LSU professor promoted after misconduct allegations, lawsuit against accuser 

University withholding records related to investigations; defendant says lawsuit was retaliatory

By: - January 13, 2023 5:00 am
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An LSU professor who sued a man for defamation for reporting him to police and the university for an allegation of rape has agreed to settle with the defendant. The alleged victim claims the lawsuit was retaliatory. 

According to documents filed in Baton Rouge City Court in January 2021, the accuser, who asked not to be identified, reached out via email to Elena Castro, also a professor at LSU, alleging that her colleague, Jeremy King, then LSU’s interim director of linguistics, raped him twice in 2018. Castro then reported the incident to LSU’s Title IX office, she wrote in an email response to the accuser. 

While the incident did not involve Title IX because the accuser is not affiliated with the university, LSU’s Office of Human Resource Management opened an investigation into King, court documents say. King was placed on an academic leave, preventing him from teaching classes during the spring 2021 semester, according to court documents. 

King is still employed by LSU and was later promoted to permanent linguistics director after the Human Resource investigation. 

According to court documents and Illuminator interviews with the two men, they met in September 2018 and were never in an exclusive relationship. 

The Illuminator does not identify victims of sexual assault, alleged or confirmed, without their permission. The accuser is not a student or employee at LSU.

The accuser also reported the assaults in January 2021 to LSU Police, who informed him they did not have jurisdiction because the alleged incidents occurred at King’s home in St. Gabriel. They referred the accuser to the St. Gabriel Police Department, where he filed a police report the same day. 

The St. Gabriel police report and a recording of its interview with the accuser was forwarded to the district attorney for Iberville Parish. It was determined there was not enough evidence to pursue criminal charges, according to the police report. 

A district attorney’s representative told the Illuminator it had no records related to the case. 

In August 2021, court records show King sued his accuser in small claims court for $4,000, alleging the man lied in his interviews with LSU Human Resources. The accuser’s claims of King’s “intentional misconduct” led to the professor losing income, King alleged. He also wrote in his complaint that he possessed numerous pieces of evidence that show the accuser’s claims were false.

The accuser’s attorney, Scott Sternberg, said he requested King’s evidence multiple times but never received it. Court documents Sternberg filed also make reference to King not supplying evidence. 

King allowed the Illuminator to examine his documents but would not provide copies or allow copies to be made. His documentation included texts from the accuser prior to him coming to his house in which the two discussed being intimate. In his report to St. Gabriel Police, the accuser said he and King had consensual sex on the same day the first rape occurred. 

The accuser’s allegations of rape are not the only allegations of sexual misconduct against King. Interviews with the involved parties and court records revealed at least three other purported incidents, all of which King denies. 

The Illuminator requested records from LSU related to investigations into King. The university  has denied multiple requests, citing King’s right to privacy.

Here, the subject of the records has inserted himself into the public eye by filing a lawsuit in open court and speaking on the record to reporters. The public should be able to learn what LSU did to investigate the allegations.

– Katie Schwartzmann, Tulane Law First Amendment Law Clinic director

“Making investigative records public is essential to the public’s understanding of how our government institutions handle reports of misconduct,” said Katie Schwartzmann, director of Tulane Law School’s First Amendment Law Clinic. “Withholding those records leaves the public in the dark as to what, if anything, was done in response to serious complaints about a professor at the state’s flagship university.” 

“Here, the subject of the records has inserted himself into the public eye by filing a lawsuit in open court and speaking on the record to reporters. The public should be able to learn what LSU did to investigate the allegations,” Schwartzmann added. 

LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard declined to comment on the investigations or why King was promoted despite the allegations against him. 

The two parties reached a settlement agreement in October. 2022, with King agreeing to pay his accuser’s legal costs of $226. 

Morgan Lamandre, an attorney with the survivor advocacy group Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, believes King’s lawsuit is an example of an alleged perpetrator using the legal system to intimidate a survivor. Abusers use defamation lawsuits to get survivors to back down from their accusations, she said. 

