University of Utah, Utah Valley University failed to act after rape reports, lawsuit claims

A new lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday accuses the University of Utah and Utah Valley University of failing to act after Title IX offices at both schools received the same report of a rape in 2019.

It's the second lawsuit in a week involving allegations of Utah colleges mishandling rape cases.

The suit, which also names the Utah System of Higher Education as a defendant, was filed on behalf of a woman who was attending UVU when she was allegedly assaulted by a University of Utah football player who is not named in court filings.

According to the lawsuit, the woman attended a small gathering on Sept. 15, 2019, at the home of the football player, who was a linebacker for the Utes at that time. During the gathering, the man allegedly raped her before she was able to leave the home.

After the assault, she went to a local hospital with two friends and completed a rape kit. Hospital staff told her she should report the rape to the campus Title IX office at UVU.

The lawsuit claims she met with two Title IX officers at UVU, and they told her they could not help her because the attacker was not a student at the college and the attack did not occur on campus. The two officers allegedly told her to report the incident to the U.'s Title IX office "to 'scare' the football player from 'actually violently raping someone,'" according to the lawsuit.

Days later, on Oct. 3, 2019, the woman met with a Title IX officer at the University of Utah. The Title IX officer told the woman that because she was not a student at the university, "the U of U's obligations were to the football player, not to her," according to the lawsuit. The officer allegedly added that the university was limited in what it could do because the assault took place off campus.

The lawsuit alleges that the university Title IX officer discouraged the woman from reporting the assault to police because "unless the aggressor confesses, there was little chance of the aggressor being charged, prosecuted and convicted of the crime."

She later reported the rape to the Unified Police Department, and a detective later contacted the University of Utah about the assault. In February 2020, the U. Title IX officer emailed the woman to see if the football player she accused of rape had been in the local news, the lawsuit says. The woman felt the Title IX office had only reached out to her because of news stories and Unified police's involvement, despite the earlier claim that the university did not involve police in their complaints.

Since then, the lawsuit says, the woman struggled with depression and mental health issues while her grades in college also suffered. The football player was suspended from the Ute team over another issue, the suit says.

The University of Utah in Salt Lake City is pictured on Nov. 18, 2019.
The University of Utah in Salt Lake City is pictured on Nov. 18, 2019. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The University of Utah issued a statement in response to the lawsuit Wednesday. In it, officials confirmed that its Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action received a report from a Utah Valley University student against a Utah football player.

The university wrote that it learned the name of the accused football player in February 2020 after the woman filed a police report with Unified police, adding the school spoke with the player and his attorney at that time.

"The alleged assailant was suspended from the football program in February 2020 as a result of the pending criminal case. The suspension was announced in March 2020 at the beginning of spring practice," the university statement read in part.

U. football coach Kyle Whittingham said on March 2, 2020, that players Donte Banton and Sione Lund were suspended for "violating team rules." State court records show both have since been charged with rape in separate cases.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday matches charges filed against Lund. Records show he was charged in 3rd District Court with rape and forcible sodomy, both first-degree felonies, on March 31 from an incident that occurred on Sept. 15, 2019. The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2022.

247Sports reported in October 2020 that Lund had started the process to find another school to continue his college football career, after he wasn't reinstated with the Utes.

"As in all criminal cases, the alleged assailant has a right to due process. Because criminal charges have been filed and litigation is pending in this case, we will respond through the appropriate law enforcement and legal channels," the university statement continued. "Applicable privacy laws and guidelines will govern the release of any further information regarding either of these individuals."

The lawsuit accuses both universities and the Utah System of Higher Education of showing deliberate indifference toward the woman under Title IX, as both colleges received reports of the assault. The lawsuit goes on to request a jury trial and an unspecified amount in damages.

Tuesday's lawsuit comes a week after Utah State University was sued for its alleged mishandling of a rape case involving a football player in 2019. That lawsuit also mentioned a recording of Earl Morris, then the USU chief of police, making disparaging remarks about those who report sexual assaults. That recording led to him being placed on administrative leave before he resigned from the university.

Contributing: Carter Williams