After a long investigation, the Charlottesville Police Department said it is unable to substantiate many of the claims made in an explosive November Rolling Stone article, which alleged that a gang rape occurred on the University of Virginia campus and that the school’s administration looked the other way.
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said on Monday that there was no evidence to back up many of the assertions in the Rolling Stone account, sourced to a young woman known as “Jackie,” but he declined to formally close the investigation.
Longo said he was suspending the investigation in case more information emerged. Despite his investigators finding a series of major discrepancies in what Jackie told Rolling Stone and what other interviewees say, Longo said, “I’m not convinced that something terrible didn’t happen to that young lady that night.”
He asked that anyone with any knowledge of sexual assaults at a University of Virginia fraternity or elsewhere “please cooperate with the police and bring that to our attention.”
Jackie herself declined to make a statement to the police, though she and her Legal Aid attorney did visit the police station, Longo said, and the two investigators assigned to the case spoke to roughly 70 people. With no specific criminal charges to make, the police were unable to compel anyone’s testimony.
Longo said that what Jackie’s friends remember her saying on the night in question differed from what was in the article, which the friends have also told the press in recent months. He also said that what Jackie reported to university Dean Nicole Eramo in the spring of 2014 “was not consistent with the facts and circumstances as they were described in the article,” and that the police were first involved after Jackie told the dean she had a bottle thrown at her in retaliation for her anti-rape activism. But Jackie declined to speak with the police about either incident in the spring, before opting to tell a story to Erdely.
“The last contact we had with her was on Dec. 10 and we were very distinctly told that she would not talk to us, that we were not to talk to her again,” Longo said.
The most recent Charlottesville investigation also looked at the bottle incident. Longo added that Jackie’s roommate, a nursing student, said the mark on Jackie’s face was an abrasion, not the result of blunt force. He also said that the roommate denied having removed glass from the wound, as Jackie had claimed.
The investigators also interviewed Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the Rolling Stone story. How the story came to be – with errors such as there being no evidence the fraternity named in the piece even had a party on the named night – will be the subject of a Columbia Graduate School of Journalism investigation the magazine itself will soon publish.
The Charlottesville Police Department had already signaled that at least some part of the Rolling Stone story was either unsubstantiated or didn’t rise to the level of prosecution when it told the university that “their investigation has not revealed any substantive basis to confirm that the allegations raised in the Rolling Stone article occurred at Phi Kappa Psi,” according to a university press release in January. Phi Kappa Psi was subsequently reinstated.
Though she has begun implementing reforms around university life, including a new Fraternal Organization Agreement Addendum, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan said in January that the Rolling Stone story had “unfairly maligned UVa and many members of our community.”
Responding to the police’s findings, the national chapter of Phi Kappa Psi issued a statement Monday asking Rolling Stone to retract its article entirely. “The Fraternity requests that Rolling Stone fully and unconditionally retract its story and immediately remove the story from its website,” the statement says in part. “The Fraternity further requests that all journalists refrain from referencing Phi Kappa Psi in stories regarding the Rolling Stone article, as such references continue to damage the character of students who have been cleared of the accusations falsely leveled by Rolling Stone.“
After initially intensifying a national conversation around campus sexual assault, parts of the Rolling Stone story began to fall apart when other reporters, including at the Washington Post, began to re-report its claims. The initial story left out that the reporter had apparently agreed not to contact the men “Jackie” said had raped her, and the fraternity disputed key facts about when and where the alleged assault could have taken place. On Dec. 5, the magazine abruptly published a statement on its website saying of “Jackie” that “our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account.” The magazine’s managing editor, Will Dana, later backed away from a statement that appeared to blame the source for the magazine’s reporting.
On Dec. 22, the magazine’s editor and publisher, Jann Wenner, asked the dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Steve Coll, and Professor of Professional Practice in Investigative Journalism Sheila Coronel to investigate the magazine’s handling of the story. A spokeswoman for Rolling Stonesaid the report has not yet been delivered to them but confirmed that the magazine will be publishing it.
“The report is in its final stages and will be out in a matter of weeks,” Elizabeth Fishman, associate dean for communications at the School of Journalism told msnbc. “We are coordinating production schedules with Rolling Stone, and will announce the release date for the report soon.”
The University of Virginia has been reeling from a series of difficult events in the national spotlight, including the kidnapping and murder of a sophomore at the school, Hannah Graham, and the recent, bloody beating of a junior, Martese Johnson, at the hands of officers from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which was captured on camera.
Elizabeth Fishman, associate dean for communications at the School of Journalism told msnbc the report would be out April 8. Asked to respond to the police department’s findings, a spokeswoman for Rolling Stone only pointed to the Columbia investigation and said the magazine had “cooperated with Steve Coll extensively.” The magazine did not appear to report on the police findings Monday.
The Rolling Stone story raised the question of whether universities like UVA were sweeping violent crimes like sexual assault under the rug, discouraging complainants from going to the police for the sake of the school’s reputation. In the press conference, Longo said the university had been restricted by federal confidentiality requirements. “I learned a lot about federal law,” Longo said, and how it is “really somewhat restrictive of how universities share certain kinds of information.”