Former Baylor University head football coach Art Briles, fired athletics staffer Colin Shillinglaw and other high-level officials in the athletics department repeatedly attempted to keep players accused of crimes out of the public eye and the university’s judicial system, three regents said in an answer to Shillinglaw’s lawsuit filed this week.
“The football program was a black hole into which reports of misconduct such as drug use, physical assault, domestic violence, brandishing of guns, indecent exposure and academic fraud disappeared,” the answer filed by Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin on behalf of board Chairman Ron Murff and regents J. Cary Gray and David Harper states.
Shillinglaw, who was fired May 26 in the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal that has rocked the university, sued the regents and others, including Baylor, interim President David Garland, COO Reagan Ramsower, Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP, and regent Dennis Wiles. His lawsuit alleges libel, slander and conspiracy.
The answer, filed in Dallas County Court, cites text messages exchanged between Briles, Shillinglaw and former Athletics Director Ian McCaw in the first public re-telling of at least some of what regents heard in February and May from Pepper Hamilton, which investigated how Baylor, including its football program, responded to sexual assault allegations. The Pepper Hamilton briefings led to Briles’ and Shillinglaw’s firings, along with the removal of Ken Starr as president. McCaw resigned days after being sanctioned by the board. Former athletics department staffer Tom Hill was also fired amidst the fallout.
The lawsuit answer, filed late Thursday afternoon, says Shillinglaw sent a text message to Briles in September 2013, claiming a player receiving a massage exposed himself to the masseuse and asked for favors. Shillinglaw said the masseuse had a lawyer, “but wants us to handle with discipline and counseling.”
Briles’ first response was, “What kind of discipline . . . She a stripper?” the answer states.
Shillinglaw then told Briles the player made the request while getting a massage, to which Briles allegedly responded, “Not quite as bad,” regents said in the filing.
‘Keep it quiet’
A week later, a player was arrested on assault charges and threatening to kill a non-athlete, and an unnamed staffer tried to talk the victim out of pressing charges, according to the filing.
Briles then sent a text message to McCaw, saying, “Just talked to (the player) — he said Waco PD was there — said they were going to keep it quiet — Wasn’t a set up deal...I’ll get shill (Shillinglaw) to ck on Sibley (local attorney Jonathan Sibley.)”
McCaw, now director of athletics at Liberty University, then allegedly replied, “That would be great if they kept it quiet!”
The answer also cites gang rapes that were allegedly reported to Briles and other football and athletics staffers.
It alleges the earliest report of a gang rape came in April 2013, when a student-athlete told her coach that five football players had raped her at an off-campus party in early 2012. She identified each player, and the coach wrote the names down, the answer says.
The coach showed McCaw the names, and McCaw told the coach to speak with Briles, the answer states.
“Those are some bad dudes,” Briles allegedly told the coach. “Why was she around those guys?”
The answer says Briles offered no defense of the players and told the coach the alleged victim should inform police.
Briles’ attorney, Ernest Cannon, did not return a message for comment on the allegations late Thursday. On Wednesday, Briles dropped a libel lawsuit against Murff, Gray, Harper and Ramsower. Hardin told the Tribune-Herald on Thursday that no settlement was involved in that case.
“The victim’s coach went back to McCaw, who incorrectly told the coach it was up to the victim to take action,” the answer in the Shillinglaw suit states. “McCaw told the coach that if the student did not press charges there was nothing else they could do.”
The victim and her mother told another Baylor athletics staffer, and there is no evidence the unnamed staffer reported the incident to anyone else, the answer said.
The mother told the staffer the names of two of the five accused players, and the assistant football coach then interviewed them.
The players admitted to “fooling around,” and called it “just a little bit of playtime,” the answer says, and they said it was consensual.
The assistant coach told other coaches, whose responses involved victim-blaming, it says.
“He concluded that the accusations of the gang rape were in a ‘gray area’ and there was no definitive evidence of sexual assault,” the answer says.
Pepper Hamilton, who investigated for about nine months how the university responded to such claims, found no evidence that anyone notified Baylor’s judicial affairs office, Baylor police or anyone outside of athletics.
Briles told Pepper Hamilton attorneys that he recalled “bits and pieces” of the gang rape allegation, and later recalled hearing about the victim because she had been in his office regarding another incident.
Briles, McCaw and the victim’s coach blamed lack of clear guidelines for not reporting such incidents to judicial affairs, the answer states.
After hearing 10 hours of briefings by Pepper Hamilton attorneys, Baylor regents voted 24-6 to recommend suspending Briles with intent to terminate for cause, and also voted 26-4 to recommend seeking McCaw’s resignation. If McCaw had declined, the board recommended he be fired, the answer says.