The accuser alleged in a sworn affidavit filed in response to King’s lawsuit that King raped him first on Nov. 21, 2018. He said he had rebuffed King’s sexual advances because he was feeling ill, but King “forced himself” on him. 

The accuser said in the affidavit he awoke the next morning to King attempting to rape him, but King stopped after he rejected his advances. He then said King began intimidating him by slamming doors and cabinets. Because he feared for his safety, the accuser said he apologized and submitted to sex. 

After leaving King’s house, the accuser soon began ignoring King’s messages, but King began contacting his accuser’s friends to find him, frightening the man further, the accuser detailed in his affidavit. 

According to the affidavit, at this point, the man said that he told King their friendship was over. 

In a handwritten letter to his accuser dated Dec. 12, 2018, King alluded to a falling out between the two men but professed his love to the man, pleading with his accuser to discuss their relationship face to face. The letter was included in the court file as supporting evidence of the accuser’s allegations. 

“I don’t want to control you, [accuser] – I just want you in my life,” King wrote in the letter, which was submitted to St. Gabriel Police and included as supporting evidence in the civil case.  

In an interview, King rejected the idea that his letter alluded to an incident of sexual assault or to a fight, saying he was simply upset the accuser had cut off contact with him. 

LSU has been under increased scrutiny for its handling of sexual misconduct since the release of a 2020 USA Today investigation that detailed the university’s systemic failure to investigate and prevent sexual misconduct. 

Just a few doors down from King’s Hodges Hall office is the office of Adelaide Russo, who was removed as chair of the French Department after reports showed she knew a graduate student she supervised, Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros, had been charged with third-degree rape but was still allowed to work with undergraduate students. Russo is also still employed at LSU. 

King’s suit was filed in the small claims division of Baton Rouge City Court. Sternberg requested in July to have the case moved to the regular civil docket. 

In the request, Sternberg argues that King chose the small claims court to avoid public scrutiny, that the accuser’s statements, which King alleged to be defamatory, were true and privileged and that King’s lawsuit was retaliatory. 

“[The accuser] alleges that this lawsuit was retaliatory, an abuse of process, and a capricious use of the system of justice so as to constitute malicious prosecution,” Sternberg wrote in the request. 

Sternberg’s request was approved, but King agreed to settle before it went to trial. 

King denied that he filed the lawsuit to intimidate his accuser, saying he was taking legal action to send a message to the accuser to “knock it off.” 

“I was hoping the lawsuit would have the effect of making him aware that I took this seriously and that I want him to stop lying,” King said. 

King alleged the accuser had shared different details of the alleged rape when he recounted it to different parties. 

Lamandre said that in abuse cases, survivors often have memory issues related to the assault. 

“They are told that any misstep or confusion in terms of explaining what happened will be used against them to say, ‘Well, you must be lying,’” Lamandre said, adding that abusers will use this as leverage for defamation lawsuits. 

A comparison of the accuser’s account of events to the St. Gabriel Police Department, a second-hand summary written by a police officer, and his sworn affidavit do not substantially differ. 

King blamed the accuser and his attorney for turning what he thought would be a simple day in court into a “circus.” The professor said he didn’t know it was possible that the suit could be transferred from small claims court. 

“The problem was that [the accuser], when he finally got served with this lawsuit, he availed himself of available resources,” King said. “He went to a victim’s advocacy group that’s here in town and asked them for assistance.” 

“His attorney basically turned this into a circus and a referendum on me and what a sexual deviant I am,” King added. 

King also said he suspects Castro conspired with his accuser to bring him down. Castro declined to speak on the record about her involvement. 

“I think it’s entirely possible that they knew each other before these allegations were made, and that these allegations were made in collaboration,” King said, adding that he believes his colleague has been on a mission to destroy him. 

“I have no proof of this,” King said. “I know all that probably sounds a little conspiracy theory-ish.” 

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Piper Hutchinson
Piper Hutchinson

Piper Hutchinson is a reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She has covered the Legislature and state government extensively for the LSU Manship News Service and The Reveille, where she was named editor in chief for summer 2022.

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