Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout with new information.
A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has gone public with allegations that she was raped by one of the school’s football players and that the university failed to adequately investigate the reported assault.
Delaney Robinson said at a press conference Tuesday that UNC linebacker Allen Artis sexually assaulted her earlier this year. Robinson claims campus police interrogated her like a suspect in her own assault and “laughed” at her story while interviewing Artis. Robinson's attorney Denise Branch alleges that the assistant district attorney for Orange County, North Carolina, told her: “Unconsciousness is rape, blackout drunk is not rape.”
Artis turned himself in to the Orange County Sheriff's Office around 9 a.m. on Wednesday on warrants for two misdemeanor charges of assault on a female and sexual battery. He was released by a magistrate on a $5,000 bond. (Artis did not attend team practice on Tuesday, ESPN reports, consistent with the school's policy of indefinite suspension when a player is accused of a misdemeanor.) Artis's attorney, Sam Coleman, did not return phone messages on Wednesday.
“My life has changed forever,” Robinson said in a Raleigh conference room, “while the person who assaulted me continues as a student and a football player on this campus.”
The North Carolina native said she had been drinking on Feb. 14 when Artis allegedly raped her in an athletic dorm while she was "incapacitated."
“Yes, I was drinking that night on Valentine’s Day. I’m underage, and I take responsibility for that. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to violate me. I did not deserve to be raped.”
After the alleged assault, the then-18-year-old pre-business student went to a hospital where she was examined by a nurse trained to examine sexual-assault cases and a rape kit was recorded. A physical exam revealed “vaginal injuries consistent with blunt-force trauma and bruising consistent with a physical assault,” according to her attorney.
When Robinson was interviewed by campus police, she says they all but blamed her.
“I was treated like a suspect,” she said. “What was I wearing? What was I drinking? How much did I drink? How much did I eat that day? Did I lead him on? Have I hooked up with him before? Do I often have one-night stands? Did I even say no? What is my sexual history? How many men have I slept with?”
Robinson’s attorney was allegedly told by Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman that “unconsciousness is rape, blackout drunk is not rape.”
District Attorney Jim Woodall told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that Nieman had made the comment, but he says it was taken out of context during a conversation with Robinson's attorney about North Carolina law.
“Ms. Branch did not understand the law in North Carolina as it relates to mental incapacitation and physical helplessness. They had a wide-ranging conversation that lasted about two hours about the state of the law, and during the conversation, issues of blackouts and consciousness were discussed,” Woodall said. “The law is that if someone voluntarily becomes impaired, that then for there to be a sexual assault, it would have to be the use of force or the person would have to be physically helpless.”
“We don't make that up, that’s just what the law is,” he said.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Branch held up a photo of Robinson’s bruised neck taken after the alleged assault. A spokeswoman for Robinson told The Daily Beast that there was “evidence of her being pulled by her bra strap, and possibly by her necklace.”
“But the bottom line is the bruises were not there before the assault,” she said.
Robinson said that an audio recording of campus police interviews with Artis revealed investigators joking with the accused rapist.
“Rather than accusing him of anything, the investigators spoke to him with a tone of camaraderie,” Robinson said. “They provided reassurances to him when he became upset. They even laughed with him when he told them how many girls’ phone numbers he had managed to get on the same night he raped me.
“They told him, ‘Don’t sweat it, just keep on living your life and playing football.’”
Robinson's attorney said she is unable to give transcripts or recordings of the interview because, like all other evidence submitted to the university, it is prohibited from release until the investigation is completed.
“Despite her cooperation [with police] and strong physical evidence, no action has been taken against the student who raped her,” Branch added.
After concluding that the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute Artis, Robinson requested “self-sworn” warrants from a magistrate for Artis to be arrested on the charges of misdemeanor assault on a female and misdemeanor sexual battery. Under North Carolina law, a citizen may request a warrant from a judge, provided that they have probable cause that a crime was committed.
Woodall on Wednesday denied that his office was influenced at all by Artis’ status as an athlete in course of the investigation. “Anybody who knows about this office—I’ve been in this office for about 27 years—we have prosecuted many students, many athletes, football players and others. The fact that someone's a football player or a basketball player at UNC has not influenced us in any way. And no one from the university has ever tried to put pressure on me.”
