Independent investigation finds that LSU routinely mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct

Kenny Jacoby, Nancy Armour and Jessica Luther, USA TODAY
·9 min read

Louisiana State University’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints was a “serious institutional failure,” created by campus leaders who never spent enough money, left investigative offices understaffed and, ultimately, left students at risk by not recognizing the trauma abuse victims experience, an investigation by an outside law firm found.

The 148-page report by Husch Blackwell, released Friday to campus officials, did not dwell on the failings of specific individuals but rather focused on an LSU system of reporting that was built to fail. Reporting policies were unclear, training was an afterthought and the Title IX office, in particular, was not adequately staffed nor given the necessary independence. The report took particular note that Jennie Stewart, designated as the Title IX coordinator for the LSU system, was overloaded, tasked with doing four jobs at once.

The report made 18 recommendations on how to remedy LSU’s deficiencies and prevent future failings. They include: increasing staffing the Title IX office, making mandatory reporting obligations clear, conducting targeted training for athletes and improving record keeping.

The report was a “brutally honest and objective evaluation of our culture,” interim LSU president Thomas Galligan said. But one that was necessary, he said, because of previous warnings the school ignored and the damage that resulted.

In fact, Husch Blackwell cited five different reviews of LSU’s Title IX policies done in the last five years. All alerted LSU officials to problems with the school’s policies and practices, but Husch Blackwell said it could not tell what was done with those recommendations and called leadership’s previous response to the red flags “lackluster.”

“We’re not the first people to make recommendations to you,” Scott Schneider, who conducted the investigation for Husch Blackwell, told LSU’s Board of Supervisors. “At the end of the day … if this report is given to you and we don’t implement these recommendations, the same ills we discussed throughout the report will just continue to repeat themselves.”

Galligan promised that LSU would adopt each of the 18 recommendations that were made and immediately announced creation of a new Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, as well as the hiring of additional case managers, investigators and support staff to handle complaints.

He also announced lengthy, unpaid suspensions for two prominent LSU officials: executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry and Miriam Segar, a senior associate athletic director. USA TODAY’s reporting has found both were told of sexual misconduct complaints and, at a minimum, failed to follow proper procedures and, at worse, tried to bury them.

Schneider called USA TODAY's reporting "pretty spot on."

Ausberry, who until mid-December was a member of the presidential search committee, has been suspended for 30 days, while Segar was suspended for 21 days. Both must do training on proper handling of sexual and physical violence complaints.

But the suspensions, significant given LSU’s indifferent response to a raft of misconduct complaints against then-head football coach Les Miles, did little to quiet outrage from both student leaders and women who said they were abused.

“After reading the details of the report, I am absolutely enraged,” Olivia James, a columnist at The Reveille, LSU’s student newspaper, told USA TODAY. "The report cites multiple instances in which Miriam and Verge clearly covered the tracks of abusive athletes and continuously silenced the cries of help from victims, students they are employed to protect. It is appalling to say the very least.

“These victims will live not only with the trauma of the actual assaults, but with the trauma of being ignored by people who were supposed to believe them,” James added. “In my opinion, their failure should honestly be punishable by the law. LSU suspending them is a slap on the wrist and a slap in the face to all of the victims."

On Friday night, Kansas announced that it was placing Miles on administrative leave while it conducts a "full review" of the allegations against him while he was at LSU. Kansas did not have access to the Husch Blackwell report, or another released Thursday devoted solely to Miles' conduct, until they were made public, athletic director Jeff Long said.

"Even though the allegations against him occurred at LSU, we take these matters very seriously at KU," Long said in a statement. "I do not want to speculate on a timeline for our review because it is imperative we do our due diligence."

Before the report was issued, Caroline Schroeder, an alumna who reported her sexual assault in 2018 and has detailed her experiences with LSU’s Title IX process to USA TODAY, blistered the university’s board of supervisors. LSU’s failings were known throughout the community before USA TODAY’s reporting last fall, Schroeder said, and the board ignored them until they became a public relations nightmare.”

Board chair Robert S. Dampf acknowledged not everyone will be satisfied with the report, particularly its focus on where culpability lies. “What we do in terms of individual cases will not make anyone happy. The problem is systemic,” he said.

Dampf added that it was an “absolute failure of resource allocation. Coupled with that was a failure of leadership.” When there is a failed system, it’s hard to punish individuals, he said.

LSU hired Husch Blackwell in November to examine its resolution of roughly 60 sexual misconduct cases since 2015, as well as complaints about Miles, after reporting by USA TODAY revealed widespread mishandling of such complaints by both the school’s athletic department and its broader administration.

The federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education, and LSU’s own policies require campus officials to report allegations of sexual violence to the school’s Title IX office to conduct an initial investigation. The policies specifically bar athletic department officials from being involved in the handling or investigation of complaints against athletes.

School officials – coaches included – are also required to report to police if they witness or are told about possible sexual misconduct or dating violence occurring on campus.

What Husch Blackwell’s investigation found echoed USA TODAY’s reporting, Schneider said.

LSU Board of Supervisors discuss the Husch Blackwell report detailing findings from its investigation into the school's handling of sexual misconduct allegations.
LSU Board of Supervisors discuss the Husch Blackwell report detailing findings from its investigation into the school's handling of sexual misconduct allegations.

Despite the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter from the Obama Administration that strengthened Title IX reporting requirements, LSU did not appoint a dedicated Title IX coordinator, Stewart, until 2014. Nor did LSU make clear, in writing, what employees’ responsibilities as “mandatory reporters” were and what the chain of reporting was.

While the university has required yearly training on sexual misconduct for employees since at least 2016, LSU did not track compliance until 2020 and did not impose penalties on those who did not complete it. As a result, Husch Blackwell said it found “plenty” of employees failed to do the training.

But even when training was done, Husch Blackwell said it was ineffective.

"Training exacerbated ambiguities and confusion," Schneider said.

LSU’s systemic woes were exacerbated by an athletic department that operated on its own, Husch Blackwell found. Even after then-athletic director Joe Alleva tried to clarify reporting policies and procedures, the directives “did little to stem any confusion and instead likely compounded it,” the Husch Blackwell report found.

Reporting of incidents – including arrests, recruiting violations and hazing – were directed to Segar rather than Title IX as federal and LSU policies required. The department policy didn’t even make reference to Title IX, the university policy or sexual or dating violence.

“Numerous Athletics Department interviewees noted they had no idea who Title IX Coordinator Jennie Stewart was up until recently,” the report states. “This is alarming in its own right, but especially because, according to Segar, Athletics began issuing these policies and procedures largely in response to incidents involving at least two Athletics student-workers and former Head Football Coach Les Miles.”

Husch Blackwell’s findings come a day after release of a 2013 internal investigative report of allegations then-head football coach Les Miles texted female students, took them to his condo alone, made them feel uncomfortable and, on at least one occasion, kissed a student and suggested they go to a hotel after telling her he could help her career.
Husch Blackwell’s findings come a day after release of a 2013 internal investigative report of allegations then-head football coach Les Miles texted female students, took them to his condo alone, made them feel uncomfortable and, on at least one occasion, kissed a student and suggested they go to a hotel after telling her he could help her career.

The university “chronicled significant alleged misconduct” by Miles from 2009 on, the Husch Blackwell report states. That included complaints the coach tried to sexualize the staff of students working for the LSU football team in 2012, allegedly demanding he wanted “blondes with the big boobs” and “pretty girls.”

There is no record of those reports ever being investigated, Husch Blackwell noted.

USA TODAY also had found through its reporting that LSU ignored complaints against abusers, denied victims’ requests for protections and left them vulnerable to further harm by known perpetrators. In addition, LSU has withheld records in abuse cases, including from one woman who had to file a lawsuit last year to get an unredacted copy of her own police report.

While shortcomings in the athletic department were mirrored by problems with complaints among the general population, Husch Blackwell said they are noteworthy because of their high profile.

USA TODAY found at least nine LSU football players have been reported to police for sexual misconduct and dating violence since coach Ed Orgeron took over the team in September 2016, records show. The university disciplined two of them, and one – former wide receiver Drake Davis – was not expelled until four months after he was convicted of physically abusing a former girlfriend.

LSU did not discipline at least five of the other players, USA TODAY found, including star running back Derrius Guice.

“The culture has to be we do not accept domestic and sexual violence at LSU. That is not who we are,” Galligan said. “We failed our people in this regard, so we have got to change the culture.”

The conclusion of Husch Blackwell’s investigation does not end the scrutiny of LSU. The U.S. Department of Education last month launched a far-reaching investigation into the school’s compliance with campus safety laws, citing media reports and numerous complaints.

“While we knew there were serious issues with LSU’s Title IX compliance, we are shocked and appalled at the scope of the problems identified in this report,” said Karen Truszkowski, an attorney who was speaking on behalf of her clients Samantha Brennan, Jade Lewis and other former LSU students who had been abused while at the school.

“Our clients are devastated to learn that the school they loved so much has not only broken their trust but hurt so many others," Truszkowski said in a statement. "They are still processing this information and have nothing further to share at this time."

USA TODAY reporter Rachel Axon contributed to this report.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LSU report: School routinely mishandled sexual misconduct allegations