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The Treon Harris explainer: Facts, thoughts on investigation, Florida's response

This investigation deserved a thorough, thought-out one-stop post for information.


What is Treon Harris accused of, specifically?

The University of Florida's official statement says this:

University of Florida student athlete Treon Harris is accused of sexually assaulting a female student early Sunday morning in a residence hall on the UF campus.

But the University Police Department crime log lists a report of sexual battery at Springs in the early morning hours of October 5.

There is a difference, as GTN's Hailey Holloway noted Monday, and it's significant:

A clarification from UPD would help here, but "sexual assault" is a catch-all term that doesn't apply under Florida law; sexual battery, which is Florida's legal term for rape, is the principal charge that Harris would face.

So what are you going to call it?

Sexual battery and/or rape, from here on in. I've also changed previous post titles and headlines to reflect that terminology.

What else do we know?

Most of that is in our initial rundown post (note the adorably naïve URL), but a lot of it is really just what you'd expect: Harris is being represented by Florida legal eagle Huntley Johnson, who is confident in his innocence; UPD and Gainesville PD officers spent Monday collecting evidence; the case might be difficult, or it might not.

What consequences does Harris face?

His first consequence was an immediate and indefinite suspension from "all team activities," announced in Florida's statement after being reported. We can assume this is for being the named assailant in an alleged sexual battery.

If criminally charged, especially given the standard for bringing criminal charges in cases of sexual assault and rape, I believe Harris would likely be dismissed from the Florida roster, and potentially the university. If convicted, well, he will have prison time to serve.

Is the immediate suspension too harsh? Is there a slippery slope here? Bernie Machen's statement sounded like a presumption of guilt to me.

Here's Machen's statement, verbatim:

"We have no tolerance for sexual assault on our campus. The university is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for every member of the UF community. We must strive to protect all of our students from sexual harassment and assault, and do everything in our power to promote a safe learning environment."

Reading that as a presumption of guilt is a bit too far for my taste: It's really just standard "We don't tolerate sexual assault here" stuff. And I'm wholly fine with the president of the university that granted me a diploma saying, explicitly, "We have no tolerance for sexual assault on our campus."

Florida has chosen, as part of an effort to show no tolerance, and "striv(ing) to protect all of our students from sexual harassment and assault," to come down with a heavy hand on a prominent Gators athlete — maybe the most prominent athlete, at this moment in time — because of an accusation of sexual violence. As a means of deterrence, I think this is a powerful act — even if Harris is eventually proven innocent, it shows that Florida expects even the most important members of its community to be beyond reproach.

I have no issue with this high standard.

And to concerns of a slippery slope, I offer this: The only alternative to suspending Harris, especially given that this case could not possibly happen without public knowledge of it, would seem to be keeping him eligible until completion of a police investigation. It's a binary choice. Given that, I think not suspending him, and thus suggesting that students will be able to continue with their lives despite allegations as serious as one of sexual assault and/or rape, has a far greater potential to take Florida down a slippery slope.

When will the investigation be complete? When will we know the truth?

It could take weeks or months for a full investigation to be complete. DNA evidence, which will certainly be collected and processed in this case, would take weeks to be returned, even if it is fast-tracked, and no competent investigation of a major crime in the United States in 2014 is complete without DNA evidence — for better or worse.

The UPD incident report, which is likely to include a narrative timeline of events and a statement from the alleged victim, may be released on Wednesday.

The truth, of course, is more troublesome, and slippery.

If this case is truly the "he said, she said" dispute with evidence that is "shaky at best," as FLORIDA TODAY reporter David Jones described, we may have two conflicting versions of the truth. If The Alligator's reporting is accurate, and Harris "forced himself" into the alleged victim's room, I have a hard time believing this is a true "he said, she said" case.

Regardless of how those reports have framed this incident so far, it is entirely possible, and maybe likely, that the only people who know the full truth were in the room where Harris was late Saturday night. And we're not entitled to that full truth, even if we may want desperately to know it.

The good news from the in-between: This investigation has a reasonably good chance of producting justice.

So Harris is just going to remain in limbo, then?

That would certainly seem to be the case, unless a dramatic turn in the case occurs.

What do you make of comparisons between Florida's handling of this case and Florida State's handling of Jameis Winston's?