Still, Robinson felt that she wasn’t appropriately protected.
“This man raped me and the police told him not to sweat it,” Robinson said. “How can this happen? Where’s the protection for students? Why does the university not care that this rapist is free and could possibly harm another student?”
Branch claimed on Tuesday that the district attorney’s office and the UNC department of public safety decided not to prosecute the case and closed their investigation. Woodall denied that claim. Both sides point to an Aug. 2 email in which assistant district attorney Nieman wrote, “UNC DPS has made clear their determination that the evidence does not support criminal charges, and our review of the investigation does not lead us to advise or otherwise take action to the contrary. If further evidence, including the results of the toxicology examination, changes that, we will inform you and your client.”
According to Woodall, because the toxicology results had not returned on Aug. 2—and still have not, the case was not closed out. He added, as evidence, that his office exchanged emails with DPS officials on both Aug. 26 and Aug. 29, in which they “were looking at some existing evidence, trying to develop more information about it, and trying to secure additional evidence.”
Woodall also said he count not speak in detail about why battery charges were not brought specifically related to photos shown at the press conference—and provided to The Daily Beast—of Robinson's bruised neck.
“I can just tell you that the UNC police and my office are aware of those photos and were consulting individuals about those photos and what they showed. They have been actively investigating that aspect of the case.” He added, “Any individual piece of evidence has to be viewed in the context of the case.”
Woodall said he also believed the department of public safety had been unfairly criticized in their handling of the case.
“UNC DPS immediately started investigating this,” he said. “They’ve consulted with us over the last several months. I think they’ve investigated it very diligently. Reasonable people can disagree on what the evidence in this investigate. In this case, there is still a wait period.” He added, “Law enforcement has to be very careful, thorough, deliberate and look at both sides in every case like this.”
"I hope that she ultimately feels like she's treated fairly," Woodall said. "It's traumatic. All of this is traumatic. We deal with these type of cases a lot."
The university declined to verify that the department of public safety had not yet closed the case but released a statement on Tuesday acknowledging the event.
“While the University is aware of allegations made today by attorney Denise Branch regarding a student, under federal privacy law we are prohibited from responding to those allegations,” UNC Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs, Joel Curran, said in a statement. “The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is deeply committed to the safety and well-being of our students and takes all allegations about sexual violence or sexual misconduct extremely seriously.”
Branch said the university violated its own regulations for investigating sexual assaults consistent with Title IX in considering Robinson’s blood-alcohol level in the course of their investigation, in addition to exceeding the approximate 90 days allotted to look into the assault.
Branch said that her firm has not filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights against the school’s Title IX program, and it is unclear if they will in the future.
UNC was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for its handling of sexual-assault cases in 2013. The investigation came after UNC’s student-run honor court pursued intimidation charges against Landen Gambill, a student who accused her ex-boyfriend of rape. The honor court chose not to proceed with charges against the unidentified man, but heeded his request to investigate Gambill. The charges were later dropped.
The university announced a new sexual-assault policy in August 2014. Under the revamped policy, an alleged survivor can choose what kind of adjudication to pursue, and students are barred from sitting on administrative hearing panels for cases involving other students. Consent is also redefined as an affirmative choice—not a lack of resistance.
“A student who is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs is considered unable to give consent,” the News & Observer reported. “Incapacitation is defined as a state beyond intoxication, impaired judgment, or drunkenness.”
Sexual assault at UNC-Chapel Hill was also one of the cases covered in the documentary film The Hunting Ground.
“The first few weeks I made some of my best friends, but two of us were sexually assaulted before classes even started,” alumna Annie Clark, who was one of the women who filed the Title IX complaint against UNC, said in the film.
Last month, UNC received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate a program aimed at teaching men and boys about sexual-assault prevention.
And just last week, student newspaper the Daily Tar Heel published a staff editorial with a simple message: “Don’t sexually assault others.”
“In the arduous process of reporting sexual assault, victims are questioned on what they wore, what they had to drink and what they could have done to prevent being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” the editorial board wrote. “It should be simple. An enthusiastic and clearly communicated ‘yes’ is consent.”
—Staff Writer Katie Zavadski contributed to this report.