Louisiana governor, women lawmakers want different outcomes in LSU scandal

Legislators want people fired, governor says LSU’s response is ‘reasonable’

By: - April 9, 2021 7:50 am

Gov. John Bel Edwards (Photo by JC Canicosa)

Gov. John Bel Edwards and women in the Louisiana Legislature aren’t on the same page — or possibly even in the same book — about what should be happening at LSU in the wake of a sweeping sexual misconduct and domestic violence scandal

Women lawmakers reiterated again Thursday that they thought LSU employees who covered up and didn’t respond properly to allegations of domestic violence and rape at the university’s Baton Rouge campus should be fired.

“Heads need to roll,” said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, during a hearing women lawmakers held on the LSU scandal.

But while the women were pushing for further action, Edwards, also a Democrat, described LSU’s response as adequate. 

“I accepted the measures that were dispensed by the LSU president as being within the reasonable range,” he said at a press conference a couple of hours after Peterson spoke.

The primary sticking point for women lawmakers, students and other LSU critics is the university’s reluctance to fire any employees who botched cases involving sexual misconduct and domestic violence. A USA TODAY investigation found several instances in which LSU officials failed to handle violence against women properly. In some instances, employees broke federal laws.

Women lawmakers and students often point to the fact that two other universities — Oregon State University and the University of Kansas — have fired people over LSU’s sexual misconduct scandal, but LSU hasn’t let go of anyone.

Oregon State parted ways with university president F. King Alexander, who ran LSU when many of the sexual misconduct cases brought to light by USA TODAY took place. Kansas fired football coach Les Miles and the athletic director who hired Miles. 

While at LSU, Miles allegedly inappropriately touched female students and pressured the Athletics Department to hire female student workers he found more attractive, including blond students and women with lighter skin. Alexander, then president of LSU, was aware of some of the allegations against Miles and did not make moves to fire him, according an investigative report commissioned by LSU, until Miles wasn’t winning football games. Miles has denied all the allegations, though he entered into a settlement with one of the students who accused him of sexual misconduct.

But Miles and Alexander aren’t the only ones responsible for mishandling sexual harassment allegations and domestic violence. 

Other officials enabled Miles’ behavior, according to a report on sexual misconduct commissioned by LSU and put together by the Husch Blackwell law firm. Athletics administrators who still work at the school kept allegations of rape and domestic violence made against LSU football players a secret. When students were found responsible for sexual misconduct or stalking, they were also given light punishments, according to reporting from USA TODAY.

“If it was a private company, someone would have been fired by now,” said Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, in an interview Thursday.

The women lawmakers rarely mention specifically who they want to be fired by name, but three LSU employees come up frequently in private conversations: Verge Ausberry, Miriam Segar and Jonathan Sanders. 

Ausberry and Segar are both Athletics administrators. They both were involved in most of the mishandled cases involving football players and allegations of rape, domestic violence or other sexual misconduct.

In one case, Segar left former LSU football star Derrius Guice’s name off a report of a rape allegation against him because she was concerned the documentation could become public. She’s also implicated in a lawsuit brought by another Athletics administrator Sharon Lewis, who says she was bullied for resisting Miles’ calls for “prettier” female student workers to be hired. Lewis continues to work in the Athletics Department.

Ausberry received a text from former LSU football player Drake Davis in which Davis admitted to hitting former LSU tennis player Jade Lewis, who was in a sexual relationship with Davis at the time. Ausberry immediately called Davis, and said Davis retracted his text about hitting his girlfriend, according to the Husch Blackwell report. 

Ausberry never reported the incident to LSU’s Title IX office — which would handle campus cases of domestic violence — or law enforcement, even though federal law requires him to do so, according to the Husch Blackwell report. Months later, Davis was arrested — and eventually convicted — for beating up and strangling Lewis in a separate incident.

A different woman, a former LSU Athletics student worker, also said Ausberry wasn’t interested in hearing her stories about the abusive relationship she had with Davis, according to the Husch Blackwell report. Additionally, Lewis – who filed her lawsuit against LSU Friday — said that Ausberry screamed at her on several occasions and bullied her after she refused to hire student workers Miles found attractive.

Sanders, LSU Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Advocacy and Accountability, regularly doled out light punishments to students found responsible for serious infractions like stalking and rape. USA TODAY found that LSU was more lenient on its sexual offenders than other universities of a similar size. 

