NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Vanderbilt football player dismissed from the team and expelled for violating the university's sexual misconduct policy in October 2018 took part in a Pro Day on campus months later, forcing the university to apologize and adjust its procedures.
The Title IX office investigated linebacker Charles Wright and ruled he had violated school policy on sexual misconduct. That led to his immediate dismissal, and he was expelled Oct. 25.
Vanderbilt blamed communication issues for Wright's “inappropriate participation in Pro Day," noting the linebacker was asked to leave the premises. The university evaluated and adjusted its protocols and procedures to “prevent a mistake like this from occurring in the future," according to a statement.
“We are deeply sorry for the additional distress this error caused,” Vanderbilt said in the statement shared Thursday with The Associated Press.
Four Vanderbilt football players were charged in the 2013 rape of an unconscious female student in a dorm room. Three were sentenced to prison while a fourth received probation for testifying against his former teammates.
Not only was Wright expelled, The Tennessean first reported Thursday that the linebacker had access to football facilities for months and was in proximity of his accuser, a female student equipment manager. The woman said she was moved to a different building so Wright could work out for NFL scouts in March 2019.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they have been victims of sexual assault, unless they agree to be named.
Regan Siems, who told The Tennessean she wanted to be identified, said she was a freshman when Wright sexually assaulted her Feb. 3, 2018, in his dorm room while she was intoxicated. Siems gave The Tennessean a copy of the Title IX investigation and text messages and Snapchat messages with her friends and with Wright.
The newspaper also obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request a summary of findings by a Nashville district attorney declining to charge Wright with sexual assault due to insufficient evidence.
Wright's attorney told The Tennessean that the linebacker was given permission to take part in Pro Bowl day by the Vanderbilt athletics department, which was conveyed to his family by Candice Storey Lee. Now Vanderbilt's athletic director, Lee then was football administrator.
“I can say with the utmost confidence that sexual assault and sexual misconduct are not issues we ignore,” Lee wrote as part of a string of Twitter posts June 21. “My commitment and that of our coaches, staff and student-athletes to addressing these issues is as firm as ever.”
The linebacker led Vanderbilt with nine sacks in 2017, second-most in school history. He was a preseason All-Southeastern Conference pick before the 2018 season.
Asked why Wright, who hurt a leg on Sept. 29, didn't play and had been removed from the depth chart, coach Derek Mason never mentioned the linebacker's suspension or expulsion. Instead, Mason said Wright had a “setback” with his leg. Vanderbilt's website showed until Monday that a leg injury ended Wright's 2018 season.
Wright got four extensions on his appeal before an appeals panel affirmed his expulsion unanimously Feb. 14, 2019. But he took part in every drill at that pro day March 12. Siems and her mother demanded to know who gave Wright permission to return to campus in a meeting later that same month.
Renee Siems said they were told Vanderbilt couldn't stop anyone with an agent who registered for pro day from taking part and that Wright was responsible to “self-monitor" while on campus.
“I thought we got through the hardest part, but Vanderbilt didn't stand by her and protect her when all this was done,” Renee Siems told The Tennessean. “Vanderbilt threw my daughter to the wolves.”
Wright went undrafted by the NFL in 2019, and he has yet to sign with an NFL team. He played two games in the XFL in February before that league canceled the rest of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic. His parents are fighting the Title IX case and want his degree awarded.
“We want an apology from Vanderbilt University for our son,” they said in a statement to The Tennessean.
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