Individuals familiar with the case surrounding the alleged use of a date-rape drug raised concerns that the University may have unfairly handled the disciplinary proceedings due to the accused student’s family ties to the Corporation, according to sources and documents reviewed by The Herald.
Charges against the Phi Kappa Psi member who was accused of serving a drink containing GHB at an October party held by the fraternity were dropped Feb. 21 due to a lack of physical evidence.
A faculty member with knowledge of the case, the father of one of the two complainants and two members of the Task Force on Sexual Assault all expressed worry that the relationship between the accused student and his father, a Corporation trustee, may have influenced how the case unfolded.
None of the documents reviewed by The Herald point to specific instances of preferential treatment as a result of the accused student’s family connections, and no physical evidence publicly identified in the case has conclusively tested positive for GHB. But the concerns raised by individuals familiar with the situation have added to mounting pressure on the University over its handling of the case.
Administrators did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and the trustee did not return a call seeking comment by press time Friday morning.
After formally charging the student Dec. 10, the University scheduled a hearing for Dec. 19.
But following a court injunction filed by the student, the University was required to put the disciplinary proceedings on hold until the end of January, according to a Dec. 15 email to one of the two complainants from Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio ’95, associate dean of student life and director of student conduct.
The hearing was further delayed when an independent expert hired by the accused student called into question the accuracy of a GHB test originally found positive, according to a March 2 email from Castillo-Appollonio to one of the complainants. The expert, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, cast doubt on the urine test’s methodology.
Meanwhile, a Brown professor informally advising one of the two women, J. Timmons Roberts, spoke to Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, on Jan. 23.
“It sounds like the number of lawyers involved and the resources of (the accused student) have slowed and complicated this,” but administrators are moving as quickly as they can, wrote Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology, in an email to the complainant later that day.
On Feb. 7, the father of the other complainant wrote an email to Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 P’18 expressing concern about the accused student’s connection to the Corporation.
“My daughter has been involved in this process for over four months. This is a process that should have taken 60 days,” he wrote. “Having a very wealthy member of the Board of Trustees as a parent of (the accused student) raises the question if my daughter can get a fair hearing at Brown.”
Despite the Tufts professor’s assertion that the urine test might be inconclusive, the University was “prepared to proceed” with the hearing and hired its own independent toxicologist, Guy Vallaro, to reevaluate the urine and hair tests, according to Castillo-Appollonio’s March 2 email.
Acting on a report written by the independent toxicologist, the University announced Feb. 21 that the urine test was, in fact, inconclusive.
The accused student’s hearing was canceled that day due to the lack of conclusively positive physical evidence.
“What message have we sent by not holding a full and fair hearing against a student who is accused of drugging another?” Roberts wrote in an email to The Herald Thursday. “It potentially sends a message that some are above being subject to the rules.”
“We cannot build a community of trust at Brown with seeming impunity for some and impossible evidentiary standards,” he wrote. “If he is innocent, that should be borne out in a hearing.”
Phi Kappa Psi members vehemently defended the innocence of all the organization’s members in a letter to the community published by The Herald Oct. 28.
“Sexual assault and the use of illegal date-rape drugs number among the most heinous of crimes,” the fraternity’s members wrote. “We are confident that in no way did any member of Phi Kappa Psi engage in or perpetrate such atrocious and criminal behavior.”
Katie Byron ’15, a member of the Task Force on Sexual Assault, said that to her knowledge, the standard of evidence required to proceed with a hearing is if the alleged incident is “plausible.”
“In so many of these instances, there’s no evidence. There’s somebody who comes forward and discloses an experience, and for the most part, that person’s testimony is enough to warrant a hearing,” she said, characterizing the way this case was handled as “inconsistent” with others.
“It does concern me that that conflict of interest exists,” said Justice Gaines ’16, another member of the task force.