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Federal Rules Grant More Protection to Students Accused of Sexual Assault

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  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Announced Changes to Title IX that effectively give more power to those accused of sexual misconduct. 
  • Schools can now choose between two evidentiary standards when handling misconduct: the preponderance of evidence or the clear and convincing evidence standard, the latter of which makes it harder for students to be convicted of wrongdoing.
  • Schools are also not required to investigate off-campus incidents if it takes place at a location or event that is not affiliated with the school.
  • The revisions also mandate schools to allow students to go through a live hearing where both parties undergo a cross-examination led by the other student’s lawyer or representative.
  • DeVos believes that these changes make due process fairer, however many fear that this will harm survivors and potentially stop them from reporting.

General Changes to Title IX

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced new changes to Title IX regulations that give more protections to those accused of sexual misconduct. 

In a hefty 2,033 page document, DeVos unveiled a sweeping list of final regulations directing schools and colleges on how to handle sexual misconduct on their campuses. Many of these new regulations rescind rules made during the Obama administration.

Among the changes include a tighter definition of sexual harassment, which will now be considered conduct that is ‘“so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies its victims equal access to education.” The previous definition included broader forms of misconduct that only had to interfere with or limit access to education, not deny it. The new term made additions to include sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. which were not listed in the old one.

The new regulations also limit what kind of off-campus incidents schools are obligated to look into. If an assault takes place off-campus, a school is now only obligated to look into it if it took place at a school sanctioned event, or if it happened in an “off-campus building owned or controlled by” the school or a student organization. Things like school field trips and conferences, and events at fraternity and sorority houses are under the school’s domain. If an incident takes place at a student’s private off-campus apartment, however, the school is not required to investigate. 

Changes to Reporting and Investigation Standards

Some of the most controversial revisions change the way reported incidents will be investigated by schools. Schools can now choose which evidentiary standard to use when handling cases: the preponderance of evidence or the clear and convincing evidence standard. Currently, the preponderance of evidence standard is commonly used on campuses. The latter option makes it much harder for the accused to be found guilty of wrongdoing. 

The changes also mandate that schools allow live hearings where the accused and accuser undergo a cross-examination. The questioning will be led by the other student’s lawyer or representative so that the two do not have to meet face-to-face. Still, many fear that this process would be traumatizing for survivors of sexual assault.

Schools also are only required to investigate cases if they are reported via a formal complaint to a campus official with the authority to handle it. If the incident is just shared with an R.A. or another campus figure, an investigation is not mandatory. 

“Too many students have lost access to their education because their school inadequately responded when a student filed a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” DeVos said in a statement. “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct, without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, Assistant Secretary of Education in the Office for Civil Rights also made remarks in support of the Department’s changes to Title IX. 

“The new Title IX regulation is a game-changer,” Marcus wrote. “It establishes that schools and colleges must take sexual harassment seriously, while also ensuring a fair process for everyone involved.”

“There is no reason why educators cannot protect all of their students – and under this regulation there will be no excuses for failing to do so,” he added. 

Responses and Backlash

The changes were met with an expected amount of criticism. When DeVos first announced her plans in 2018, the Department of Education received 120,000 comments on the matter, which is the most the department has ever received for a proposal. 

Several organizations fear that these rules will hurt survivors and ultimately stop them from reporting sexual misconduct. Know Your IX said that the rules are “dangerous and could push survivors out of school entirely.”

Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center also released a statement with a similar sentiment. 

 “If this rule goes into effect, survivors will be denied their civil rights and will get the message loud and clear that there is no point in reporting assault,” Goss Graves wrote. “We refuse to go back to the days when rape and harassment in schools were ignored and swept under the rug.”

The National Women’s Law Center says they will be taking DeVos and her department to court over the issue. 

Another contentious aspect of DeVos’ announcement is its timing. Schools around the country are already dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Attorneys General from over a dozen states signed a letter back in March asking DeVos to hold off on announcing these plans, as schools at every level have a full plate right now. 

“This unprecedented pandemic—and the necessary steps our country is taking to mitigate and minimize its harms—has placed a significant strain on our schools and our students,” the letter said. “With school resources already stretched thin, now is not the time to require school administrators, faculty, and staff to review new, complex Title IX regulations.”

The rules have yet to take effect. They are currently scheduled to be implemented on August 14, just before the beginning of the traditional school year, a timeline that is likely to be further impacted by the coronavirus. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NPR) (The Guardian)

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Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him

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  • Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
  • The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
  • The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
  • The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.

Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public

Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.

The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.

The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.

Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.

The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.

Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”

Renewed Backlash and Protests

Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman. 

“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday. 

Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.

“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.

“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.

“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”

Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.

“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”

Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.

However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)

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Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting

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  • Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
  • The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet. 
  • According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
  • President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”

Eight Killed in Shooting

Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.

The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified. 

The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families. 

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”

Gun Violence in the U.S.

This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year. 

The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.

Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”

“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”

President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”

“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference. 

“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.

“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter. 

Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video

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  • Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
  • Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
  • Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
  • If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Viral Video

A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood. 

The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.

“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”

The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.

The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk. 

It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”

“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”

Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home

After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”

In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.

As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”

Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”

Pentland Charged

Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.

“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”

On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (Huffpost)

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