By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — A University of Michigan-Dearborn police officer filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the university claiming his suspension was retaliation for exposing the school covering up a sexual abuse report from a student.
UM-D Police Officer William Ashford’s complaint, filed March 3, says the university has, “systematically turned a blind eye to faculty sexual misconduct,” the Detroit News reported.
The lawsuit is against the University of Michigan and UM-Dearborn along with UM-D Police Chief Gary Gorski and UM-D Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Jeffrey Evans.
Ashford was suspended for 10 days in January after he claimed the coverup of the student’s allegation that an instructor sexually assaulted her.
He shared concerns with the Detroit News in November claiming the university failed to properly investigate and tried to cover up the allegations against the instructor.
“You made claims to the Detroit News that UM Dearborn Department of Public Safety was involved in a cover-up,” a Jan. 29 letter from Gorski said. “Your disclosures resulted in media coverage that could compromise the fairness of the adjudication process for the defendant and hinder efforts to hold the defendant accountable.
University spokesman Kenneth Kettenbeil told the Detroit News in an email March 3 that, “the university is not aware of a lawsuit being filed.”
The student first reported that her instructor sexually assaulted her in February 2019 when she went to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.
According to the lawsuit, “the hospital immediately administered a sexual assault examination. A University of Michigan-Ann Arbor police officer took the victim’s initial report, which stated that (the instructor) forced the victim to perform oral sex on him in his office in the Science Faculty Building located on UM-Dearborn’s campus. After the assault, (the instructor) emailed the victim, stating, ‘(T)he next time you want to work on your grade, you know what we can do.’ He changed the victim’s grade in his course from a ‘D’ to a ‘B.’”
Prior Interim Police Chief Timothy Wiley worked on the student’s investigation and allegedly told Ashford not to take the victim’s statement because “it could come back to haunt us in court,” according to the lawsuit.
A captain conducted an interview at the instructor’s house, which Ashford claims he told Wiley that the interview should’ve taken place at the station so it could be recorded.
The Detroit News reported that the instructor admitted that he did have sex with the student during his interview and that the U-M policy prohibits such an act event if it’s consensual.
Currently, the instructor is employed at another university after he was permitted by school officials to resign his position with a clean record.
The instructor was suspended March 4, 2019, for four days after the sexual assault report was filed by the student and he quit March 8, 2019 before the investigation was completed, Kettenbeil told the Detroit News.
Wayne County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Maria Miller told the Detroit News she received a warrant request in October from the Dearborn Police Department and not by Wiley and Deputy Chief James Knittell who claimed they sent a warrant package seeking charges. That warrant is still under review.
In September, Ashford asked his superiors for a status update on the case when he was told by Gorski that it had been closed and referred to prosectors for review. Ashford went to the UM-D Human Resources Department to report he suspected the student-instructor incident was being covered up, but the department took no action, according to the lawsuit.
A few days later, he sent an anonymous email to the U-M Board of Regents claiming the alleged coverup, the lawsuit said.
When the Detroit News filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of the log books, the books indicated the case was still open and being handled by the university and Dearborn Police Department.
But, the first log sheet dated Aug. 27 with an entry for sexual assault case 19-047 indicateed it was handled by the university’s Department of Police and Public Safety, according to the Detroit News. The entry indicates, “CLOSED – REF TO WCPO,” which means university police finished their investigation and referred the case to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
A second log sheet the whistleblower sent to prosecutors, dated Oct. 18, lists case 19-047 as “open investigation” and says the probe is being handled by both Dearborn and university police.
Kettenbeil told the Detroit News the case status in the logbook was altered after the Oct. 11 FOIA request “to better reflect the status of the case.”
When the Detroit News asked why, if the case was turned over to Dearborn police, the log entry originally said the case had been referred to prosecutors, Kettenbeil responded by saying, “We envisioned this case would eventually be turned over to prosecutors by Dearborn police.
“It’s still listed in the log, and it’s recorded, so it’s not like we whited it out,” Kettenbeil said. “It was our internal terminology. The police department looked at it after (The News) asked about it, and realized maybe it’s not the most accurate status of the case.”
Also, Kettenbeil told the Detroit News, “moving forward, the police department will log cases to better reflect the status of an investigation.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])