- Oregon says Dana Altman didn't know Kavell Bigby-Williams was being investigated for rape, but Altman's phone records make that outcome unlikely.
University of Oregon basketball coach Dana Altman was far more entangled in the school’s response to a rape allegation against his player than the school previously acknowledged.
Investigative reporting by Sports Illustrated in October revealed that, according to analysis of public documents, the university violated its obligations under the law and acted at odds with the school’s own policies upon learning that Kavell Bigby-Williams, a transfer power forward from Gillette (Wyo.) College, was under criminal investigation in Wyoming for an alleged sexual assault that occurred while he was a UO student.
UO previously stated Altman was aware police were looking into Bigby-Williams but didn’t know what it was about, and did not know the nature of the allegation. Bigby-Williams went on to play the entire season, including the Final Four, with an open police investigation for forcible rape. (In June 2017, Bigby-Williams told police that sex with the woman was consensual. He was not charged and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
According to UO spokesman Tobin Klinger, it is the school’s practice not to notify coaches when student-athletes are accused of sexual assault so as not to risk “tainting investigations.”
Yet Altman’s cell phone records, which SI obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal the coach was enmeshed in Bigby-Williams’s case from the beginning.
In the first 48 hours after school officials learned of the police investigation into Bigby-Williams, Altman had five phone calls with Lisa Peterson, the school’s deputy Title IX coordinator, and another four phone calls with Bigby-Williams’s former coach at Gillette College, Shawn Neary. Both Peterson and Neary had direct knowledge of the criminal investigation into Bigby-Williams, and UO failed to disclose these contacts both to SI and in its letter to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who demanded more information about UO’s handling of the case in response to SI’s reporting.
The flurry of phone calls, which lasted a total of 41 minutes, began on Sept. 28, 2016, the same day UOPD first contacted Bigby-Williams, a police report shows. The nine calls were also irregular; no other contacts with Peterson and Neary appear in the records except those. The records cover Altman’s personal cell phone activity between Sept. 19, the day the allegation was first reported to Gillette College police, and Oct. 7, nine days after UOPD first learned of the allegation.
UO’s handling of the Bigby-Williams case shows just how easily the school’s own policies for responding to sexual assault allegations broke down. Within hours of learning of the allegation, the deputy Title IX coordinator—who is also a senior associate athletic director—contacted Altman, against the school’s safeguards restricting the athletic department’s involvement. The phone records also illuminate Altman’s repeated attempts apparently to learn more information about a case he was not supposed to be involved in.
When asked about the nature of Altman’s four phone calls with Neary, Klinger emailed back the following statement:
“The information in Coach Altman’s phone records in no way contradicts what has been said all along: the university did not, through its Title IX office or others, share information about the Bigby-Williams investigation with the coaching staff.
“Although Coach Altman had phone conversations with the head basketball coach from Wyoming, the primary focus was on whether the Wyoming police at the time had pressed charges and did not cover details of the underlying allegation.
“The conversations had no impact on the university’s analysis of whether to move forward with a Title IX investigation against the wishes of the young woman.”
When asked about Altman’s five phone calls with Peterson, Klinger responded:
“Given Lisa’s role, there’s nothing odd about the two of them having conversations.”
Meanwhile, neither Peterson nor Title IX coordinator Darci Heroy, who also knew about the allegation, notified the school’s director of student conduct, even though UO’s standard operating procedures state, “Subject to being notified of a potential Sexual Misconduct violation of the Code, the Title IX Coordinator shall notify the Director.”
Sandy Weintraub, UO’s director of student conduct and community standards, is tasked with consulting with the Title IX coordinator and other qualified community members to determine whether a student accused of sexual misconduct is a threat to campus, and whether the school should take emergency action procedures to protect the safety of students on campus, according to the standard operating procedures. In an email to SI on June 27, Klinger stated, “Law enforcement and Title IX were able to make that determination without the need to pull the team together.”
In a Nov. 13 letter to Sen. Wyden—who had written to UO President Michael Schill 10 days earlier demanding information about UO’s handling of the allegation in response to SI’s reporting—UO wrote that UOPD reached out to Peterson in order to obtain Bigby-Williams’s contact information, then Peterson “informed the Athletic Director that contact was being made by UOPD with the student-athlete, but did not share details of the allegation.” UO did not mention in the letter Altman’s repeated phone calls with Peterson and Neary.
According to the police report from the alleged rape, Neary was aware of the criminal investigation into Bigby-Williams as early as Sept. 20, the day after Gillette College campus police began investigating. On that day, Neary handed police officer Brooke Tibbetts a piece of paper with information on how to contact Bigby-Williams, which included the contact information for Nick Carter, an assistant basketball coach at Gillette College and attorney in Wyoming.
Klinger stated in a July 5 email that Peterson, Heroy and Kathy Flynn—the UOPD officer who first learned of the allegations—were the only three UO employees who knew the nature of the allegation against Bigby-Williams. In an email July 6, Klinger said UO’s approach of not notifying the coach or athletic director of sexual assault allegations against student-athletes “is considered by Title IX experts as best practice to preserve the integrity of sexual assault investigations.”
“When these best practices are not followed, institutions put themselves at risk of tainting investigations and we want to safeguard that from happening,” Klinger wrote.
Altman has a history of saying he did not know about rape allegations against his players. After news broke in May 2014 that both the school and police were investigating Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin for allegedly gang-raping a female student, Altman said at a press conference that he knew an “incident” was being investigated, but that he did not know the nature of the incident, which players were involved or that it was a criminal matter.
When asked by reporters why he did not push harder to know what the allegations were, Altman said, “I didn't know how serious of allegations that were placed upon them at the time.”
Altman also claimed he did not know the reason why Austin, a transfer player whom Altman had recruited, had been suspended for a year by his former school, Providence College, in connection with a separate sexual assault case.
“I spoke with the family and I had every confidence after speaking with them and checking his high school background and that there was nothing that would prevent him from joining the team,” Altman told reporters. “He did not give specifics so my line of questioning probably didn't go deep enough there in retrospect but I did not have a specific reason.”
The UO Office of Public Records released the phone records and other correspondence on Nov. 28, 103 days after SI requested them. UO charged $439.59 for 11 hours and 50 minutes of staff time to locate, copy and review the records. The records show Altman made 334 phone calls on his iPhone 6s over the 19-day span, 134 of which are redacted. UO claims the redacted records are of personal nature and therefore exempt from disclosure under Oregon law.
SI also requested athletic director Rob Mullens’s phone records, but UO only released records of 10 calls he made on his work phone over the same time period, three of which UO redacted under the same exemption. The Office of Public Records said in an email Nov. 29 that Mullens “has no personal cell phone records responsive to this request.” Altman’s phone records, however, show he called Mullens’s cell phone on Oct. 2, and the call lasted six minutes; so Mullens failed to disclose at least one apparent work-related call on his personal phone.
When SI brought this to UO’s attention, Klinger wrote in an email on Dec. 6, “There appears to have been a miscommunication about what you were looking for in your request. We’ve asked the athletic director to take another run through his personal cell log and work with public records to provide anything responsive.” Klinger noted that the calls in question were “inconsequential” to the Title IX and law enforcement analyses of the case.
SI verified Peterson’s and Mullens’s cell phone numbers using court records. Peterson’s number was written on a ticket she received in 2016 for using a cell phone while driving, and Mullens’s was on a ticket he received in 2014 for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. Neary’s phone number was posted publicly online on a team website. He did not respond to numerous phone call requests for comment.