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Woman sues JSU over alleged 2017 rape, says officials shielded basketball player from prosecution

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A Georgia woman this month sued Jacksonville State University and its board of trustees, alleging that the institution’s failure to act resulted in her rape by a JSU basketball player. 

The woman’s mother spoke to The Star for a July 2018 story, detailing the incident and claiming that the university attempted a cover-up. The woman was 17 at the time of the alleged incident on July 22, 2017.

The suit claims that JSU violated the woman’s civil rights under Title IX in at least two ways and alleges three other offenses, including negligent failure to supervise, negligent failure to train and negligent hiring.

The suit claims that the basketball player, Marlon Hunter, had a history of sexual misconduct during his time at Western Kentucky University, where he played on the team then coached by Ray Harper, who is now JSU’s head basketball coach.

Hunter was removed from the team at Western Kentucky in 2016 along with two other players, and Harper resigned as coach soon after. After Harper became the coach at JSU in 2016, Hunter transferred to play basketball at JSU.

A Georgia woman and her mother claim the daughter was raped last year by a Jacksonville State University athlete on campus, and that school officials helped protect him from prosecution. University officials on Wednesday denied interference in any criminal investigation. Two JSU police officers working the case were placed on administrative leave by the university for months until Monday, when one officer — JSU’s police chief — cleaned out his office, and the other officer returned to work.

Former JSU police chief files Title IX complaint of retaliation against university

Hunter is no longer on the team, having used his final year of eligibility in 2018-19. Hunter’s departure from WKU was never publicly explained, and officials in Kentucky have told The Star there is no criminal case against Hunter there.

Harper is listed in the suit, along with Jai Ingraham, the Title IX coordinator for JSU at the time of the alleged incident, and Courtney Peppers, the university’s director of learning services.

The Star typically does not name people accused of sex crimes until they are convicted or plead guilty, though it makes exceptions for prominent officials or people whose status as authority figures plays a role in their alleged crimes. In this case, because Hunter is named in the suit and because the complaint centers on JSU’s alleged failure to vet both Harper and Hunter, The Star has named the player. The Star does not identify victims of sex crimes.

According to Roger C. Appell, the attorney for the Georgia woman filing the suit, the university should have further investigated Hunter prior to allowing his enrollment at JSU. 

“This basketball player has a history of sexual misconduct, and they knew or should have known about his propensity,” Appell said. “None of this should have happened.”

Appell said his client, who was on campus at JSU for its Fast Start Academy summer program for incoming freshmen at the time of the incident in July 2017, should have seen better supervision from the university.

“The bottom line is they didn’t supervise properly,” Appell said. “It’s horrific what happened to her.” 

Sam Monk, attorney for JSU, sent a statement to The Star on Wednesday:

“While JSU is aware of the filing of a lawsuit, the institution has not been served with a copy of the plaintiff’s complaint.

“The matter which is made the basis of the plaintiff’s complaint was fully investigated both pursuant to Title IX federal requirements and state criminal law. As with other situations, the District Attorney’s Office was fully involved. The case was presented to a Calhoun County Grand Jury in early 2018 and the jury returned a ‘No Bill’ (no indictment).

“The university does not discuss legal claims or cases made by or against it. No further statement will be forthcoming at this time.”

Attempts to reach Hunter and JSU Athletic Director Greg Seitz were not immediately successful Wednesday afternoon.

The woman and her mother, Cicely Leufroy, last year told The Star that a court official told them after an October 2017 grand jury hearing that an indictment had been returned against Hunter, but that it was later rescinded. Leufroy and her daughter believe JSU officials intervened to have the indictment withdrawn.

JSU’s police chief at the time, Shawn Giddy, and police investigator Carl Preuninger also alleged through an attorney that JSU president John Beehler and Monk interfered with their investigation of the case. Giddy and Preuninger were placed on leave after complaining of the interference; Giddy was terminated in July 2018, and Preuninger returned to work. Giddy later filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging retaliation.

JSU’s trustees last month granted Beehler 90 days leave from the university to deal with a family medical concern. 

Contact Staff Writer Daniel Mayes at 256-235-3561 or danielmayesstar@gmail.com. On Twitter @DMayes_Star.

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