OCR Will Investigate UNC Over Sexual Assault Cases

CHAPEL HILL – The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has decided to go ahead with an investigation of UNC’s handling of sexual assault cases on campus.

That investigation is in response to a complaint filed with the office by four current and former UNC students and one former assistant dean, Melinda Manning.

Among other things, the 30-page complaint alleges that sexual assault cases were handled by an untrained panel of staff, students and administrators, who subjected accusers to inappropriate and insensitive questioning. It also charges that Manning was personally discriminated against for having children—and that in 2010, UNC officials intentionally underreported the number of sexual assault cases on campus, in violation of the federal Clery Act.

General Counsel Leslie Strohm vehemently refuted that last charge before the Board of Trustees in January. But UNC officials have not commented on the complaint beyond that—except to say that many of the cases in question occurred when the University was in the midst of implementing several federally-mandated changes in procedure.

Numerous members of the Board of Trustees expressed strong support for the officials singled out by name in the complaint, including Strohm, Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls, and Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp. But UNC has also taken at least one step in direct response to the complaint—hiring Gina Smith as a consultant. Smith is a former prosecutor who specializes in high-profile sexual abuse cases; she also worked with Amherst College after a similar controversy last year.

The OCR’s decision to investigate does not necessarily imply any wrongdoing on UNC’s part, but investigations of this nature are not common: in January, the Daily Tar Heel reported that the Office receives about 30 such complaints a year and investigates about 10 percent of them.

The University’s handling of sexual assault cases has been at the forefront of local debate all year—revolving primarily around the case of sophomore Landen Gambill, one of the four students who filed the official complaint. Gambill accused her ex-boyfriend, a fellow student, of sexual assault in the spring of 2012; a five-member University Hearings Board found him guilty of verbal harassment, acquitting him of the sexual-assault charge.

But Gambill says the whole matter was mishandled, with board members blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator. Indeed Gambill is now herself the accused—as her ex has charged her with “disruptive and intimidating behavior” in UNC’s student-run Honor Court. (While Gambill’s case was part of the official complaint, this most recent twist occurred after the complaint was filed.)

UNC released this statement in response to the news:

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has notified the University that it will investigate a discrimination complaint filed in January with its District of Columbia office. The complainants have made allegations about the University’s response to sexual assault and sexual violence cases. The letter noted that opening the allegation for investigation “in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint.”

During the investigation, “OCR is a neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient, and other sources, as appropriate.”

The University will respond appropriately to the OCR’s request for information and cooperate fully with the investigation.


Another Guilty Plea In Bailey Murder; More In Court This Week

HILLSBOROUGH – One of the suspects accused of killing a Chapel Hill man in 2008 has reportedly accepted a plea deal.

The Chapel Hill News reports that 25-year-old Matt Johnson has pleaded guilty to second degree murder and first degree kidnapping in the murder of 20-year-old Josh Bailey. Johnson’s prison sentence on the murder charge will run from between 16 years and four months to 20 years and five months.

Johnson is one of nine individuals who faced charges in Bailey’s death. Last spring, a jury convicted 23-year-old Brian Minton of first degree murder, first degree kidnapping and first degree conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. He’s currently serving a life prison sentence. Several other individuals, including Minton’s parents Greg and Mishele, are facing charges of helping to cover up the crime.

On July 29, 2008, the group of suspects, including Johnson and Minton, are said to have been involved in the execution-style shooting of Bailey because they’d heard he’d told police about the group’s drug activities. During Minton’s trial, several witnesses testified that while Minton didn’t pull the trigger, he was the leader in orchestrating the murder.

Five of the defendants will appear in court on Tuesday.

Warrant Issued For Suspect In New Year’s Shooting

CHAPEL HILL – The Chapel Hill Police Department has obtained a warrant for a suspect in connection with the shooting incident outside Time Out Restaurant in the early-morning hours of New Year’s Day.

Christopher Lane Thompson, 21 years old, is wanted on one count of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury and discharging a firearm within town limits. Police say Thompson should be considered armed and dangerous; his last known address is 5102 Long Leaf Drive, in northern Durham.

Police are also seeking two other individuals for questioning, Jaylen McNair and Tracy Rashaud Floyd.

McNair (L); Floyd (R)

McNair (L); Floyd (R)

The shooting took place at 3:30 in the morning on New Year’s Day, following a disturbance outside the Time Out Restaurant at University Square. One individual was shot, sustaining non-life-threatening injuries.

