When the ex-boyfriend of sophomore Landen Gambill was called into the University’s Dean of Students Office in February 2012, he said he never expected to be faced with accusations of repeated sexual and verbal violence.
But he said those accusations — filed by Gambill herself — were not nearly as shocking as a document he received calling for his immediate, indefinite suspension from UNC.
“I was not given the opportunity to present any evidence — I was just immediately suspended,” said the ex-boyfriend, who was granted anonymity due to what he has called continued threats to his safety.
That indefinite suspension — and subsequent concerns about the rights of students who are accused of crimes — reflects the growing complexity of an ongoing case that has captured the attention of the University and heaped scrutiny on its method of handling sexual assault.
“All I wanted was to cooperate and get back to school,” Gambill’s ex-boyfriend said.
But he said stipulations set by UNC led to a tiresome and psychologically damaging six-month process that repeatedly denied him readmittance.
“I was diagnosed with (post-traumatic stress disorder) due to this,” he said. “I’ve been struggling with it ever since.”
During the time of his suspension, he was found not guilty of two counts of sexual misconduct by a University Hearings Board consisting of two students, two faculty members and one administrator in May 2012.
The hearings board was used during interim procedures after sexual assault was removed from the jurisdiction of the honor system.
He was found guilty of verbal harassment.
“I think about it at night all the time. It hurts a lot, especially when proven innocent and you are innocent,” he said.
When Gambill filed a complaint against him in February 2012 — four months after ending the relationship — the allegations were received by two separate University bodies: the student-led honor system and the emergency evaluation and action committee, which issued the suspension.
The emergency committee, composed of various administrators, serves to evaluate students who might be at risk to themselves or others, said Melinda Manning, former assistant dean of students and chairwoman of the committee at the time of Gambill’s complaint.
“The point of the committee is not to punish students,” she said.
The emergency committee is used in all cases of conduct that may pose a threat to campus, Manning said.
“It’s important to note that even though there might be an initial decision to remove a student, he or she always has a right to appeal at any time,” Manning said. “And they can do so repeatedly.”
But John Gresham, an attorney at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen who is representing Gambill’s ex-boyfriend, said his client’s appeal rights were met with unnecessary stipulations.
“He was told he could appeal but that he was first required to have a psychological evaluation completed,” Gresham said.
Manning said though the committee often asks suspended students to undergo a psychological evaluation, it is never required in order to appeal a case.
Gresham said that when his client went to receive his psychological evaluation conducted by UNC’s Counseling and Psychological Services, it was clear that the evaluation served as more of an interrogation.
“There were questions asking him about whether he coerced Ms. Gambill into having sex with him and how he felt about having sex with her,” Gresham said. “The majority of the time was spent not following standard protocols for psychological evaluations.”
Gresham said his client, who was uncomfortable with the questions, failed to complete the evaluation.
He withdrew from the University three days later.
“He withdrew because there wasn’t anything he could do,” Gresham said.
Manning said the findings of any psychological evaluation are only intended for the use of the emergency committee.
But Gresham said the incomplete psychological evaluation was initially included as evidence in both files for the University Hearings Board trial.
“I’ve been told that Ms. Gambill was read pertinent portions of his medical evaluation and was able to respond to them prior to the trial,” Gresham said. “A complete violation of my client’s rights.”
He said his client faced a series of roadblocks for readmittance, even after the sexual assault case was adjudicated.
“It took him from May 29, 2012, to December 5, 2012, to regain readmission to the University,” Gresham said.
He said the process was delayed by requirements that were added sporadically, such as more psychological tests.
Manning, who Gresham said recused herself on June 7, 2012, said the emergency committee — which is not affiliated with the honor system — can prolong readmission until the committee feels that a student is no longer a threat and is healthy enough to return.
Gambill’s ex-boyfriend said his transition to campus has been made painful by Gambill’s sexual assault advocacy.
“Waking up every day in fear of going to class is no way to live at all,” he said. “Waking up and seeing comments from people who want to hurt me is no way to live at all.”
But Gambill has insisted that she has not identified the man, and that he is not a focus of her activism.
“Our movement doesn’t have anything to do with him,” she said Sunday.
Gresham said moving on and acclimating to University life has been difficult for his client because of a no contact order Gambill issued.
“He takes somebody with him at all times so that if he and Ms. Gambill cross paths, it does not appear to be stalking or contact,” Gresham said.
“He even had to switch out of a class or two this semester so that he would not be in the vicinity of Ms. Gambill,” he added.
The handling of his case by the emergency committee is indicative of national concerns in higher education about the rights of the accused.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the burden of proof in cases heard by student courts is lower than in a court of law, causing accused students to potentially be denied their rights.
“As an attorney, I’m just concerned about the due process protections in a system where all the normal rules about the reliability of evidence are informal and relaxed,” LoMonte said.
In August 2012, a male student at the University of Georgia was accused of rape by a female student and was expelled without a hearing in an investigation conducted by the Equal Opportunity Office.
Bill Crane, a graduate of the university and former member of the student judiciary, said the rights of accused students are often compromised by a tendency of universities to quickly adjudicate cases.
“Quite often the accused get swift treatment and they don’t have the rights that they would in a criminal proceeding.”
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