HUNTINGTON – A former Marshall University student is suing the university over its handling of her sexual assault case.
Alicia Gonzales filed the lawsuit Jan. 31 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
On Feb. 1, 2016, the plaintiff was violently and forcibly raped in her dorm room by a fellow Marshall University student, Joseph Chase Hardin, according to the suit.
The plaintiff claims she immediately contacted her two best friends after Hardin left her dorm room and they collected evidence of the rape and went to the local healthcare facility and a rape kit was administered.
The following day, the plaintiff and her two best friends went to Marshall University Police Department and reported the rape and that same day, the rape was reported to Lisa Martin, Marshall University’s director of student conduct, according to the suit.
Gonzales claims on Feb. 3, 2016, she and her two best friends were transported by MUPD to Cabell County Courthouse so that she could obtain a temporary restraining order against Hardin.
On Feb. 8, 2016, MUPD transported Gonzales to Martin’s office and she proceeded to give a statement regarding the rape for the purposes of initiating the university disciplinary process, with a complaint being filed and opened with the Office of Student Conduct, according to the suit.
Gonzales claims Hardin was interviewed on Feb. 18, 2016, and, in the meantime, he was permitted to remain on campus and no restrictions were put in place to protect the plaintiff from encountering Hardin on campus or at university activities.
Hardin wore an article of the plaintiff’s clothing that he had taken from her during a university basketball game in an act of defiance toward her and she reported this to Martin and informed her that she felt threatened by his presence on campus, according to the suit.
Gonzales claims on March 10, 2016, Martin informed her and Hardin that she had reached a decision on the disciplinary charges and that she had determined that Hardin had raped the plaintiff and she ordered Hardin expelled from the university.
On March 11, 2016, Hardin appealed the decision and remained on campus during the appeal process, according to the suit.
Gonzales claims the student conduct panel conducted a hearing on May 4, 2016, and she was not permitted in the room during the hearing, despite the fact that the procedure for the hearings mandates that the complainant may be present for all parts of the hearing.
Hardin was permitted to remain in the room during the entire hearing, according to the suit, and, while the plaintiff was not provided an attorney, advisor or representative, Hardin had two private attorneys attend and participate during the hearing.
Gonzales claims the hearing was also only partially recorded by audio, but the majority of the hearing was either unrecorded and/or unintelligible, despite the fact that the procedures require the entire proceeding to be electronically recorded.
Among many problems with the hearing process was that Gonzales was aggressively cross-examined by Hardin’s attorneys, while she did not have counsel present and, moreover, the cross-examination involved improper areas of inquiry. No physical evidence was permitted to be presented during the hearing to inculpate Hardin due to his impending criminal trial.
Gonzales claims Hardin’s counsel intentionally misled the student conduct panel by stating that the criminal judge had found that there was not sufficient evidence to grant a protection order and argued extensively that there was no physical evidence and that the plaintiff’s witnesses had testified differently at a prior criminal hearing.
“These arguments should have been disregarded entirely, as the physical evidence was withheld due to the ongoing criminal case, and Joseph Hardin’s testimony regarding the witnesses’ prior testimony was incredible hearsay and completely inappropriate,” the complaint states.
Ultimately, the student conduct panel found that there was insufficient evidence to uphold Hardin’s expulsion and determined that no sanctions should be levied against him, according to the suit.
Gonzales claims she was not permitted in the room for the panel’s decision or explanation and that she appealed to the Title IX coordinator, however, before the Title IX coordinator reviewed the matter, Marshall University’s interim dean, Carla Lappelle, reviewed the hearing process and materials and advised Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert that she recommended Hardin be banned from campus until the criminal case was completed.
Gilbert accepted Lappelle’s recommendation and Hardin was suspended from campus pending the outcome of the criminal case, but was permitted to take online classes. On May 12, 2016, Hardin appealed Gilbert’s determination.
Gonzales claims the appeal was improper and should have been denied immediately and she filed a motion, arguing that the appeal was improper and should be quashed, but it was denied.
On Aug. 18, 2016, Hardin’s appeal was denied ad the Title IX coordinator made the determination that the plaintiff had been the subject of a criminal sexual assault by Hardin, according to the suit.
Gonzales claims despite the language explicitly finding that a rape had occurred and that a final determination had been made that a violation of the Student Code of Conduct had occurred, apparently Hardin’s ultimate standing with the university rested on the outcome of his criminal case.
On Jan. 11, 2017, Hardin pled guilty to the criminal offense of battery related to the incident and, while battery is an expellable offense according to Marshall’s Student Handbook, Hardin was reinstated to Marshall and permitted on campus right after pleading guilty in criminal court, according to the suit.
Because of this, Gonzales was forced to leave campus, according to the suit.
“Ultimately, due to Marshall University’s handling of this rape and disciplinary process, including the refusal to effectively protect plaintiff from Joseph Hardin, she was forced to withdraw from the university and enroll in another school,” the complaint states.
Gonzales is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. She is being represented by Amy C. Crossan of Bouchillon, Crossan & Colburn.
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 3:18-cv-00235