The Columbia Police Department announced Wednesday that it has closed its investigation into the alleged sexual assault of former Missouri swimmer Sasha Menu Courey without bringing any charges, citing “several obstacles during the investigation” in a statement.
“We have no concrete facts, and that’s what we have to go on, not speculation,” Columbia police public information officer Latisha Stroer said.
Menu Courey’s parents believe Columbia police, who were asked by the University of Missouri Police Department to investigate posthumous allegations that Menu Courey was raped by a member of the football team after her story was the focus of an ESPN “Outside the Lines” investigation in January 2014, omitted mentioning one obstacle to the yearlong investigation that yielded no suspects.
Columbia police acknowledged myriad challenges in a statement to announce that it was closing its investigation into the alleged sexual assault from February 2010.
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There was no forensic evidence four years later and no victim to interview, because Menu Courey committed suicide in June 2011.
She had written about the alleged rape in a journal — discovered by her parents, Mike Menu and Lynn Courey, after her death — but Menu Courey’s account did not name the perpetrator.
Columbia police also cited chain of custody issues with Menu Courey’s cellphone, which was in ESPN’s possession for “an extended period of time,” and computer, which was accessed multiple times after her death before being delivered into police custody, as hurdles to the investigation.
Forensic analysis of her phone and computer failed to yield new information, and witnesses either refused to cooperate or only were able to provide hearsay evidence, leaving Columbia police unable to identify a suspect.
“It was difficult, because some witnesses went to ESPN but would not speak to us or, if they did talk to us, then it was different than what they told ESPN,” Stroer said.
Despite speculation from several people interviewed during the investigation, “detectives have been unable to identify a suspect in this case,” according to a 44-page release from Columbia police.
“We’re very disappointed that nobody was able to give some information that could be followed up on,” Menu said. “It’s also unfortunate that some of the obstacles into the investigation weren’t actually released.”
Two months before her death, Menu Courey attempted suicide in a Columbia hotel and police logged several of her belongings into evidence during the course of that investigation.
Menu Courey’s parents requested their daughter’s personal effects after her death in June 2011, and several items were returned roughly a month later, Menu said.
During the course of the Columbia police investigation, Menu Courey’s parents learned that items logged as evidence from that April 2011 suicide attempt were not returned.
Those items, including a 10-day journal and a five-page suicide note, were subsequently destroyed by Columbia police.
“We said, ‘Wait, what? We were supposed to have received all of her stuff back in July’” 2011 Menu said. “That was just four months after the incident, so it should have been there when we asked for all her stuff and it was not given to us. There was no explanation for why that was or why that happened.”
Menu Courey’s parents wonder if anything in those documents could have helped in the recently concluded investigation.
“There could have been really relevant information,” Menu said. “The journal, we suspect — and we don’t know, because we’ve never seen it, but we suspect — was related to her stay at MU’s hospital.
“That’s also a pretty substantial note, which we didn’t see either. What was in there? A person that killed themselves, you don’t know what they might have divulged in there, but there could definitely be something to look into.
“We felt like that, at the very least, should be mentioned as an obstacle, but it wasn’t even mentioned. I think that’s more important than the fact that our daughter’s computer had been accessed since her death when we opened it a couple times to read her journal.”
Courey flew to Columbia and brought police her daughter’s phone and laptop for analysis, because she and Menu feared they wouldn’t be returned if they were shipped to the Columbia police.
Deputy Chief Jill Schlude is working with Menu Courey’s parents to clarify what happened with the property in question and why it was never returned to them.
Last spring, a university-commissioned report by Dowd Bennett Law Firm in Clayton, Mo., skewered Missouri’s handling of the Menu Courey situation.
While it did not find that the university violated the law, the Dowd Bennett report concluded that MU had flouted Title IX regulations.
University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin promised sweeping changes in the wake of the report and largely delivered them.
“We have made extraordinary progress in the last year, but there is more to do,” Loftin said during a meeting Wednesday with reporters.
Loftin said rules for reporting sexual assault allegations by faculty and staff have been revised and more clearly defined. It’s also been a point of emphasis in training.
MU also hired a full-time Title IX coordinator, Ellen Eardley, for the first time.
Linda Bennett has filled the position on an interim basis during the last year.
Eardley, who previously worked as a gender and race discrimination lawyer at the law firm of Mehri & Skalet in Washington, D.C., assumes that post April 20.