The answer says the board anticipated a backlash after the personnel decisions, and there were concerns regarding violating victim privacy under Title IX, the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
In a May 24 meeting, two days before an announcement was made, 10 regents interviewed McCaw and Briles in person, while the rest of the board participated via teleconference. McCaw tearfully acknowledged mistakes and presented a five-point plan to improve sexual violence prevention and response, the answer says.
Briles, also “overcome with emotion,” said he delegated discipline decisions to others and ran an in-house system when he should have run an “open-house” system. He also said he made mistakes and was the last to know of players’ discipline.
The board then asked Briles what he would do differently, to which Briles responded, “Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it,” according to the filing.
“The board was concerned that given all that had occurred, Coach Briles could not identify with the role of the disciplinarian,” the answer states. Because Briles did not offer a specific plan to remedy problems within his program, as McCaw had, the board determined he should be fired, the answer states.
Thursday’s court filing included several other allegations of athletics department staffers, including Briles, Shillinglaw and others, trying to sweep reported crimes under the rug. The answer says the evidence was found in text messages, emails and interviews, among other sources.
After an assistant coach notified Briles of a female student-athlete accusing a football player of brandishing a gun at her, Briles allegedly responded, “what a fool — she reporting to authorities.”
The assistant coach replied that she is “acting traumatized . . . Trying to talk her calm now . . . Doesn’t seem to want to report though.” The assistant coach then said he spoke to the player on the way to class, and the incident was never reported to judicial affairs or authorities.
Also, in a 2011 text message exchange, in the wake of a freshman defensive tackle being cited for illegal alcohol consumption, Briles said to an assistant coach, “Hopefully he’s under radar enough they won’t recognize name – did he get ticket from Baylor police or Waco? . . . Just trying to keep him away from our judicial affairs folks . . .”
In August 2015, when a player was arrested on marijuana possession charges, Briles texted an assistant coach, “S*** — how about that — he’s gonna b (sic) in the system now — let me know what you think we should do . . . I can get (Shillinglaw) to call Sibley or we can . . . Do we know who complained?”
The coach told Briles a superintendent at the player’s apartment complex made the report.
“We need to know who supervisor is and get him to alert us first,” Briles allegedly responded.
Shillinglaw’s attorney, Gaines West, said late Thursday that the filing was “quite unorthodox” and that he looks forward to getting the truth out.
Hardin said the answer “makes very clear that not only was what the regents did appropriate, but it makes very clear they had no choice.”
The answer also explains the case of Tevin Elliott, who was convicted on sexual assault charges in 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Several women other than the victim Elliott was convicted of raping also testified at his trial that they were raped by Elliott. There were also multiple reports of Elliott’s sexual violence prior to him being removed from the football team and ultimately being expelled from Baylor.
In April of 2012, after a fourth alleged victim filed a Waco police report against Elliott, an assistant coach told Briles that Waco police had taken a DNA swab from his mouth, the answer says. Briles allegedly responded, “Dang it.”
The answer says Briles did not take any action in the Elliott case for 10 days until a Tribune-Herald reporter inquired about Elliott’s status with the program. The athletics department then issued a statement saying Elliott was suspended, and he was expelled May 21, 2012.
Weeks before his 2014 trial, Elliott sent a text message to Briles asking if Briles would testify on his behalf.
“We need to get your name cleared . . . Always all in with my players,” Briles responded, according to the filing, though the former coach never testified in Elliott’s trial.
The answer also says Baylor’s athletics department never requested Shawn Oakman’s student file from Penn State University. Oakman, who was accused of physical violence before being kicked off the team at Penn State, now awaits trial on a separate sexual assault charge from April 2016.
Former Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford unearthed another alleged gang rape while investigating Oakman in 2015, the answer states, which was allegedly recorded on a cellphone.
Thursday’s filing also chronicles backlash the board received over the course of 2016, following the firings of Briles, Starr, Shillinglaw and Hill, and McCaw’s resignation.
As Baylor regents were under fire from the school’s various constituencies and the media to produce evidence supporting its actions, regents were also being grilled by major donors.
The filing states that in a June meeting, a group of donors told several regents that Briles should be rehired or given a one-year suspension.
“One of the donors stated very clearly, ‘If you mention Baylor’s mission one more time, I’m going to throw up . . . I was promised a national championship,’ ” the answer states.
John Eddie Williams, a Houston lawyer and major Baylor donor who leads a group of donors and alumni demanding transparency from the board, has said regents refused to give details of the investigation in a summer meeting. In a fall 2016 interview with the Tribune-Herald, Williams said he was among a group of key Baylor donors who requested a meeting with the full board of regents, but was rebuffed.