Segar, Ausberry and Sanders have all been punished. Segar was suspended for three weeks. Ausberry was suspended for four weeks, and Sanders has been temporarily banned from participating in the student disciplinary process on campus. But women lawmakers and many students don’t think that goes nearly far enough.

“I don’t know how else we can say it. I don’t know how plainer it can be,” said Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge. “There are people there now that were there at the time that many of these things occurred. Some of them are in the same positions. That is a problem.”

“Are there going to be consequences and when?” asked Peterson of an LSU official. “The appearance is that everything is being done to kick the can.” 

The governor had a different reaction. When asked directly about whether Ausberry should be fired, Edwards said he had deferred to interim LSU president Tom Galligan on that issue. Galligan, a professor, taught the governor when Edwards attended LSU’s law school.

“The president of LSU indicated to me that he didn’t think that that was warranted,” said Edwards of firing Ausberry.

The governor repeated some of the points made by Galligan in previous hearings with the women lawmakers. Galligan has said LSU officials — specifically Segar and Ausberry — didn’t know how to properly report allegations of sexual misconduct and domestic violence on campus because LSU’s policy was vague. Additionally, the Athletics Department had stressed keeping all misconduct allegations in-house, in part because of the problems it had with Miles acting inappropriately with student workers.

But Ausberry, in particular, didn’t even report football player Davis’ admission of domestic violence to other Athletics officials. Even under the Athletics Department’s own guidelines at the time — which Husch Blackwell had said were inappropriate — Ausberry doesn’t appear to have done what he was told to do.

The women legislators also said they are receiving several private messages from students and former students who have had bad experiences with Segar, Ausberry and Sanders that they won’t share in public. The lawmakers said that might be why they have a different perspective from Edwards about firing people at LSU in the wake of the scandal.

During Thursday’s hearing, Barrow asked pointed questions about Sanders’ current employment and job duties at LSU. Then, she said she wanted regular updates about all the employees who had been involved in the scandal and their status at LSU. 

“I want a timeline of what’s transpiring. I want to know every person that’s listed in all these different reports that we have — where they are, what position they are in, and if they are in the same position they were in,” Barrow said Thursday.  “When a determination is made about their future, we want to know where they go — or if they leave, which ultimately needs to be the consequence for some of these individuals.”

Meanwhile, the governor implied that if the women lawmakers want someone at LSU fired over the scandal, they should be more forthcoming about exactly who that should be.

“I would be interested to know who they want fired and for what reason and whether it’s something in the Husch Blackwell report or whether it’s something circulating in the news media,” said Edwards Thursday after a reporter asked him why he and the women lawmakers wanted different outcomes from LSU. “New information that comes out has to be verified to some degree.” 

The women lawmakers were also upset that several LSU officials they had invited to testify at Thursday’s hearing decided not to show up. With Lewis’ lawsuit being filed against the university and several of its officials, DeCuir — the university’s attorney — had advised against LSU employees appearing at the hearing. Instead, DeCuir came by himself to answer the lawmakers’ questions.

Yet Freeman noted that some officials — including LSU football Coach Ed Orgeron, Athletics Director Scott Woodward and Ausberry — had announced they wouldn’t attend the hearing before the lawsuit was ever discussed publicly.

Freeman was particularly annoyed that Orgeron had announced Tuesday that he wouldn’t come speak to the women lawmakers, but then held a press conference with sports reporters online a few hours later. Freeman said she tried to attend Orgeron’s press conference over Zoom, but was told it was “closed” to her.

“If Coach O could have a Zoom closed press conference, why couldn’t he read a statement [in person to women lawmakers]?” Freeman asked. “These people can’t show up, but they can have a closed press conference on a Zoom?” 

Edwards had a more charitable interpretation of LSU’s willingness to work with the women lawmakers. The governor said several LSU officials had previously attended another hearing held by the women on the LSU scandal. Woodward, LSU’s Athletics Director, had sat in the hearing for eight hours, but was never called to testify by the women, Edwards said.

“I don’t believe it is fair to say that people at LSU were unwilling to come forward and to speak,” he said. 

But Barrow implied that the lawmakers may be looking at the next step in terms of demanding testimony from LSU. She said that state legislative committees — including those she and other women sit on — are able to issue subpoenas during the Louisiana Legislature’s lawmaking session that starts Monday. Legislators may consider subpoenas for LSU officials when bills related to LSU’s sex scandal come up for debate.

“Every member of this Legislature — the [Senate] President, the [House] Speaker — have all joined us in ensuring that this is going to be done properly, either by willingly doing it or unwillingly doing it,” Barrow said.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.