“This has made a watershed difference in terms of how we’ve handled things here,” said Loftin, who also touted the development of MU’s Title IX website as a tool for streamlining reporting of incidents and providing information for faculty, staff and victims.
“We again express our sincere sympathy to Sasha’s parents, family, friends and teammates not only for their loss, but also for the emotional difficulties that today’s announcement may bring,” Loftin and Wolfe said in a joint statement from MU. “Though we cannot bring Sasha back, we can make the University of Missouri a safer and stronger place in her name.”
Loftin also reiterated that it’s an ongoing process.
“We have so many things now we didn’t have before, but are we satisfied? No,” Loftin said. “... Even though we get better and better and better, we’ll never get to a point where we can say, ‘Ah, we’re done.’”
Wolfe has scheduled a call with Menu Courey’s parents for Thursday morning to discuss the steps MU has taken in the last year to better address the issues of mental health and sexual assault.
“We’re looking forward to finding out how this is actually working,” Menu said. “We want to know what is the level of satisfaction from these measures. The key is to keep this conversation going and not leave it in the background or just let it die. There needs to be education that is up front and in your face. When people come to the university, people need to get the feeling that, ‘Whoa, they are really into this. It’s really important to them. They have our back.’”
He hopes that will help remove the stigma toward mental health services and perhaps save a life.
“If there’s anything out of this to help others, if it helps somebody else who’s in the same situation and it avoids being another tragic story, if there’s one Sasha out there that can be saved, then, whatever the wound that’s reopened is worth it,” Menu said. “It’s worth it, for sure, because other families might be saved from losing their loved ones.”
According to a journal entry Columbia police found on Menu Courey’s computer, Menu Courey wrote that former Tigers running back Gil Moye was in the room at the time of the alleged rape, knew the assailant’s identity and was friends with him.
Moye, who left the MU football team around the time of the alleged assault, admitted to ESPN and police investigators that he had a consensual sexual relationship with Menu Courey, but he denied any knowledge of an assault.
Menu Courey’s former boyfriend, Rolandis Woodland, told police he received a package from her shortly after her death, which included a CD that contained video footage of the assault.
Woodland said the video was too dark to make out any faces. He also said the package contained two letters, including one that described the sexual assault but asked him not to disclose the details.
The CD and letters were stored in the basement at Woodland’s mother’s house and were thrown out when she cleaned the basement. He was unable to produce them as part of the Columbia police investigation.
Menu Courey was a freshman on the Tigers’ swim team in February 2010 when she allegedly was sexually assaulted in an off-campus apartment.
She told university health care workers about the incident when she checked into a campus hospital in April 2010 and was treated for depression.
Menu Courey also began counseling through MU’s Student Health Center in July 2010. She disclosed to the athletic department in August that she had been hospitalized for a depressive disorder but made no mention of the sexual assault.
In December 2010, Menu Courey reached out to a rape crisis hotline through an anonymous online conversation.
She also was dealing with a back injury and was asked to stop training with the swim team by coach Greg Rhodenbaugh in January 2011.
Rhodenbaugh, who denies any knowledge of the alleged rape, said he wanted her to focus on healing and attending counseling.
Menu Courey again checked into a campus hospital in March 2011 and noted on her intake form at that time she had been “raped/football player.”
She attempted suicide April 3 after a 10-day hospital stay ended and was transferred to a facility in Kansas City, where she signed a withdrawal form from MU.
Eventually, she was transferred to McLean Hospital, where she committed suicide a few months later.
Missouri came under fire for failing to meet its Title IX obligations with respect to sexual assault after learning of the alleged rape.
According to Menu Courey’s journal, she spoke with an academic adviser, Meghan Anderson, in May 2011 and told her about the alleged sexual assault.
Anderson, who now works at the University of Tennessee, admitted speaking to Menu Courey by phone but denied being told about the rape, which would have triggered a responsibility on her part to inform the athletic department staff and commence a Title IX investigation into the allegation.
The alleged rape first surfaced publicly in a Columbia Daily Tribune article in February 2012 detailing her suicide.
A link to the story circulated among MU’s athletic department staff, including athletic director Mike Alden, but no investigation was launched until after Menu Courey’s parents initiated a records request that unearthed the transcript of her online conversation with the rape crisis hotline.