Four men who unsuccessfully sued a former Pennsylvania university administrator over allegations he sexually abused them are now asking for a federal civil rights investigation into their claim that state and local authorities botched a criminal probe of the case.
Through their attorney, the former East Stroudsburg University students asked the Justice Department this week to look into the conduct of the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office; its client, the state-run university system; and the Monroe County district attorney’s office.
A complaint letter sent to Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, and obtained by The Associated Press said prosecutors failed to “properly and competently investigate the sexual assault allegations.” It asked the civil rights division to conduct its own investigation “concerning provable federal or state offenses,” including an allegation of rape.
Isaac Sanders was fired from East Stroudsburg University in 2008 following an investigation by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the agency that oversees 14 state-owned universities. Sanders, the university’s former chief fundraiser, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and a federal jury issued a verdict in his favor following a 2014 civil trial. He’s never been charged with a crime.
The men, now in their 20s and 30s, insist the former vice president of advancement used his position of power and influence to victimize them.
Attorney Albert R. Murray Jr. asserted that Pennsylvania authorities had failed his clients.
His letter said Monroe County District Attorney David Christine did nothing with the case despite “interviewing all of the victims and receiving documents from 2007 through 2010,” while the attorney general’s office refused to pursue a criminal investigation because its civil division was already defending the university in the students’ lawsuit.
The state university system, meanwhile, never forwarded its 2008 investigative report on Sanders to any local, state or federal law enforcement agency.
“In our opinion, there has been a grave injustice not only to the victims … but to the public as a result of the failure to properly enforce the law in conducting a proper criminal investigation,” Murray wrote.
The attorney general’s office defended its handling of the Sanders matter.
Local authorities never contacted state prosecutors to request an investigation, spokesman Jeffrey Johnson said Friday.
“We also believed an internal conflict of interest between the office’s criminal law division and civil law division precluded us from conducting a criminal investigation,” he said.
Christine told the AP two years ago that he’d relinquished the Sanders probe to another law enforcement agency, which he declined to name. He said that agency had requested permission to take it over, and “we readily agreed, considering our lack of investigative resources compared to the requesting agency.”
Christine said Friday he had nothing to add.
Sanders’ accusers are appealing the jury verdict, claiming, among other things, that the judge improperly barred testimony from some accusers and that a critical piece of evidence — the investigative report commissioned by the state university system — wasn’t available to the jury because court staff inexplicably failed to docket most of it.
The report remains under court-ordered seal, but Sanders’ termination letter, which was shown to the jury, said the probe had substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct toward students as well as financial mismanagement at the university.
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