Lawsuit: EMU officials covered up reported assaults

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal lawsuit alleges Eastern Michigan University officials aware of sexual assault allegations “turned a blind eye” to those who came forward, some of which eventually led to criminal charges years later.

The suit, filed Wednesday, states law enforcement is currently investigating more than 30 rapes on and around EMU’s campus between 2015 and 2020. 

It also paints a picture of sweeping allegations under the rug by those in positions to protect students.

“How many times have we heard of covering up something because of these types of assaults? That gets us nowhere and it just exacerbates the problem,” lead counsel Todd Flood told News 8 Thursday. “I look up to these women and what they’ve gone through.”

Flood represents 11 women, named only as Jane Doe 1-11, in the court filing. It takes aim at the university’s regents, Title IX Director Melody Werner, EMU police and two fraternities on campus — Alpha Sigma Phi and Delta Tau Delta.

The campus police chief, Robert Heighes, is also named in the lawsuit. Specifically, the suit alleges his nephew was once president of Alpha Sigma Phi and Heighes failed to do anything after being told about a rape at the frat house. 

That specific incident involved Dustyn Durbin. He and two others, D’Angelo McWilliams and Thomas Hernandez, currently face trial in Washtenaw County connected to related allegations. 

McWilliams is a sheriff’s deputy and was placed on leave last year when the charges were filed.

Hernandez was once president of EMU’s Interfraternity Council, according to the suit. 

“So, they’ve already established that a crime was committed and these assaults were committed by these people. By probable cause standard, which is higher than of Title IX. So how come no one was punished in Title IX? If a court can see that and a prosecutor can see that, how couldn’t a Title IX investigator see that?” Flood questioned.

The suit details indifference by campus officials when attempts to report rapes were made. It wasn’t until last year, when Ypsilanti police became aware of allegations, that a full investigation was conducted, and criminal charges were filed against the three men.

The university is denying the allegations. 

Wednesday night, without addressing the suit directly, EMU President James Smith shared a letter with the campus community. 

“Let me be clear: No student should suffer a sexual assault while part of our community. Worse, when one occurs and the survivor does not experience the kind of support they need and deserve, the institution must pay attention and strive tirelessly to fix whatever it was that created such an environment,” it said in part.

Students protested on campus Thursday in response to the lawsuit. 

“EMU, it’s on you!” they chanted. 

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