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FSU and its star QB Winston could face lawsuit

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, file)

By TAMARA LUSH and GARY FINEOUT

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) The attorney for a woman who accused star Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexual assault said Thursday that she intends to sue the school, the Tallahassee Police Department and the player himself.

Also Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott's office released letters written to him in December by the accuser and her mother, imploring him to reconsider opening an investigation into the case.

Attorney Patricia Carroll, who represents the woman who accused Winston of rape, said she plans to file a notice to sue the police department early next week. Under Florida law, anyone filing a lawsuit against a government agency must file court paperwork six months prior to the suit itself.

The sexual encounter between Winston and Carroll's client happened on Dec. 7, 2012. Winston's attorney has said more than once that the sex was consensual. No charges were filed against Winston by Leon County prosecutors who investigated the case nearly a year after the woman said the attack happened.

But Carroll said her client, who was an FSU student at the time, was sexually assaulted. The woman was 19 and reported what happened to Tallahassee Police.

At a mid-December news conference, Carroll criticized the way the police investigation was handled, saying that detectives failed to interview key witnesses, used unreliable and incomplete forensic tests and never tested the alleged victim's blood for the presence of date-rape drugs. Carroll said that her client was "treated like a suspect."

Tallahassee police have defended their handling of the case and Carroll said she received a letter from the department that said an internal review found that the case was handled with proper procedures.

David Northway, a spokesman for the police department, said in a statement Thursday that "based upon the facts and information gathered, no violation of department policy or Florida law was identified on the part of the investigators assigned to this case; therefore no formal internal affairs investigation will be conducted in this matter."

Northway also said: "The reports in this case document that our department took the case seriously, processed evidence and conducted an investigation based on information available at that time. We take seriously the obligation to respond to any individual who wants to report a crime."

FSU and an attorney for Winston couldn't immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Carroll has also criticized police for not submitting her client's sexual assault kit to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab until Jan. 17, 2013 - 39 days after it was taken. The attorney questioned whether evidence was properly preserved during those 39 days.

Carroll says she asked Florida's attorney general, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the governor for an independent examination into the rape investigation, claiming it was riddled with problems.

Scott "didn't even give us the courtesy of a response," Carroll said Thursday.

On December 13, Scott, through a spokeswoman, said he declined to look into the matter. Jackie Schutz at the time said local prosecutors and state law-enforcement authorities did "a thorough investigation of this case and they concluded that no further action on this matter is required."

Carroll sent Scott a letter on Dec. 19 - along with one from the woman and her mother.

The documents were released Thursday by Scott's office following a public records request.

In a one-page letter, the woman who has accused Winston told Scott that her attorney received calls from two other FSU students who said they were raped, but were "discouraged" from going through with a prosecution. Carroll said the family members of those two women contacted her following her December news conference. The Associated Press does not normally identify people who say they may have been victims of sexual assault.

The accuser's mother said in her letter that she knows the governor has daughters and asked him to "put yourself in my shoes for a moment."

Her daughter did not "fabricate" a rape, the woman wrote, and did not know Winston prior to Dec. 7, 2012.

"I want to tell you about my daughter with the hopes that you will see her as a real person and not just some name on a police report," the mother wrote, adding that her daughter was heavily involved in school activities and was a leader on sports teams and student government. "I am hoping that this letter makes an impact on your decision and you direct FDLE to open an investigation into the Tallahassee Police Department's handling of this matter. I will not give up on my daughter and will do everything in my power to see that everyone finds out the truth."

The 20-year-old Winston became the second freshman to win the Heisman trophy given to college football's most outstanding player. He joined Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke as the school's three Heisman winners.

Winston led Florida State to its first undefeated season and national championship since 1999 after setting national freshman records for yards passing and touchdown passes. The Seminoles defeated Auburn 34-31 to capture the third national title in school history.

---

Lush reported from St. Petersburg. Associated Press writer Kareem Copeland contributed to this report.

Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

Updated January 9, 2014

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