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Ohio State reminded employees of their duties to report crimes

By BILL LANDIS • Updated Aug 3, 2018 at 9:42 AM

COLUMBUS — Ohio State reminded employees of their duties to report crimes on campus this week, as experts weighed in on whether football coach Urban Meyer potentially violated federal Title IX statutes.

Amid a debate over to what extent Title IX and Ohio State's own sexual misconduct policy should apply to Ohio State's investigation into Meyer's actions with former assistant Zach Smith, Kellie Brennan, Ohio State's Compliance Director and Title IX Coordinator, in a letter obtained by cleveland.com, laid out for employees who are considered "Campus Security Authorities" their responsibilities in reporting on-campus crime.

Those considered Campus Security Authorities include athletic coaches, as well as employees with significant responsibility for student or campus activities; campus security; and office and department leaders.

The letter was sent to employees on Wednesday at 3:23 p.m. Less than three hours later, the university announced Meyer's paid leave and the investigation into what he knew about a 2015 domestic abuse allegation against Smith.

Meyer previously denied any knowledge of a 2015 incident involving Smith. Courtney Smith, his ex-wife and the victim of his alleged abuse, said in two separate interviews published Wednesday morning that she shared a history of alleged abuse with Meyer's wife, Shelley, and that she believes Meyer also knew about it.

Thursday night, Ohio State announced an independent board that will aid the investigation into Meyer. The two major questions seem to be: Did Meyer know? And if he knew, did he follow the proper protocols in reporting?

Meyer's contract extension in April included language that required him to report any known violations of Ohio State's Sexual Misconduct Policy. That would include domestic violence by a staff member, like Smith, even if no charges were filed. On Wednesday, cleveland.com reported that likely meant Meyer may have violated Title IX.

But that contract language may differ from the actual federal Title IX statutes, which deal with gender discrimination at public education programs.

— Dr. Edward Dragan, a frequent consultant on cases involving education law, told cleveland.com that "because the abuse allegations involved a third party, the wife, not associated with the school, the head coach did not have a responsibility to report this."

— A ruling by a federal judge in July found that Colorado football coach Mike MacIntyre did not violate Title IX after the wife of a football coach told him of abuse and he did not report it. As the wife of a university employee, the judge ruled she was not covered by Title IX.

However, on the other side:

— An Ohio attorney told Yahoo Sports that Title IX would apply to Meyer's case. "You have to report all violations of sexual misconduct, even those regarding third parties."

— Sports Illustrated legal writer Michael McCann wrote that Title IX likely does apply to Meyer.

Under Title IX, allegations that require reporting are those that concern the programs or activities of the university; here, an Ohio State football coach allegedly battering his wife likely qualifies as concerning the university. To bolster that interpretation, the university's sexual misconduct policy unambiguously states, "Any employee who receives a disclosure of a sexual assault or becomes aware of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a sexual assault may have occurred involving anyone covered under this policy, must report all known information immediately." Potential violations of Title IX can be investigated by the Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights and persons victimized by such violations can bring civil lawsuits against the university.

As McCann explained, a Title IX violation could create issues for Ohio State. But whether Title IX applies or not, the university can determine Meyer's future however it chooses. A violation of the sexual misconduct policy would allow Ohio State to fire Meyer with cause, meaning he would not receive the remainder of his current contract.

That sexual misconduct policy is not limited to incidents occurring on campus or at university-sanctioned events. It reads, "This policy may also apply to alleged sexual misconduct that occurs off-campus, including virtual spaces, when the Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinator determines that the alleged sexual misconduct could reasonably create a hostile environment."

Meyer is considered a mandatory reporter under that policy. So if Meyer did not report the alleged abuse, it seems he would be in violation of that policy, which falls under the auspices of Ohio State's Title IX office — even if it may not be an actual violation of Title IX.

The letter sent to employees on Wednesday asked Campus Security Authorities to complete the university's incident report form by Aug. 10. The incident report form assists in the preparation of the university's annual crime statistics, pursuant to the Clery Act, which requires public schools to disclose information about crime on or near campus.

It also includes a reminder of the responsibility to report, among other crimes, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. However, it also limits the scope, under the Clery Act, to incidents that happen on campus, in Ohio State-owned property or on public property near campus.

Because Meyer is being questioned regarding an incident of alleged abuse away from university property, the contents of the letter sent Wednesday aren't necessarily in direct response to the ongoing investigation. Perhaps it was just a matter of coincidental timing.

Whatever the motivation, it was likely welcome clarification for employees of their responsibility to report crimes while a national debate rages over what Meyer is alleged to have known, and how he handled his responsibility to report it.

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