Arizona Rape Case Settled
In an unprecedented legal settlement, a former Arizona State
University student who was raped in her dorm room in 2004 by one of the
school's football players will collect $850,000, and the Arizona
university system will establish a women's safety czar for all three
major campuses -- ASU, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona
The settlement ends a civil lawsuit filed in 2006 by the
former student, identified as "J.K." in court records, against Arizona
State, the Arizona Board of Regents, then-head football coach Dirk
Koetter and Darnel Henderson, the player who allegedly raped her. The
suit claimed the university had placed her in a dangerous position,
which led to the rape.
Although other rape victims
have pursued lawsuits against universities and their athletes, the ASU
settlement is unique in three ways: (1) the appointment of a highly
placed safety officer who will review and reform policies for reporting
and investigating incidents of sexual harassment and assault; (2) the
extraordinarily high sum of university money paid to the victim; and
(3) the public disclosure of the terms of the settlement.
"We would not have settled without the statewide women's
safety officer," said Baine Kerr, the attorney for the victim and her
family. "It was important to [the victim] that we establish something
that will prevent this happening to other girls. It was an absolutely
required condition of any settlement, and we are happy that the
university agreed to it."
Universities typically demand confidentiality as part of
any settlement, but the victim and the family insisted on public
disclosure of the terms.
"This is a new day," said Joanne Belknap, a professor
of sociology at the University of Colorado and an expert on women's
violence issues. "Universities always protect the male athlete. It has
happened forever. But this settlement will make things significantly
Another expert, Diane Rosenfeld, a lecturer at Harvard
Law School, told ESPN.com, "This could be our turning point. Instead of
privileging athletes, we will now approach the goal of a culture of
Both experts agreed that other schools will respond to
the ASU outcome with increased concern for the safety of women on their
campuses and, in the wake of the settlement, will make decisions to
reduce the incidence of sexual violence and resulting liability
The settlement comes after the victim and her attorneys
completed an exhaustive investigation of ASU's actions before and after
the rape, an investigation that her attorneys say revealed previous
sexual misconduct by Henderson, deletions of important e-mails,
destruction of critical documents and false testimony.
ASU officials in the football program, the athletic
department and the president's office refused to comment beyond a
written statement negotiated as part of the settlement that praises the
victim for "making Arizona's campuses safer and reducing the risk of
sexual harassment and assault for all students."
Nancy Tribbensee, the general counsel for the Arizona
Board of Regents -- the governing body for the Arizona university
system -- will become the Arizona "student safety coordinator" under
the settlement. Tribbensee will appoint representatives with supporting
staffs on each campus to hear and to respond to student reports of
harassment and assault.
Tribbensee did not respond to e-mails and voice mails from ESPN.com.
According to documents filed in the civil lawsuit and an
ASU police department investigation, Henderson was, as part of his
football scholarship, assigned in 2003 to an ASU curriculum known as
Summer Bridge, a four-week transition program designed to help incoming
freshmen adjust to college life. Henderson, a defensive back, was in
trouble within days, according to witnesses and documents discovered in
the victim's pretrial investigation. He was accused of grabbing and
touching women in the dorm, exposing himself to female staff members
and threatening freshman women.
When confronted over his misconduct, Henderson told an
ASU official that he wanted women to fear him and that it was important
for him to "show them their place."
Steve Rippon, the ASU director of academic success,
expelled Henderson from the transition program. But Koetter, the head
football coach, persuaded school officials to allow Henderson to return
to the campus under a zero tolerance policy.
Despite his previous difficulties, Henderson was
permitted to live in a dorm when he came back. On March 11, 2004,
according to police reports and lawsuit documents, he began openly
stalking his victim, talking to her about the Kobe Bryant rape case and
calling her repeatedly on her cell phone.
Early on the morning of March 12, Henderson entered the
victim's dorm room through an unlocked door. The victim had been
drinking and was asleep. As Henderson attacked her, police say, she
awakened and recognized Henderson. Emergency room records show injuries
that could not have occurred in consensual sex.
ASU police concluded that Henderson had committed
assault, but no one interviewed him for three weeks. When Henderson did
submit to an interview, he was accompanied by George Wynn, ASU's
director of football operations.
In the interview, an ASU detective caught Henderson in a
series of lies. Henderson claimed the victim had called him repeatedly
in the hours before the rape, but his cell phone records showed that he
had made all the calls.
The ASU police department submitted its investigation
to the Maricopa County authorities, but they declined to prosecute.
Both Rick Romley, the prosecuting attorney at the time, and Dante
Alegre, the assistant prosecutor who studied the case, refused
ESPN.com's requests for comment.
After Henderson was finally expelled from ASU, Koetter
tried to help him obtain a scholarship at Arkansas-Pine Bluff and other
programs, according to a later university investigation. When it became
clear that Henderson, who never filed a response to the lawsuit, would
be unable to pay any money damages, the victim and her family abandoned
efforts to collect from him and focused their efforts on ASU.
was fired three years later. He was 40-33 in six seasons at Arizona
State but won only two of 19 games against Top 25 teams. Now he is the
offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
According to the investigation by the victim's
attorneys, ASU had destroyed records of Henderson's misconduct during
the Summer Bridge program, and significant e-mails had been deleted
even though ASU knew the victim was about to file suit. Kerr, the lead
attorney for the victim, discovered some of the missing e-mails.
In one, Rippon, the school's director of academic
success, wrote that the women who had complained about Henderson's
behavior during the Summer Bridge program were "women I trust
completely." But Rippon later testified under oath in a deposition that
they were women with "attitude" who had "issues with all men."
Another e-mail, discovered just before the settlement
was reached, was from one of the women who had complained about
Henderson. It stated, "I don't want to get raped in college and that is
what Darnel [Henderson] makes me feel like when he is around me."
The victim filed her lawsuit in March 2006 under the
provisions of Title IX, the federal law that guarantees equal access to
education to all students. The suit asserted that if the campus
atmosphere is hostile to women or if women are afraid of harassment or
assault, there can be no equal access. The use of Title IX in sexual
assault litigation was pioneered by Kathy Redmond, who was raped twice
by University of Nebraska lineman Christian Peter when both were
students there in the early '90s.
Redmond, who established the National Coalition Against
Violent Athletes and has helped rape victims throughout the U.S.,
hailed the settlement in the Arizona State case as a significant
development in the protection of women on campuses across the country.
"This will level the playing field for women on
campus," Redmond said. "The football coach will no longer be allowed to
trump university policy. Arizona is establishing a fortress of
prevention that will be a model for all colleges and universities."
Belknap, the Colorado professor, said, "Studies have
shown that if women know there is a procedure for reporting that works
and that protects the identity of the victim, then these incidents will
be reported. Without the procedure and knowledge of the procedure, the
rape culture will continue to exist."
Harvard's Rosenfeld agrees.
"With this system in Arizona, we will begin to see the
end of a culture of male privilege, especially for athletes, and the
beginning of a culture of sexual respect."
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who
reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, is a
senior writer for ESPN.com.