Report: Florida under Title IX investigation for handling of Antonio Callaway case

By Adam Silverstein
July 3, 2017
Report: Florida under Title IX investigation for handling of Antonio Callaway case
Football

Image Credit: ESPN Images

Though Florida Gators junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway was cleared of wrongdoing in a sexual assault investigation nearly two years ago, the University of Florida’s handling of the case is now under federal review.

According to the Tampa Bay Times’ Matt Baker, who spoke with the complainant’s attorney in the Callaway case, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened a Title IX investigation into the university following a complaint from the attorney regarding, among other things, the impartiality of the hearing officer. UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes confirmed to the Times that the school is “fully cooperating.”

Both the complainant’s attorney, John Clune, and the attorney representing Callaway, Huntley Johnson, were critical of the way Florida handled the case, albeit for different reasons.

Clune has taken issue with the overall procedure and was specifically angry about who the university brought on to lead the final hearing. The woman, along with her parents and five witnesses, refused to attend the hearing because booster and former student-athlete Jake Schickel was the officer in charge.

“The fact that UF has hired a football booster to adjudicate a sexual assault allegation against one of the team’s own football players is a fundamentally skewed process in which [the complainant] refuses to participate,” Clune said at the time in a letter obtained by OnlyGators.com. He continued to ESPN: “Quite frankly, short of finding a relative of Mr. [Callaway], I’m not sure how UF could have found someone with more conflicts.”

Though schools are allowed to run their own Title IX hearings, the U.S. Department of Education has guidelines in place to ensure impartiality in hearings and remove conflicts of interest. It is hard to say whether Florida achieved that in their choice of hearing officer.

“Our student conduct process may be handled by a hearing officer, who could be a university employee or an outside professional, or by a committee of faculty and students. Any hearing officer and all committee members are trained and vetted for their impartiality,” said Sikes in a statement to OnlyGators.com back on Aug. 5, 2016. “A hearing officer or committee member would not be disqualified or lack objectivity simply because he or she had been a student athlete decades earlier or purchases athletic tickets as more than 90,000 people do each year.”

Johnson criticized Florida for allowing Title IX coordinator Chris Loschiavo, then the associate dean of student affairs, to be the sole investigator and arbitrator of the case, basically putting complete power in his hands. This was a similar complaint lodged by lawyers for other students on campus. Johnson also argued that official’s previous ties to Clune were a conflict. Loschiavo was fired that October along with two other UF staffers. Schickel served as Loschiavo’s replacement in presiding over the case.

Callaway maintained his innocence from the onset of the investigation, and Johnson made it clear that there was overwhelming evidence pointing to his client not having engaged in sexual assault.

The wide receiver, who was suspended for the 2016 offseason, played the entire season with the Gators. He participated in his first set of spring practices just months ago and enters the 2017 campaign as one of Florida’s top offensive playmakers.

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