What was supposed to be an exclusive ESPN investigation into the legal troubles of Florida State University's football players was stymied by the Tallahassee Police Department on Christmas Eve, when the department publicly released the network’s Freedom of Information Act request, including “Outside the Lines” reporter Paula Lavigne's contact information. The release, which the department said was done “as part of TPD’s commitment to transparency,” was made two months after ESPN’s request, and it included a case in which DNA from an FSU football player accused of rape wasn’t tested until three years after state prosecutors requested it be examined. In another case, the department revealed that current FSU running back Dalvin Cook is listed as an “associate” in a case involving an assault in which a gun was brandished back in July.
"We are committed to ensuring that every citizen of this community, including our university students, know that we take every report of possible criminal activity seriously," Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said in a statement. “We also have an obligation, under state law, to respond to national media requests such as this and have done so professionally and with a commitment to openness." ESPN declined to comment on the release to International Business Times, and the Tallahassee Police Department couldn’t be reached for further comment.
The relationship between FSU, which is based in Tallahassee, and the police department first came under scrutiny when rape allegations surfaced in 2012 against the university's star quarterback Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2013. Charges weren’t filed against Winston after State Attorney William Meggs found there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue a case.
The New York Times later reported that there was “virtually no investigation at all” of the alleged incident by the police or FSU. “They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do,” Meggs told the Times for an April story, although he said it was possible that charges still would not have been filed if the police investigation was thorough. He also pointed out that his office wasn’t asked to investigate the case until a year after the alleged incident.
Earlier this year, FSU running back Karlos Williams refused to be interviewed by Tallahassee police for his potential involvement in an armed robbery of an FSU student. No charges were filed against Williams, and he also wasn't charged by state prosecutors in an incident where he allegedly assaulted his pregnant girlfriend. He also declined to be interviewed in that investigation.
The police released Lavigne’s request, about whether dozens of FSU players were listed as victims, suspects, witnesses or were a reporting party on incident reports, on Christmas Eve, one of the slowest news days of the year. Lavigne’s contact information wasn’t redacted in the release, which opens her up to harassment by FSU supporters who believe ESPN’s coverage of the university’s athletes is unfair. In October, some FSU fans boycotted the ESPN program “College Gameday” when the show aired live from Tallahassee. In her request, Lavigne said it was not part of a “fishing expedition.”
FSU fans have reportedly shared Lavigne's phone number, and Seminole supporters and ESPN critics have taken to Twitter to slam the "Outside the Lines" reporter:
ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne requested the public records of 360 FSU players as part of ESPN's witch hunt against FSU. http://t.co/ODX0CInwgZ
— FSU Gameday (@FlaStateGameday) December 24, 2014
I'm guessing ESPN hack job Paula Lavigne is currently spending Christmas Eve in a phone store changing her phone number right about now.
— ⚡️Roll Tribe⚡️ (@ThePHicks13) December 24, 2014
The public release also gave other media outlets notice of what ESPN was looking for, effectively depriving the network of an exclusive. Deadspin questioned the timing of the release but told readers to “draw your own conclusions.”
Among the documents dumped was a case involving former FSU player Demonte McAllister, who was accused of rape by a prostitute in 2011. The incident report showed that a state prosecutor declined to prosecute the case unless McAllister's DNA was found on what was believed to have been the victim's mobile phone. The phone was swabbed during the investigation in 2011, but a lab didn’t conduct a DNA test until July 2014 -- more than three years after the allegations were made. Tallahassee police said the lengthy delay in testing “ultimately had no impact on the case.” Charges weren’t filed against McAllister.
The department also gave details of one case of “note” allegedly involving Cook. Police said the FSU running back was listed as an “associate” in a July 17 incident involving two men who brandished a gun at a neighbor. It’s unclear what “associate” means or what Cook’s alleged involvement was. Police only said that the case “is under investigation” and that it would give an update when the probe is completed.