Stillwater News Press

December 14, 2012

Stillwater police: Oklahoma State University didn't grasp seriousness of sexual misconduct claims

Hargis: Task force will investigate how university handled its investigation

By Russell Hixson
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Stillwater Police Capt. Randy Dickerson said he was “stunned” by Oklahoma State University’s reasons for not notifying police when five students filed sexual misconduct complaints against Nathan Cochran.

Cochran, 22, has been charged with three counts of sexual battery. He has been arrested and made his first court appearance Thursday.

Oklahoma State University Vice President Gary Clark said Wednesday the school was bound by the Family Educational and Privacy Act to not contact police.

Universities can override the privacy act if there is a health or safety emergency. Clark said the school determined this was not the case with Cochran.

Dickerson said five students coming forward and accusing one person of sexual assault should have met the criteria for police involvement.

“The decision to notify law enforcement at that time was certainly available to Oklahoma State University through exceptions in FERPA,” Dickerson said, “They made the decision not to notify police, which is their call to make, however; to attempt to justify this by saying this man is not a threat to other students is quite honestly, a huge misunderstanding of this case.”

OSU President Burns Hargis announced Thursday the university will create a task force to review the way the university handled the issue.

“We have an obligation to clear up any ambiguity, and if warranted, amend and strengthen our policies and procedures while abiding by federal laws. We cannot and do not tolerate sexual misconduct,” Hargis said.

According to OSU officials, Hargis has asked Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges chairman Andy Lester to expand the scope of work of the task force set up this summer which is conducting a comprehensive review of policies, practices and procedures related to sexual misconduct to include a review of the handling of the recent situation.  

“The seriousness of this matter warrants a focused and full investigation into how it was handled by the university,” Hargis said.

He praised the bravery of students who came forward to make complaints and OSU officials who urged them to contact police.

Lester said the task force will include a thorough review of the handling of this particular incident.  

“As I said when we formed the task force, we have an absolute responsibility to review our policies in the aftermath of Penn State.”