Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Former student filed lawsuit against DU


By: Debbie Gillum

Denison University and a former student recently reached a confidential settlement to end a lawsuit relating to a sexual assault case from last semester.
The lawsuit alleged that the rights of Zackary Hunt, 18, from Loveland, OH, had been violated during disciplinary proceedings regarding allegations of sexual assault that were brought against him in a student conduct hearing, according to the complaint that was filed with Licking County Common Pleas Court.
Eric Rosenberg, Hunt’s lawyer, is a Granville attorney who has represented three cases against Denison. He said in a phone interview that the case was settled and dismissed in a confidential settlement early in the week of Jan. 20.
Laurel Kennedy, Vice-President for Student Development, confirmed that this particular case will not be moving forward.
A female Denison student had alleged that Hunt sexually assaulted her while walking her home from a party where alcohol was served to underage students on Aug. 30, according to the complaint. The sexual assault was reported on Sept. 2.
Hunt was expelled in November after a student disciplinary hearing.
The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 11 in Licking County Common Pleas Court. The lawsuit alleged ten counts including libel, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence by Denison employees, that Hunt was not allowed to present evidence or testimony on his behalf, and that the university violated Hunt’s right to an attorney.
The lawsuit stated, “Denison violated Plaintiff’s due process rights under Ohio law when it prohibited Plaintiff from having an attorney represent him at disciplinary hearings.”
Kennedy said, “While students may seek legal advice, the University's conduct process does not include a role for external representatives. We expect students to speak on their own behalf.”
Hunt passed a voluntary lie detector test on Oct. 21 which indicated that Hunt did not perform the acts that the female alleged, according to the lawsuit and Rosenberg.  Rosenberg said that passing a polygraph test, “is not an easy thing to do” and Brad Kelly, the clinical forensic polygraph examiner who administered the test, signed that there was no deception indicated in Hunt’s answers.
Rosenberg argued that it was a violation of the code of conduct when Hunt was not allowed to use the polygraph test as evidence.
Regarding the issue of Hunt’s right to present evidence on his behalf, Kennedy explained that the University will enlist a team of investigators to investigate and make a report of their findings.
“If there is a hearing subsequent to the investigative report, and in particular if students believe critical information was missing from the investigation or report, students can ask the Student Conduct Board to consider information they wish to bring forward,” said Kennedy.
The complaint filed with the Licking County Common Pleas Court, stated that during the investigation Hunt’s resident advisor was misquoted, falsely alleging a witness attended the party. It also stated that the investigators reached a conclusion before the university conduct board could make their own conclusion.
Rosenberg said his client was interrogated by Garret Moore, Denison's security director, without being informed of his right to have an attorney present. That violated Hunt’s rights under Ohio law to be first informed of his right to counsel. Rosenberg also said Moore violated Denison's Code of Student Conduct by recording the conversation without Hunt's knowledge, according to complaint.
The Denison Code of Student Conduct states on page four, “It is also a violation of University expectations to engage in the unauthorized use of electronic or other devices to take pictures or make audio or video recordings of any person while on University premises without his or her prior knowledge, or without his or her effective consent.”
Hunt also sought damages from his female accuser for libel, defamation and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He wanted compensatory damages and punitive damages. Rosenberg said she knew the claims she was making were false and defamed Hunt's character. Hunt also sought to be reinstated by the university. He is not a student this semester.
All of Rosenberg’s previous cases with Denison have involved representing male students and the cases were all settled out of court.  A case in 2010 was settled and dismissed and a 2011 case was dismissed, according to Licking County court records and The Newark Advocate.
            Rosenberg urged students to be more critical regarding how discipline is handled at Denison and he cautioned how males should act around females who have been drinking.
“I’d like to convey to students the risk of being involved with women who have been drinking,” Rosenberg said, “because later she may say she was sexually assaulted.”


(From the News section of The Denisonian on January 28, 2014) 





My Note: I'm really proud of this article because it was something that not a lot of people on campus were aware of and was challenging for me. I learned a lot about what information journalists can get access to. For example, I just called Licking County Common Pleas Court and they e-mailed me a copy of the complaint. Who knew? That was very helpful in writing the article. While writing it, I stayed in contact with my journalism advisor so I could ask him questions and so he could edit it. He gave me some good suggestions along the way. I hope to do more challenging newsworthy pieces like this one. 

These two photos credit to Meg Callahan