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Baylor University says "incendiary" allegations that it destroyed evidence are unfounded

Baylor University said in a court filing that a message about deleting emails had nothing to do with the sexual assault scandal plaguing the school.

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Lawyers for Baylor University said a suggestion that school officials destroyed records was “incendiary” and false, and that documents used to make the claim were unrelated to a wide-ranging sexual assault scandal that has dogged the private Waco university for years.

The response was made in documents filed in federal court Wednesday evening, the latest exchange in one of several ongoing lawsuits against the school. Claims that Baylor officials destroyed evidence, made last week in a different court filing, are “serious accusations that lack any reasonable basis in fact,” Baylor’s filing says. Lawyers for the school attached internal emails to back their response.

“The solution is further investigation and discovery in accordance with the rules of civil procedure — not the publication of incendiary allegations based solely on speculation, misinterpretation, and unwarranted leaps in logic," the filing says. 

Baylor’s brief was a response to documents filed last week by former Democratic state Rep. Jim Dunnam and Houston attorney Chad Dunn, who are representing several anonymous sexual assault victims who have sued the school on the grounds that it failed to comply with the gender-equity law Title IX. 

According to Dunnam and Dunn’s filing, Baylor's interim President David Garland sent an email to a "high-level Baylor athletics official" on June 14, 2016, that said: "Thanks [name redacted]. I would erase the emails."

His June 14 message did not have a subject line and did not appear to be sent as a reply. It was not clear what emails Garland was referring to, but the recipient of his message – whose name was redacted – thought the directive was unusual and wrote a memorandum documenting the exchange.

Hours after the Feb. 14 filing was made public, however, representatives of Baylor said the email had been about the Big 12 athletics conference. They said the recipient of the message was interim Athletic Director Todd Patulski.

Baylor's filing says Garland was "concerned about properly complying with the security procedures that the Big 12 implemented to protect its proprietary information."

“There is no factual basis,” the filing says, to the accusation that “Garland directed the destruction of emails related to sexual assault or this case.”

Baylor’s response did not mention the memorandum, which had been heavily redacted and attached to the plaintiffs’ brief last week.

But the filing also discounted a text message conversation that lawyers suing the university had flagged as further evidence of documents being destroyed.  

An Aug. 28, 2015, text message between Baylor officials said "Patties[sic] about to talk about shredding documents.” Plaintiffs’ lawyers said in their brief that the message referred to Patty Crawford, Baylor’s Title IX coordinator. Attorneys for the school clapped back Wednesday that the text was about Pattie Orr, then the vice president for information technology and dean of university libraries.

The text was part of a running commentary the officials were making about a school meeting, during which Orr gave a presentation and mentioned document retention, Baylor’s lawyers said.

“Because the Plaintiffs have confused two separate people—'Pattie Orr' and 'Patty Crawford'—they have jumped to the wild and unsubstantiated allegation that certain text messages show the destruction of evidence relating to sexual assault,” Baylor’s brief says.

Dunn, one of the lawyers suing the school, said Thursday he continues to believe Garland’s email was “not related to the Big 12 meeting,” and that their “interpretation of the text message is accurate.”

Dunn said he was confident he and Dunnam would be proven correct at trial.

“If Baylor would engage in the actual transparency it pats itself on the back for, the public wouldn't have to guess about these things,” he added.

Jason Cook, a Baylor spokesman, said “the facts outlined in the filing speak for themselves.”

Baylor’s sexual assault scandal dates back to 2015, when a football player was convicted of raping a member of the women’s soccer team. Testimony in the player's trial revealed Baylor had investigated the allegations but did not punish him – and his case unleashed a torrent of similar claims from female students whose reports of being sexually assaulted were met with little support from Baylor. (His conviction was later overturned, and the case is currently pending on appeal.)

The university retained an outside law firm to investigate, and they delivered a verbal report of their findings to the school's board of regents.

A short summary of that report was released by Baylor and criticized the university for not having the proper procedures in place to respond to complaints of sexual violence or provide support to victims. The report didn't name names, but it did single out "some football coaches and staff" for improperly diverting misconduct cases from normal university processes and for denying complainants of their right to a fair investigation.

Athletics Director Ian McCaw and football coach Art Briles lost their positions at the school in the scandal’s aftermath. Garland took the helm of the university in June 2016, after former President and Chancellor Ken Starr resigned under pressure.

Baylor officials have said the school has made dramatic improvements to how it handles sexual assault complaints. But Baylor remains entangled in lawsuits and is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, the Texas Rangers and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. 

Disclosure: Baylor University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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