Maryland basketball player Dez Wells is filing suit against Xavier, claiming he was wrongfully dismissed by the school after being accused of sexual assault by a student during his freshman year in 2012.
Wells was never criminally charged — a prosecutor said there was no basis for action — but was expelled by the university.
Now Wells, who transferred to Maryland before last season and immediately became a starter, is legally challenging the procedure that Xavier used to dismiss him.
“In July 2012, Wells was falsely accused of sexual assault,” according to a copy of the suit. The suit names the university and Father Michael J. Graham, Xavier’s president, as defendants.
“The Xavier University Conduct Board, charged with adjudicating the allegations against Wells, failed to follow Xavier’s policies for disciplinary proceedings, conducted a fundamentally unfair hearing and defamed Wells by publicly proclaliming him guilty of rape, materially as a result of Father Graham’s irresponsible and reckless rush to judgment,” the suit said.
Xavier responded with an emailed statement from Graham on Tuesday night defending its procedures.
“We have read the complaint and the allegations of wrongdoing are unfounded and cannot be supported. The process used by the Xavier University Conduct Board applies to all of our students and is the standard used in American universities,” Graham said in his response. “After members of the Conduct Board reached their decision, the matter was considered and upheld in an appeal. The sanction for the offense was expulsion. The University has never revealed the specific charge against Dez Wells other than to say he was found responsible for a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. The university will vigorously defend the process and the decision.”
The suit, which is being filed in the Southern District of Ohio, was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
Wells’ case was unusual in that not only were no charges filed by a grand jury, but the prosecutor took the unusual step of seeming to publicly advocate for the player.
Hamilton County (Ohio) Prosecuting Attorney Joseph T. Deters told the Baltimore Sun last year that “I think Maryland’s getting a good kid, I really do.”
Deters, a former Ohio state treasurer who has been a prosecutor for more than 30 years, said at the time that Wells was involved in a game of “truth or dare” involving three females and three males while he was enrolled at Xavier. The game led to the allegation against him by one of the females, and Xavier expelled him following a review by a committee of faculty, students and administrators.
Deters said the accuser’s “dare” had been to lift her shirt up, and that she complied. At some point, he said, Wells and the accuser began having sex.
The two “knew each other (and) they were in a sexual situation totally consensual until the very last seconds, and that’s where their stories diverged,” Deters said at the time. “I’m not known as soft on crime by any stretch of the imagination. But I am also very sensitive of people being accused of things where it doesn’t even reach anything close to a standard of proof that we would even think of accepting.”
At the time, Deters expressed concern about the process Xavier used to investigate Wells. “If you’re going to go down this path, the degree of proof shouldn’t be in the hands of untrained people,” he told The Sun. He declined later interviews.
The suit says Xavier declined to consider exculpatory evidence against Wells. It says Xavier caused the player to suffer “severe emotional distress” and it seeks compensatory damages for the player.