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Survivor sues UNC for mishandled case

Jillian Murray says she was traumatized by UNC’s lack of response to her sexual assault. The UNC student filed a lawsuit August 20 arguing the University violated a state law when handling her sexual assault case.

Murray, who declined to comment for this story, said she was denied her right to have an attorney fully participate when a panel reviewed her case this summer.

“It’s an attempt to get the University to create and use a policy that complies with state law,” Murray’s lawyer, Henry Clay Turner, said in an interview Tuesday.

Associate Dean of Students Dean Blackburn failed to respond to her query on sexual assault for 20 days, and the initial investigation of her assault took 108 days — more than two months longer than investigations were supposed to take, according to Murray’s complaint.

The complaint was filed about a week before UNC unveiled its new sexual assault policy.

There are three ongoing federal investigations into UNC’s inability to properly handle sexual assault cases.

“The University’s compliance with Title IX remains sorely lacking,” Turner said. “That is not unique to Jillian’s case. The University has been failing its students for many years now.”

There are other instances detailed in Murray’s complaint that shed light on a lengthy reporting, investigation and adjudication process.

Murray requested more information about her rights as a victim three days after being assaulted in January 2013.

She emailed Blackburn asking about the rights given to sexual assault victims. He took 20 days to reply, according to the complaint. He told Murray her report “simply got lost in [his] inbox,” the lawsuit states.

Any administrator who receives notice of a student’s complaint of alleged misconduct must notify the complaint coordinator or Equal Opportunity/ADA office within five calendar days. Blackburn did not respond to requests for comment.

Blackburn then directed Senior Associate Dean of Students Desiree Rieckenberg, who was the student complaint coordinator at the time of the incident, to handle the case in February 2013, the lawsuit states. A few weeks later, Murray met with Rieckenberg, who said the University’s policy was in “a state of transition.”

Rieckenberg said she would be back in touch with Murray but never contacted her again or provided Murray with her rights, the lawsuit states.

The University’s former policy, which Murray’s case will be processed under, required the student complaint coordinator to provide the complainant with resources for support and options available for pursuing a complaint.

Rieckenberg did not respond to interview requests.

Murray withdrew from her spring semester, and, according to the complaint, was traumatized by her assault and the lack of reaction from UNC.

Murray made a formal report of her assault in January 2014 — one year after the incident occurred.

Her case was investigated by two investigators, who took 108 days to issue an investigation report. UNC’s former policy stipulates that investigations conclude 45 days after a report was filed. An investigator told Murray the investigation would be extended 76 days into the investigation, pushing the conclusion to May 19.

Murray’s case then went to a grievance committee, which adjudicates sexual assault cases. The complaint states the committee chair contacted Murray with information about her adviser, a student, July 11 . The former UNC policy requires the chair to appoint an adviser within five days of the investigation report, but it took nearly two months to do this.

The case went before the grievance committee in August, which is when the lawsuit says UNC failed to comply with the state’s law allowing students to have lawyers present during sexual assault cases.

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Murray’s lawsuit hinges on a law passed in August 2013 that allowed lawyers to “fully participate” in student conduct cases other than academic cases.

Turner said under the former policy, he was not allowed to cross-examine the responding party or receive information directly from the grievance committee.

“Full participation of a lawyer, if it means anything, it means lawyers are allowed to do lawyer stuff,” Turner said. “The quintessential lawyer stuff means questioning the opposing party. That’s probably the most important function of a lawyer in a hearing like this.”

The lawsuit was filed in Orange County’s Superior Court. Turner said he hasn’t received UNC’s official answer.

UNC spokeswoman Karen Moon declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the University doesn’t comment on cases involving sexual assault.

According to the complaint, Murray wants a new policy to be used that doesn’t violate state law, as well as the court’s declaration that UNC is violating state law. She also wants Turner to be allowed to fully participate in her upcoming hearings.

Turner said the new sexual assault policy released Thursday further bars lawyers from being involved in cases.

“It makes lawyers into potted plants in the hearing process,” he said.