Last October, Maryland’s beat reporters met Dez Wells for the first time at Comcast Center. The sophomore swingman seemed exhausted as he fielded questions about the sexual assault allegations that led to his expulsion from Xavier University, the events of which caused him to be sitting at that table in the first place. Just thinking about them — the night the incident occurred after a dorm-room game of truth or dare, the judicial process at Xavier, the Ohio prosecutor who declined to press charges and later condemned the university’s decision — wore him down.
“For someone who was accused of something that he did not do, and faced the fear of prosecution … [it] really affects a person internally,” his lawyer, Peter R. Ginsberg, said Tuesday night in a telephone interview.
On Tuesday, Wells filed a federal lawsuit against Xavier, alleging the school rushed the judiciary process and conducted a flawed investigation after a fellow student accused Wells of sexual assault on June 7, 2012. He is seeking financial damages and an apology from both the school and its president.
Ginsberg said Wells has been traumatized by the expulsion’s aftermath, which included jeers such as “no means no” by several rival fan bases. The lawsuit uses words like “publicly humiliated,” “ashamed,” “emotionally distraught” and “violated.” It talks about Wells’s tainted reputation and how he was “branded as a sexual predator.”
Yet Wells still thrived in his first season at Maryland, leading the team in scoring and guiding the Terrapins to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals as their vocal leader. It was not uncommon to hear Wells barking in team huddles, shouting instructions from the sideline or bouncing around in the pregame dance mob, pumping up a team he only joined three months earlier. He appeared on posters and banners and online pop-up messages encouraging Maryland fans to attend games.
“He didn’t want to lead,” Turgeon said on the eve of the NIT semifinals in New York. “He’s new. He got here in August. So there was a lot on his plate.
“I’m happy for Dez. I think he just kind of figured it out. He knows what he can do within this team, and I think we still as a coaching staff are figuring out the best way to use him. Hopefully we have him for a couple more years, too.”
The lawsuit says that, early on the morning of July 7, 2012, Wells engaged in consensual sex with his resident adviser, an upperclassman at Xavier. They had been playing a particularly sexual game of truth-or-dare, one that included the woman giving Wells a lap dance, removing her shirt and pants, and kisses between the two. They went to her room, by her invitation, and Wells asked if she had a condom. They then had sex.
According to the lawsuit, witnesses said the female student seemed fine when she and Wells returned to his room to retrieve her phone around 5:15 a.m. Hours later, the accuser reported Wells to campus police for sexual assault. He learned of the charges five days later.
The accuser declined to press charges with Cincinnati police, but Hamilton (Ohio) County prosecutor Joseph Deters still began an investigation of the incident. Deters soon “developed serious concerns about the truthfulness of [the accuser's] allegations based upon a professional and thorough review of the matter by trained experts,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, at the same time Xavier was conducting its investigation of Wells, the school was being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office over the handling of three previous sexual assault incidents.
Appearing before the University Conduct Board, Wells was denied character witnesses when his accuser was allowed them, according to the lawsuit. He faced a group that allegedly “led the accuser and her witnesses,” required Wells to prove that the sex was consensual and “failed to call any trained expert witnesses who could have interpreted the results of the medical examination and would have informed the UCB that no rape or sexual assault had occurred.” In the end, the board found him responsible of rape. He appealed, but that was rejected two days later. On Aug. 21, 2012, Wells was expelled from a place he once called his dream school. He arrived at Maryland later that month with the reputation of someone accused for a crime of which his sister was once a victim, according to the lawsuit.
Shortly before the 2012-13 season began, the NCAA ruled that Wells would be eligible to play immediately as a transfer — not having to sit out a year, as is the usual protocol — after a successful appeal by Maryland. (He cried the day he became eligible.)
“I can’t really change a program around,” Wells said on April 2. “I can be a piece that helps change the program around. Everybody who’s a fan has their own limited piece of helping us change this program around. There’s a lot of pressure in the beginning, but Coach Turgeon told me just to relax. It was around for a while. But I had to be comfortable in my own skin, just play and do what I can do.”
This season, Wells expects bigger things from himself. He has NBA draft aspirations, and scouts have begun making inquiries. He is one of three juniors expected to contribute on a team with no scholarship seniors, one that is looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010.
But he also wants Xavier to set the record straight. He wants an apology from Father Michael Graham, the university president, and compensation for “personal suffering and reputational damage.” And he is ready to go to court to get it.