dec. 8, the Winston decision might not come down until after the Seminoles are awarded a spot in Pasadena. Then you have the awkward Heisman timetable: The winner is named Dec. 14 in New York, and votes have to be in after the conference championship games on Dec. 7.
So, is it possible Jameis Winston will win the Heisman, then be deflated by a felony indictment? Is it possible he will win a Heisman AND a national title, then be brought down later?
Considering he hasn’t been charged yet, it seems unfair to even to ponder all of that. But that is your justice system in America. Yes, the investigation should be taking place, but it should be happening privately for all parties concerned. To make it all public just turns it into a big phony game.
That is: Who’s the best liar?