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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Cleared of Assault Claim, Student Sues SDSU

SAN DIEGO (CN) - San Diego State University denied a student due process by suspending him for a sexual assault allegation and circulating a safety alert with his name, the man claims in court.

Francisco Sousa, 21, of Portugal, was enrolled in San Diego State University when he had "consensual sexual activity" with another student during a party on Dec. 6, 2014, he says in the lawsuit in Superior Court. The woman filed a complaint with the school the next day, saying it was not consensual.

Sousa claims the school made no effort to interview him before a school police officer arrested him on Dec. 9, on felony charges of false imprisonment and forcible oral copulation. He was suspended the same day.

Also that day, he says, the university sent a "Community Safety Alert" to more than 28,000 people, stating that university police "arrested SDSU student Francisco Paiva Sousa for PC 288A(C)(2)(A)-Oral copulation with force and PC 236-false imprisonment with force." (PC refers to the California Penal Code.)

At the time, the university was reacting to campus protests that two fraternities had harassed students during a Nov. 21, 2014, Take Back the Night event to raise awareness of sexual violence, and reports of 13 sexual assaults on campus during the fall semester.

Sousa claims his "due process rights were subverted in part by immense political pressures bearing upon the university and specifically the administrators responsible for San Diego State University's Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities."

Sousa says SDSU suspended him until June 5, froze his records and transcripts, preventing him from taking final exams for the fall semester, stopped his enrollment for spring semester, and banned him from campus except to meet with the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities for appointments and hearing.

University officials declined to give copies of allegations and supporting statements against Sousa when he and his attorney asked for them, making it impossible for him to provide evidence of innocence or impugn his accuser's testimony, he says.

Instead, San Diego State University director of the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities and deputy Title IX coordinator Lee Mintz told Sousa to submit information to her and she would make her own conclusions and determine his punishment, Sousa says. He claims Mintz told him he would not have a hearing or the right to appeal the decision, confront his accuser, or have his attorney participate directly.

Sousa claims the university's handling of the matter violated federal law, which requires an "'adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation' of sexual harassment complaints under Title IX," and due process for the accused, including timely production of relevant information.

He says the San Diego County district attorney rejected the case on Feb. 11, and he filed a writ of mandamus against the university on April 2 to obtain information about the complaint against him, which showed the university's police department concluded its investigation months earlier, on Dec. 10.

The San Diego Union Tribune reported in September that SDSU ended its investigation in June this year and lifted Sousa's suspension "after finding allegations of sexual misconduct against him were unsubstantiated."

Sousa seeks punitive damages for civil rights and Title IX violations, false arrest, breach of contract, negligence and emotional distress.

Named as defendants are the Board of Trustees of California State University; Mintz; university police Officer Matthew Smith, who arrested him; and Title IX Coordinator and Associate Vice President of Administration Jessica Rentto.

After this story was posted, San Diego State sent Courthouse News this statement: "At the California State University (CSU), the safety of our students is of utmost concern. We have a legal and moral responsibility to investigate complaints of sexual assault and to comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure Act.

"Here, all actions taken by San Diego State in connection with this incident were according to the University's legal responsibilities and, given the information available to the campus, the right course to protect the safety and security of our student body.

"It should also be noted that, while Mr. Sousa was placed on interim suspension during the investigation, he had a right to appeal the interim suspension and did not do so.

"We believe the evidence will show the University acted appropriately in connection with this matter."

The school said it had not been served with the lawsuit yet, "and will reserve further comment until that time."

Sousa's attorney, Michael R. Marrinan of San Diego, was not available by telephone on Friday.

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