If you have any information, contact the Chapel Hill PD at 919-968-2760 or Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515 (or at this website). Calls to Crime Stoppers are confidential and anonymous; information that leads to an arrest may be eligible for a cash reward.


“Sexual Exploitation” Charge For Ex-UNC Employee

ORANGE COUNTY – A former UNC employee who landed in hot water last year after officials found an illegal gun in his office has now received additional charges stemming from a child pornography investigation.

Charles Hitlin of Pittsboro has been charged with two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. Prosecutors say he used a UNC email account in November to distribute pornographic photos of an underage child.

Hitlin was first arrested in November for possession of a gun on school property, after officers from UNC’s Department of Public Safety discovered it while investigating the pornography charge. That investigation began after an undercover police officer engaged in an online chat with someone who claimed to have had sex with numerous underage kids; that person’s email was traced back to Hitlin’s campus computer.

Hitlin’s next court date is set for Thursday in Orange County. He’s also scheduled to appear in court on the weapons charge later this month.


CHPD Seeking Three Suspects In NYE Shooting

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill police are seeking assistance as they search for three suspects in a shooting that took place at University Square at around 3:30 a.m. on the morning of New Year’s Day.

The shooting resulted from a disturbance that took place between several individuals outside the Time Out Restaurant; one individual was shot and sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Chapel Hill police are seeking three suspects, all described as light-skinned black males. One of the suspects was wearing a Nike cap, another was wearing a grey hoodie; at least one of the three had braids, and the shooter himself may have been wearing a red jacket.

If you have any information, contact the Chapel Hill PD at 919-968-2760 or Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515. Calls to Crime Stoppers are confidential and anonymous, and calls that lead to an arrest are eligible for a cash reward.

The full statement from the CHPD is below:

The Chapel Hill Police Department is seeking assistance from anyone with information related to an assault which took place in the parking lot of University Square at 133 West Franklin Street on January 1st at approximately 3:30 AM. One subject was shot and sustained non-life threatening injuries during a disturbance between several subjects outside the Time Out Restaurant.  The suspects were described as three light skinned black males.  The shooter may have been wearing a red jacket.  One of the suspects was wearing a Nike cap and another was wearing a grey hoodie.  At least one of the three suspects had braids.

If anyone has information about this suspect, please call the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-968-2760 or Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515.  Calls to Crime Stoppers are confidential and anonymous, and the caller may be eligible for a cash reward up to $2,000 for information that leads to arrest.  You can also leave tips for Crime Stoppers at http://www.crimestoppers-chcunc.org/

new years eve shooting 2  new years eve shooting 3


CH Case Before US Supreme Court Raises Tough Questions

If you are the parent of a 13 year old suspected by the police of criminal activity, would you expect to be notified before your child is questioned? And, before the interview takes place, would you want your teenager to know that he or she could chose between answering questions or remaining silent?

These questions are raised by a case — known as J.D.B. v. North Carolina — that started in Orange County District Court and is now being considered by the United States Supreme Court. Here is how a leading blog covering the Supreme Court frames the legal issue: “Criminal suspects are entitled to Miranda warnings if they are questioned while in police custody. A person generally is considered to be ‘in custody’ if a reasonable person in the same circumstances would believe that he was not free to leave. The question is whether courts should consider the age of a juvenile suspect in deciding whether he is in custody for Miranda purposes.” (from http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/j-d-b-v-north-carolina/).

Since Miranda warnings were not given to the Chapel Hill teenager before he was questioned, and his parents were not contacted, his lawyer argues that the teen’s confession should be thrown out and excluded from the case against him (i.e. suppressed).

I attended the oral argument that took place in March before the nine US Supreme Court justices. The Court’s ruling could come any day. I’m torn. I’ve worked for years with law enforcement officials and understand well how difficult it can be to investigate crimes and protect the public. In an emergency situation or in a less formal setting than a school where teens clearly understand they are not “in custody”, the arguments in favor of allowing questioning of juveniles to take place without parental notification and Miranda rights are strong. But in J.D.B.’s case the crime, while serious, involved stolen property not violence. And the interrogation took place at school, a place where teens are compelled to be and where I would think most students feel like they have little choice but to answer every question posed by a school official or police officer.

While we all await the Supreme Court’s decision, let me know your point of view. If J.D.B. was your child, would you have wanted to be contacted before he was questioned? And do you think juveniles should be treated differently from adults when it comes to deciding whether they deserve to know what their legal rights are?