CHARLOTTESVILLE — A University of Virginia attorney asked a student to disavow the Rolling Stone magazine story that contained her allegations of a gang rape at a campus fraternity, urging her to say after its publication that she had never informed the university of her allegations nor identified the fraternity in question, according to a document entered into evidence in federal court Wednesday.
The request, from an attorney in the U-Va. general counsel’s office in late 2014, suggested that it would be helpful to the university if “Jackie” were to issue a public statement about her interactions with U-Va. officials, but she testified under oath that the university’s proposed statement was untrue. Jackie did not sign the statement; she testified that she had told university officials that she was gang-raped by several men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house before the Rolling Stone story was published. She never reported those allegations to police.
In the proposed statement, the U-Va. lawyers asked Jackie to publicly contradict statements she made to Rolling Stone.
“The incident of September 28, 2012, is not accurately described in the Rolling Stone article nor did I ever state to anyone at the University of Virginia that I was gang raped on that date in the Phi Kappa Psi house,” the draft statement read. “Any implication or statement in the Rolling Stone story that I was not fully supported by Nicole Eramo and other University of Virginia personnel from the time I reported the incident is false.”
The previously undisclosed letter appears to show that U-Va. sought to mitigate the damage from the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus,” which published in November 2014 and immediately put U-Va. at the center of a national discussion about sexual assault.
The letter came to light in a defamation trial here this week, in which former U-Va. dean Eramo is seeking $7.5 million in damages from Rolling Stone, alleging that the magazine’s reporters and editors erroneously portrayed her as callous and indifferent to allegations of sexual assault at the public flagship university.
University officials sent the letter to Palma Pustilnik, a lawyer who represents Jackie, on Dec. 17, 2014, about a month after the Rolling Stone story ran and after an investigation by The Washington Post found significant discrepancies in Jackie’s account, including that there was no party at the fraternity on the night she said she was attacked nor anyone matching the description of the assailant on campus.
Pustilnik declined to comment about the U-Va. letter on Wednesday.
The letter requested that Pustilnik and Jackie agree to the university releasing a statement on her behalf written by the general counsel’s office. Richard C. Kast, the attorney from the U-Va. general counsel’s office, wrote to Pustilnik that releasing the proposed statement from Jackie “would be enormously helpful to the University.”
University spokesman Anthony de Bruyn declined to comment on the statement Wednesday.
The draft statement also asked Jackie to disavow the idea that she was mistreated in any way, taking aim at the central premise of the Rolling Stone article: “Any implication or statement in the Rolling Stone story that I was treated badly by the University of Virginia, discouraged from seeking help or initiating a University complaint or criminal investigation, or otherwise dissuaded from taking action, by either University of Virginia personnel or other University of Virginia students, is false.”
But in testimony this week, a number of U-Va. officials, including Eramo and Dean of Students Allen Groves, indicated that the administration was aware of Jackie’s gang-rape allegations and that it had alerted Phi Kappa Psi about them before the article was published. Groves testified that Jackie also told the university that two other women had come to her with similar gang-rape allegations, claims that also were later deemed not credible.
When questioned about the proposed statement from U-Va., Jackie said in taped testimony that it didn’t “accurately reflect my views.” Jackie also said that she “did tell people from U-Va. that I was gang-raped at Phi Psi.”
Jurors heard Jackie testify that she continues to stand by her account, though she said she suffers from memory loss and doesn’t remember details.