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Shortly after his office declined to pursue a sexual assault case against former Xavier basketball player Dezmine Wells, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters excoriated university officials for their process in determining to expel Wells from school.
In an interview with WLW-AM radio, Deters called the use of a University Conduct Board to determine whether Wells had committed an offense worthy of expulsion “fundamentally unfair” and “seriously flawed.” Deters said this matter “should never have gotten to the point where someone’s reputation is ruined.”
Deters said he took the allegation seriously and assigned two assistant prosecutors “who are highly skilled at assessing these kinds of cases.”
A source close to Wells told Sporting News he testified before the Hamilton County Grand Jury on Monday.
On Tuesday morning, the Grand Jury declined to prosecute. Deters said, based on what was presented, “It wasn’t even close. ... We would never take anything like this to court. It just wouldn’t happen.”
Xavier University responded to Deters' criticisms with the following statement:
“Federal law (Title IX) and federal regulations and guidances prohibit universities from ceding student conduct matters to the criminal justice system. The Federal law requires schools to act quickly and all schools, by law, must use the ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard, whereas the criminal justice system uses the ‘probable cause’ standard to indict, and the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard to convict.
“The process used by the Xavier University conduct board is the standard used in American universities. The XU conduct board heard evidence that may or may not have been heard by the Grand Jury. After the conduct board reached its decision, the matter was considered and upheld by an appeal board of members of the student body, faculty and staff and is final.”
Wells — a small forward from Raleigh, N.C., who made the Atlantic-10 all-rookie team — was expelled by Xavier this month based on the recommendation of the conduct board.
Wells was expected to become the star of the Xavier team as a sophomore. He was among the highest-rated recruits in the school’s history and averaged 9.8 points in his first season. He was suspended four games for his involvement in the Musketeers’ on-court fight with Cincinnati last December.
Until the expulsion, that suspension was the only apparent stain on Wells’ record.
“I cannot by law discuss what went in front of the Grand Jury,” Deters told WLW. “What I can tell you, though, is this is a young man with no record that we know of, who this allegation was leveled against and in our opinion at the conclusion of this that the Grand Jury did come to the right conclusion.
“I would hope they would revisit this thing. They’re set up to protect their students, but Dez Wells is a student, too.”
Deters’ objection was rooted in the Xavier conduct board process, which he described as positioning Wells and his accuser — without legal representation — before a panel consisting of Xavier students, faculty and administrators. Deters stressed that, in his opinion, these people were “untrained” to deal with sexual assault allegations.
“This offense carries mandatory prison time. This is not shoplifting,” Deters told WLW. “If found guilty, this individual faced 11 years in prison. This is no laughing matter. And people are reviewing it who, I would suggest to you, haven’t been doing it for decades.”
Deters said he hopes Xavier officials “will revisit this thing,” although it was not clear whether he was referring to Wells’ dismissal or the process itself.
Earlier this month, Xavier completed an agreement with federal investigators in which it pledged to begin training and reporting programs to protect victims of sexual assault.
The Education Department’s office of civil rights pursued the agreement after complaints were filed by female students over the school’s handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment claims.
”Any time you get federal people involved in this, you should expect a disaster,” Deters said.