Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lawsuit Breakdown: Duke's Treatment of Matthew Wilson

[The series Lawsuit Breakdown will attempt to highlight the main points of the lawsuit filed on 12/18/07 by attorneys for Ryan McFayden, Matt Wilson and Breck Archer with a focus on Duke University's involvement in the scandal.]

Matthew Wilson was cited for Driving While Impaired in Chapel Hill in May of 2006, six days after David Evans was indicted. He accepted responsibility for his mistake and entered a guilty plea at his first court appearance. He sought counseling from Duke's Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS), but was told that because he was not enrolled in the summer session, he was not eligible.

Matthew's DWI was discovered by Duke University when it became front page news and even national news after a reporter cross-referenced new court files against the CrimeStoppers Wanted poster. Ekstrand then notes that "Duke University unilaterally suspended Matthew from the lacrosse team indefinitely and made multiple public statements to representatives of the press to ensure the University's disciplinary action against Matthew was widely known" (p. 219). Next, "Defendant Bryan told Matthew and his father that he was referring Matthew to a Judicial Board hearing, in which he expressly stated that Matthew would be suspended for two semesters. Defendant Bryan falsely stated - repeatedly - that it was "the policy" to suspend for two semesters all students who are charged with Matthew's offense" (p. 219). Ekstrand also notes that it is also false that Bryan's office suspended for two semesters every student cited with that charge.

Fearing for the publicity generated by Matthew's citation and Duke's public announcements, Matthew's parents "asked Defendants Moneta and Bryan to allow Matthew to transfer in lieu of a judicial affairs hearing. Moneta and Bryan both claimed that there was a 'policy' forbidding that; he could transfer but not as a student in good standing" (p. 220). Ekstrand asserts that there neither was such a policy nor a precedent, as many students in the same position had been allowed to transfer in good standing.

From Ekstrand's account, both Moneta and Bryan had already determined the sentence and delivered it repeatedly to Wilson's family before there was ever a hearing. Moneta told Matthew's father that "he and Bryan had no choice 'because he's a lacrosse player,' rhetorically asking, "What would we say to people if we didn't suspend him?" (p. 220). Especially extraordinary is that Bryan "claimed that he had picked a sympathetic group who would look favorably on Matthew's extraordinary efforts in the summer" (p. 220), an odd offering of comfort considering Bryan had already determined the sentence. It becomes even more peculiar consolation noting that the panel hearing "was filled with questions - not about the driving incident - but about the events of March 13th-14th at the 610 Buchanan house" (p. 220).

Eventually, by the Appeals Board, the two semester suspension was modified to suspension for the summer session. However, "neither body addressed the fact that the Student Code of Conduct clearly does not authorize the Undergraduate Judicial Board to subject students to disciplinary proceedings for conduct that occurs off-campus, out of county, while not enrolled, and not even eligible for a 30 minute CAPS appointment" (p. 221).

Thus, if Ekstrand is correct, violating precedent and citing policy that did not exist, Bryan and Moneta prevented Matthew from transferring in good standing in order that, with no disciplinary authority, they could subject Matthew to a hearing to determine punishment after punishment had already been determined according to policies that do not exist, and then used this hearing to interrogate Matthew about the party at 610 Buchanan in spite of Duke University's public assertions that it cannot conduct its own investigations for fear of "witness tampering." All of this at a time long after DNA had already cleared every member of the team and long after it had become extremely obvious to anyone paying the slightest attention that three honorable and demonstrably innocent Duke students were being subjected to extraordinary violations of their constitutional rights.

Duke Students for an Ethical Duke agrees with KC Johnson that this is one of the more disturbing parts of the entire lawsuit. We intend to discuss advocating at least the temporary replacement of the administrators involved until student confidence can be restored in the Duke administration in these essential positions that require the utmost integrity and trust.


Jim in San Diego said...

The actual suggestion here that some of the Duke administrators should be relieved of their duties temporarily while these charges are investigated is almost unique.

Why hasnt this idea occurred to Mr. Brodhead? To Mr. Steel? To anyone?

What an odd idea - that people in positions of responsibility should actually be held accountable for what they do in the exercise of that responsibility.

Jim Peterson

jim2 said...

Before any such remedy as the one you suggested would ever be considered, Duke (Brodhead, trustees, or some other internal authority) would have to conclude that the alleged behaviors:

- may have happened as described,

- the described behaviors (if true) were inappropriate, and

- the significance of the actions (if true) is great enough to warrant such a remedy.

I recollect no indication that ANY of the above trio of conditions has been met.

Gary Packwood said...

...He (Matthew) sought counseling from Duke's Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS), but was told that because he was not enrolled in the summer session, he was not eligible.


...Moneta and Bryan both claimed that there was a 'policy' forbidding that; he (Matthew) could transfer but not as a student in good standing" (p. 220).
So, Matthew could not get help from Duke CAPS because he was NOT a student but he could transfer as a student but not in good standing.

He WAS NOT a student but he WAS a student but not in good standing!

And he requested help from Duke?

Has the process been initiated to remove accreditation from the Duke Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS) for breach of professional ethics?