One Department of Education investigation into Iowa State closed, another remains open

Beardshear Hall from Central Campus on Sept. 19.

K. Rambo

One U.S. Department of Education investigation of alleged Title IX violations by Iowa State has been closed, Iowa State was informed on July 24. The investigation began in 2014.

A 2016 investigation remains open, according to the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights online database.

The lawsuit corresponding with the complaint that launched the Department of Education investigation in 2014 was removed to federal court on Oct. 26, 2016 and dismissed in federal court on Feb. 13, 2018, according to the letter informing Iowa State. Court records show the dates match the lawsuit filed by former student Melissa Maher against Iowa State.

Maher alleged the university displayed “deliberate indifference” by not ensuring her attacker, Patrick Whetstone, was kept a safe distance from Maher after reporting the assault to Iowa State, during the investigation phase. Maher and Whetstone were placed in adjacent buildings in Frederickson Court after the assault was reported, according to the complaint filed by Maher.

Maher alleged she was offered unsatisfactory alternative housing during the investigation.

Whetstone plead guilty to assault with intent to commit sexual abuse in September 2016 and was sentenced to two years of probation and placement on the state sex offender registry.

“OCR has determined that the allegation of sex discrimination in Student A’s OCR complaint is the same allegation based on the same operative facts reviewed by the federal court in Student A’s Title IX claim,” the letter informing Iowa State of the decision said. “Because the federal court dismissed Student A’s Title IX claim with prejudice, which is considered a decision on the merits, OCR is dismissing Student A’s OCR complaint pursuant to Section 108(h) of the CPM, effective the date of this letter.”

John McCarroll, executive director of university relations at Iowa State, said the investigation was closed because the complaint that prompted it was based on the same allegations in the lawsuit dismissed in February because “it lacked legal merit.”

“The university community is working to prevent sexual misconduct on campus, to encourage reporting this misconduct, to maintain a fair process for all parties and to support all students,” McCarroll said in a statement provided by the university relations. “While we are pleased the court and the OCR recognized Iowa State’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct as appropriate, we will not be satisfied until no student has to suffer the devastating impact associated with this behavior.”

The 2016 investigation that remains open stems from a complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of sex and disability. The letter to former Iowa State President Steven Leath, dated Nov. 3, 2016, says the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is tasked with enforcing Title IX and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.

It was in this capacity the Department of Education opened the investigation.