WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published March 06, 2011, 03:27 PM

UND Refuses to Reopen Case of Expelled Student

The University of North Dakota has refused to reopen the case of a former student who was kicked out of school for a reported sexual assault that resulted in authorities charging the alleged victim for lying to police.

By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

(AP) — The University of North Dakota has refused to reopen the case of a former student who was kicked out of school for a reported sexual assault that resulted in authorities charging the alleged victim for lying to police.

The school told Caleb Warner not to set foot on campus for three years, after a student relations committee ruled in February 2010 that he violated four sections of UND's code of student life, including "violation of criminal or civil laws."

Warner was never arrested. He was never charged.

He admitted having sex with the alleged victim, a UND student at the time, but has maintained it was consensual.

Three months after Warner was expelled, Grand Forks police issued an arrest warrant against the alleged victim for filing a false report to law enforcement. Warner asked for a rehearing based on new information, but was denied for reasons that didn't jibe with his request.

Warner, 24, said he's been devastated by the events but has given up on his quest to return to UND. He's back in his hometown of Fargo.

All he wants from UND is an apology.

"I was proud to be a student at UND. But after what has happened, I don't want to go back there at all," Warner said.

Harvey Silverglate, a prominent civil rights attorney and expert on college disciplinary rules, said college tribunals do not have to provide the formality and due process a defendant receives in a court a law. However, he called UND's refusal to re-open the case distressing.

"Law enforcement agencies do not lightly charge complainants in sexual assault cases with filing a false report," Silverglate said. "It seems to be that the campus tribunal has an obligation — surely moral and ethical and arguably constitutional as well — to reopen the case to examine the basis for the criminal justice's system of filing a false statement."

A Grand Forks police spokesman said the alleged victim has returned to live in her home state of California. She could not be reached for comment.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that Warner's lawyer requested the rehearing based upon a section in the student code that allows a case to be revisited if there's "substantial" new information. In a letter to Warner, Robert Boyd, UND's vice president of student and outreach services at the time, rejected the request and based it on a section that requires appeals to be filed within five days of any sanction.

Boyd told the AP that federal privacy laws prohibit him from talking about a specific case, but said he has the authority to review any case regardless of the timing of the appeal.

"There is in fact a judgment call made at that point on what is substantial, and what is not. Generally speaking, an opinion of somebody is not substantial," Boyd said. "It must be something that clearly changes the environment of what has been heard by the student relations committee."

Warner believes a police report that questions the truthfulness of his accuser should qualify as "substantial."

Jim Vigness, the Grand Forks police detective who investigated the case, said he talked to the alleged victim after the warrant was issued, but wouldn't comment about what she said. It remains an open case although it's unlikely she will face extradition to North Dakota, he said.

Asked about the UND hearing that resulted in Warner's expulsion, Vigness said, "All I can tell you is that the proceeding at the university took place before my investigation."

Boyd said he listens to "every minute" of a hearing, which is taped, and reviews "every piece" of information provided by the student relations committee. He said he also makes it a point to meet with students who are appealing a sanction.

"I'm not obligated to talk to the person who is appealing to me, but I can't think of a circumstance when I have not," Boyd said.

Warner said he never talked with Boyd.

"I don't know what he looks like," Warner said.

The student relations committee is made up of students, professors and administrators. It is appointed by the school president. Each case is heard by three students and three faculty members. School documents refer to the committee as the "highest disciplinary body of the university," with the sole authority to suspend a student or organization.

A document prepared for lawyers who defend clients in front of the student relations committee said the school will not delay its own disciplinary hearings to accommodate a criminal investigation.

"The disciplinary process at UND is not to determine if a student violated the law; it is to determine whether student's behavior was in violation of the university regulations and standards," the document states.

Warner's hearing with the student relations committee was held on Feb. 11, 2010. His lawyer, Steven Light, was allowed to attend the hearing but could only confer with Warner during breaks in the proceedings. Warner defended himself and asked questions of the witnesses, including the alleged victim.

Witnesses were allowed to "pass" if they didn't want to answer a question, Light said.

Boyd, who has since retired, said the process works.

"In my 12 years as vice president, I am absolutely amazed that the effort that is made by members of the student relations committee to be fair and objective and non-prejudicial," Boyd said. "If they err at all, they err in trying to find some way for the student to re-enter the (UND) community."