I think the inevitable parallels that have been and will be drawn will be valuable and unfair in equal measure. This Slate article by Josh Levin, for example, strikes me as far more smarmy than it is fair. I'm sure it's doing great traffic, but this is the only time I will link it here.

These cases are not the same, beginning with where they happened: Jameis Winston's alleged rape happened off campus, and was thus under the purview of the Tallahassee Police Department, while Harris's happened in a UF dorm, and was thus in UPD's jurisdiction. That alone is a massive difference: Campus cops and city cops operate differently and report to different superiors.

Another one: Harris's alleged victim, we can safely assume, identified him right away. Identification of an assailant is a key piece of any rape investigation, and one that TPD did not have until about a month after Winston's alleged victim's initial report.

We can discuss the differences in the investigations and the university responses, but it's unfair to Florida State and TPD — though I do think that both TPD and FSU made errors in their responses, and I don't think UPD or UF have yet — to draw stark contrasts in responses without also noting the stark contrasts in information available. I am also pretty sure that Florida made the decisions it made about this on Monday knowing full well how FSU handled Winston — it would be impossible not to — and that knowledge is yet another important distinction to note.

Finally, I think it's gauche to the point of disgusting to work from a basis of "Look what we did about our player accused of rape!" to jeer Florida State. I am proud of how Florida has handled this case so far as a Florida graduate and a stakeholder in education in Florida, and gratified that it seems UPD is doing its job. I am disappointed with how TPD and FSU handled Winston's case as a Florida citizen and stakeholder in education in Florida, and wish it had been handled better.

But I have strived to not let the pride and disappointment seep into what I have said and written about that case and this one, because I don't think that's totally fair. The cases aren't apple and orange, but the comparison isn't perfect — and pretending it is just doesn't work for me.

Also, to be clear: Using the handling of rape cases to score Internet points is profoundly stupid. If you do so here, you will have to do so elsewhere from here on out.

What do you think about the case?

Monday night, I wrote a long, detailed, expansive editorial. Your answer is probably in there, somewhere. If it's not, leave a comment, or send me an email. I really do read and respond to my email.

Okay, but why did you write about your disappointment with Treon Harris's decision-making?

Here is where I sit: If Harris knowingly raped or sexually battered his alleged victim, he committed a heinous crime and made a colossal error in judgment. If Harris did something he thought was consensual without realizing his alleged victim disagreed, he needed to be more sensitive to that partner, or pick a different partner. If Harris had consensual sex with a partner who later filed a false report against him, he is probably the "actual" victim here, and made the wrong choice of sex partner.

Assigning probabilities to any of these possibilities is gross, and I won't do it. But, thus far, I have read and heard more to support the first two prospects than the latter one — and I think the latter scenario, even if it would amount to an innocent mistake by Harris compounded by the malice of a false accusation, still depends on a decision made by Harris to have sex in the first place.

To be crystal clear: I do not believe there is a scourge of harpies set to ruin lives via false accusation of forced sex, as some of the more misogynistic and unhinged folks who pop up to talk about rape and consent issues apparently seem to believe. I think, have read, and have written that false accusations are rare, and I am very hesitant about playing into greater societal narratives about "crazy" women or "gold-diggers."

And I think both that setting up false accusations of rape and rape as equal crimes is a false equivalency, and that setting up rape or a false accusation of rape as the only possible explanations for a sexual encounter gone wrong is a false dichotomy — there's more gray to deal with here.

But some of that gray, for me, includes the wisdom of choosing (or not choosing) risky sexual partners. And for men, and especially for prominent men, and especially for prominent men who are also Florida Gators, I have an expectation that they will go above and beyond to be beyond reproach, to give no woman (again, I'm talking mostly about heterosexual couplings here) any reason to feel she was assaulted and to choose partners who won't make false accusations after the fact.

I realize that the former is a high standard, and the latter, which basically requires perfect precognition, verges on impossible. But this stuff is important. It is important to do right by other people — and while that's true on both sides, it is always true that people with more power have more responsibility to do good.

Was this all a big set-up by Jeff Driskel and/or Will Muschamp and/or a rogue booster upset with the idea that Harris would be Florida's quarterback going forward?

This insane idea, which I swear I have seen in some permutations and with some actual seriousness, barely deserves to be dignified with the only possible two-letter response:


Hey, stick to sports, loser. How does this affect the Gators?

We'll cover that starting tomorrow morning.