Lawsuit accuses NKU, officials of 'intentional indifference' to sexual assault claim

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — A lawsuit filed against Northern Kentucky University claims the school showed “intentional indifference” toward a reported sexual assault.

In the suit — filed in Campbell County Circuit Court last week against the university as well as NKU President Geoffrey Mearns, NKU Police Chief Les Kachurek and two other university administrators — the plaintiff, identified anonymously as “Jane Doe,” said a male Northern Kentucky University student assaulted and raped her in the fall semester of 2013.

Calling NKU’s Title IX policies “dated,” the suit goes on to state that, despite a university panel’s ruling that the woman was telling the truth about the incident, the university “did next to nothing to protect [her] from further anxiety and harassment,” charging the punishment handed the male student would have been more appropriate if he had been found guilty of jaywalking.

“[The school] absolutely failed her," Attorney Kevin Murphy said. "NKU failed her miserably.”

According to the suit, the student accused of the assault was suspended “in abeyance,” which the suit charges is “no suspension at all.”

NKU's Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities describes "suspension in abeyance" in these terms:

Although the behavior may warrant suspension or expulsion from the University, due to extenuating circumstances, the Senior Associate Dean of Students may choose to hold the student or student organization's suspension in abeyance for a specified period of time.  When a suspension is held in abeyance, the student or organization may remain at the University provided they observe the conduct regulations at all times and complies with all educational sanctions.  Any further violation of the Code would immediately result in suspension or expulsion.

The suit goes on to claim that, despite being banned from the student housing complex the two parties shared, the student accused in the sexual assault “was constantly in and around [the victim's] dorm and in the housing complex.”

“Who’s the victim here? He had sanctions they did not enforce," Murphy said.

The woman filed multiple complaints, but “nothing was done of any substance,” the suit charges. The suit also claims nothing was done to monitor who was going into and out of the dormitory.

The suit describes the impact on the female student as inducing “anxiety attacks, including the inability to sleep and PTSD.”

The lawsuit also describes an email sent by Kachurek to university faculty, staff and students, in which — the plaintiffs say — the police chief criticized the woman after she protested the university’s response to the incident by carrying a mattress on her back around campus, saying she was “publicly slandering the male student.”

The suit calls Kachurek’s email a “deliberate attack on [the plaintiff] in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights.”

Prior to the lawsuit’s filing, the woman, her parents, her sister and a "very upset" professor met with Mearns, NKU Deputy Title IX Coordinator Ann James (who is also named in the suit), and Vice President of Student Affairs Kim Turner, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit describes Mearns as “completely disengaged” during that meeting.

NKU officials released a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying the complaint contains “many factual inaccuracies and mischaracterizations."

NKU officials defended the university’s policies surrounding such cases, touting the Norse Violence Prevention Center, the university’s Green Dot program and counseling services.

“[W]e are confident that we have robust policies and procedures in place, which are designed to protect students. We feel strongly that all were followed in this case,” officials said in the statement.

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