UPDATE 2:34 P.M.
Baylor Coach Art Briles spoke to reporters Friday morning about Sam Ukuwachu. He said Boise State never told him about Ukuwachu’s disciplinary problems when the defensive end was enrolled at the school (via ESPN.com):
When asked specifically if Boise State had informed Baylor of Ukwuachu’s disciplinary record, Briles was emphatic in his denial.
“No. No. That’s not true,” Briles said. “Lord, no. No, there’s no truth. Find out who informed us and talk to them, please.”
But Washington Coach Chris Petersen, who was coach at Boise State when Ukwuachu was there, issued a statement to ESPN on Friday afternoon saying he called Briles to advise him of Ukwuachu’s problems while with the Broncos.
“After Sam Ukwuachu was dismissed from the Boise State football program and expressed an interest in transferring to Baylor, I initiated a call with coach Art Briles,” Petersen said in the statement, as reported by ESPN’s Mark Schlabach. “I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.”
In May 2013, Sam Ukwuachu announced he was transferring from Boise State, where he had been a freshman all-American defensive end, to Baylor. It was a major pickup for the Bears, a long-suffering program that has found nearly unprecedented success recently under Coach Art Briles.
Ukwuachu sat out the 2013 season, per NCAA transfer rules. But then the 2014 season approached, and Ukwuachu still had yet to fully join the team, participating in conditioning drills but not practicing. The reason? He was going through “some issues,” according to defensive coordinator Phil Bennett:
According to all reports from the time, Bennett did not elaborate on what exactly those “issues” entailed, but they were troubling enough to keep Ukwuachu off the field for the entire 2014 season yet not problematic enough to kick him off the team. In fact, it wasn’t until this month that the reason for Ukwuachu’s absence from the team was explained:
In June 2014, Ukuwachu had been indicted on two counts of sexual assault over an incident with a Baylor women’s soccer player that took place in October 2013. On Thursday night, a Texas jury found Ukwuachu guilty. He faces two to 20 years in prison.
The case raises a number of troubling questions about Baylor’s football program, the school’s handling of sexual assault cases and the local media’s failure to investigate why a heralded transfer had yet to take the field.
Baylor’s coaching staff knew Ukwuachu had a troubled history
The incident involving the soccer player was not Ukuwachu’s first violent outburst, and Baylor’s coaching staff knew this. In May 2013, while still at Boise State, he put a fist through a window while drunk at the house he shared with a then-girlfriend and sent threatening text messages to another housemate, resulting in his dismissal from the Broncos football team and his transfer to Baylor. After announcing his move, Ukuwachu told Rivals.com that he had gone through “some personal problems” at Boise State and that the coaching staff at Baylor “knew everything and were really supportive.”
The school’s handling of the incident was woefully inept
Baylor conducted its own investigation and found “by a preponderance of the evidence that there was not enough evidence to move forward,” an associate dean at the school testified at the trial. Here’s what the school’s investigation entailed, per Texas Monthly: “It involved reading text messages, looking at a polygraph test Ukwuachu had independently commissioned — which is rarely admissible in court — and contacting Ukwuachu, Doe, and one witness on behalf of each of them. Ukwuachu’s roommate, Peni Tagive, is the primary witness in his defense.” Baylor’s investigation was so insufficient that, per Texas Monthly, “that the judge sustained a motion from the prosecution to restrict the defense from referencing it during the trial.”
Here’s what the school may have uncovered had it actually conducted more than a cursory investigation (taken from Texas Monthly’s recap of the trial; it referred to Ukwuachu’s accuser as Jane Doe to protect her identity):
The two were friendly, and shortly before two in the morning, Ukwuachu texted Doe, who replied to his message by saying that she would call him. During her testimony Tuesday, she said that she had called him moments later and agreed to go with him to get something to eat or to go to another party—but after he picked her up that night, he turned the wrong way out of her apartment complex and drove her to his apartment instead. Doe’s testimony regarding what happened in his apartment is disturbing. She described Ukwuachu as extremely agitated, getting angry with his dog and with a friend on the phone, who was in from out of town. After she resisted his initial advances, Doe testified, he began to grab her. “He was using all of his strength to pull up my dress and do stuff to me,” she said. “He had me on my stomach on the bed, and he was on top of me.” Doe testified that he pulled her dress up, pulled her underwear to the side, and forced her legs open with his toes, her head pressed between his bed and his desk, then forced himself inside of her. Doe was a virgin at the time.
Texts between Ukwuachu and Doe from earlier in the week, before the encounter, were also revealed to the jury during trial. In those messages, Doe is unambiguous that she is not interested in a physical or romantic relationship with Ukwuachu; he sent her messages like “we have unfinished business,” in reference to a previous encounter, which she characterized as Ukwuachu trying to put “moves” on her. She replied “I don’t think we need finish any business” and “let’s just chill.”
The night at his apartment, she testified, “I was screaming stop and no.” According to her testimony, after he finished, he told her “This isn’t rape,” asked her if she was going to call the police, and left her to find a ride. Two of Doe’s friends arrived in the middle of the night to pick her up, at which point she told them that Ukwuachu had raped her. The next day, Doe went to the hospital and was subject to a sexual assault nurse examination, which found vaginal injuries including redness, bleeding, and friction injuries.
Keep in mind that universities face a much lower threshold of guilt than courts do when adjudicating cases of sexual assault. Accused students can be sanctioned based on only a preponderance of evidence (in other words, that it was more likely than not that he or she committed a violation of the school’s rules). In criminal courts, prosecutors must prove that a person committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, a much higher standard.
And that wasn’t the only way Baylor failed Ukwuachu’s accuser. “When Doe sought to avoid Ukwuachu on campus, the school didn’t move him out of the classes or tutoring sessions the two shared—instead, she had to adjust her schedule,” Texas Monthly writes. Eventually, her scholarship was reduced to the point where she was forced to transfer.
As was the Waco Police Department’s investigation.
More than eight months elapsed between the incident — remember, Ukuwachu’s accuser went to police the day after she was assaulted — and Ukuwachu’s indictment. According to Texas Monthly, “detectives suspended the case after taking a report and investigating.” It wasn’t until the police report landed on the prosecutor’s desk months later that charges were filed.
Where was the media?
A star player transfers to a school located in a city large enough to have its own newspaper and television stations, sits out an extra year because of unexplained “issues” and … that’s it, we’re accepting that now? When a player gets suspended — or, in this case, has hazily defined “issues” — the first thing any reporter worth his salt does is check to see if that player has been charged with a crime. The very first thing.
The punishment phase of the trial began immediately after the verdict was read and will continue Friday morning. Ukuwachu’s accuser, now 20, is playing soccer at another school in Texas, according to the Waco Tribune.