Eighteen days before news broke that a UNC football player may have suffered a concussion from several teammates during a hazing incident, university police had been notified about a possible aggravated assault involving athletes at a hotel just off campus.
But few would have realized the subsequent written report was related to the incident at the Aloft hotel that has brought the latest wave of bad publicity to a university that has struggled with several athletics-related scandals in the past four years .
The first report filed by UNC police only shows an “allegation of aggravated assault.” It doesn’t identify the victim, any involved parties, or who contacted police about the incident. It identifies the police station as the location of the incident, and says it happened on Aug. 8, four days after the incident.
A crime log kept by the department to provide information to the public and the federal government also misreported the time, date and location of the alleged assault.
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The assault allegations didn’t become public until Aug. 26, when Yahoo! Sports reported that Jackson Boyer, a walk-on receiver for the team, had suffered a concussion from what Yahoo reporters described as a hazing by teammates at the Aloft hotel. The team was staying at the hotel during training camp.
UNC-Chapel Hill Police Chief Jeff McCracken now acknowledges the report was inaccurate, but he said the mistakes were inadvertent. The department has filed a corrected report and updated the crime log.
“If there was some effort to cover this up,” McCracken said in an interview this week, “a report never would have been filed.”
Jonathan Jones, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University and a former state prosecutor, said he accepts the chief’s explanation for the erroneous reporting. But he said the report still failed in fulfilling the police department’s obligations under state and federal law to accurately report a possible crime.
“It’s still inadequate,” Jones said of the report, “and it certainly feeds into that perception that when it comes to athletics at the University of North Carolina, the university is not going to be forthcoming when problems arise.”
No complaint filed
At the time the news surfaced about the alleged assault, police with the university and the Chapel Hill Police Department told several media outlets, including The News & Observer, that they did not receive a call from anyone at the hotel and had not taken a report.
This week, McCracken and Chris Blue, chief of the Chapel Hill Police Department, acknowledged they had received information about the incident on Aug. 8.
Both said, however, that neither department was in a position to act on the information. McCracken said the alleged assault was not in his department’s jurisdiction because it happened at an off-campus hotel. He notified Blue by phone that day, but Blue said he couldn’t investigate until he had received a complaint from Boyer or his family. He said that hasn’t happened.
Efforts to contact Boyer’s parents were unsuccessful.
The version of events conveyed to university police did not come from Boyer, the family or someone who witnessed the incident. McCracken said it came from an athletic department employee whom he declined to identify. Jones said that person should have been identified in the report.
The description of the incident in the UNC police report, taken by an officer identified as M.H. Goodwin, is one sentence: “I received a complaint in regard to an assault that occurred at an off campus location involving student-athletes of UNC-Chapel Hill.” The report lists the injuries as minor.
McCracken said his department’s report of the incident is not the standard crime report police make available to the public. He said it was written to comply with a federal “Clery Act” requirement that alleged crimes on or near college campuses be reported to the U.S. Department of Education.
The 24-year-old law is intended to allow the public to assess the level of safety on college campuses. It is named after Jeanne Clery, a college student who was raped and killed at Lehigh University in 1986.
McCracken said the officer mistakenly reported the date, time and location as when and where the incident was reported, not when it happened. McCracken wasn’t sure why the report came in four days after the incident but suggested athletic officials may not have known what had happened until “a day or two” after the incident.
Jones said North Carolina law typically requires victims to swear out complaints in misdemeanor assault cases. But it would be good practice for police officers to contact the victim in cases when an assault allegation is reported by someone else.
“I think at a minimum the officer needs to contact that victim,” Jones said.
UNC athletic officials have said little about the incident, but a day after the report, football coach Larry Fedora suspended four players from the opening game against Liberty University. They are defensive backs Des Lawrence, Donnie Miles, M.J. Stewart and Brian Walker. All four were back on the field for Saturday’s game against San Diego State.
The university has acknowledged an internal investigation that is being led by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. Winston Crisp, the student affairs vice chancellor, could not be reached about the case, but a UNC spokeswoman said the investigation is ongoing.