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Court documents: UA officials failed to instruct employees to preserve evidence in Title IX lawsuit
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ARIZONA ATHLETICS

Court documents: UA officials failed to instruct employees to preserve evidence in Title IX lawsuit

A recent court filing says University of Arizona officials failed to instruct several athletic department employees to save communications related to former running back Orlando Bradford’s violence against women, resulting in the loss or destruction of evidence.

One of those employees was former coach Rich Rodriguez, who said in a deposition that he threw away player files, which included details about legal issues and police investigations, after his January 2018 firing. Rodriguez said he was angry at being fired “over a bunch of false allegations” leveled by a former office assistant, according to a court filing obtained by the Star. Rodriguez said he had not been instructed to keep or hand over documents related to Bradford before or after his termination, the motion said.

The UA is defending itself in a federal lawsuit involving its handling of allegations of violence regarding Bradford, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for domestic violence-related aggravated assault. Bradford was arrested and subsequently dismissed from the UA football team in September 2016, and pleaded guilty a year later to choking two of his ex-girlfriends.

In February 2017, the UA was served with a notice of claim — the precursor to a lawsuit — by one of Bradford’s victims. The woman filed a Title IX suit against the university in January 2018. Title IX is a federal gender equity law that requires schools to provide students with an education free from sexual harassment, assault or dating violence.

The UA had a legal obligation once the notice of claim was filed to preserve material evidence in the case.

That would include Rodriguez’s files. The coach said in a deposition he threw away documents while cleaning out his office. Because media reports said Rodriguez had destroyed football player files when he left a previous job at West Virginia, the UA was “grossly negligent” to not ensure that he preserved files and communications regarding Bradford, according to the court filing.

Former running backs coach Calvin Magee said in a deposition that he communicated with Bradford by text message about the allegations of violence. Those messages were lost, Magee said, when he switched to a new phone after leaving the UA.

Magee said no one instructed him to preserve the communications, the motion said.

A third employee, executive senior associate athletic director Erika Barnes, said during her deposition that her text messages to former athletic director Greg Byrne and dean of students Kendal Washington White regarding Bradford were lost when she got a new iPhone in the spring of 2017. Barnes said that she knew she had an obligation to preserve communications with the students who accused Bradford of abuse. However, she said no one told her she needed to save her communication with coworkers about Bradford.

The plaintiff’s attorneys wrote that the additional information “would likely have provided evidence on why the athletic department and the U of A football program did not take action to protect plaintiff or other young women from the substantial risk that they would be subjected to dating violence.”

This is the second motion for sanctions filed in the case. The first came in late June, after the UA turned over a copy of a handwritten note that Barnes authored following a March 2016 meeting with two students who had information about Bradford’s abuse of the plaintiff and another student. Barnes emailed a scanned copy of the note to the dean of students and Title IX investigator Susan Wilson, fulfilling her obligation to report concerns of sex discrimination to the appropriate office.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed a response on behalf of the UA on July 11, saying that the claims in the first motion “distort the facts” and are merely “an attempt to distract from the legal deficiencies in (the plaintiff’s) case.”

The response said the failure to turn over Barnes’ note at the outset of the case was the result of “simple faulty memory.” Barnes’ email containing a scanned copy of the note didn’t show up in any evidentiary searches.

Wilson, the Title IX director, said she was unaware of any additional documents related to the plaintiff, since the plaintiff did not file a formal complaint or participate in the investigation. After her deposition in May, Wilson — who now works in the UA’s Office of Institutional Equity — returned to her old Title IX office and searched her records for any documents pertaining to the plaintiff. After discovering Barnes’ note, she sent it to the attorney general’s office, which turned it over to the plaintiff’s lawyers, the response said.

“At present, Wilson does not remember ever seeing, discussing, reading, printing or filing Barnes’ notes, and it is possible that they were filed at a later date by a graduate assistant providing administrative support,” the response said.

In addition, Barnes “does not remember learning most of the allegations contained in the note,” the response said.

Barnes’ note, which is included in court filings as an exhibit, says Bradford told others he hit one of the women and was blackmailing her with sexually explicit photos.

The note said Bradford and the plaintiff had a volatile relationship and “he hits her often,” “freaked out” on her dog and sent a sexually explicit video of her to other people.

Barnes’ deposition “indicates her struggle to recall details in order to testify accurately” and both she and Wilson attempted “in good faith, to answer questions fully and to the best of their abilities,” the attorney general’s office said.

The note, which contains third-hand information about Bradford’s alleged abuse, does not constitute knowledge by the UA of the plaintiff’s allegations of abuse, the response said.

The attorney general’s office objected to any sanctions or fines, saying that neither are warranted.

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt

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