Four years after suicide, Sasha Menu Courey changes the system

Although the police investigation is inconclusive, it appears that the perpetrator of Menu Courey’s sexual assault was on the football team at the time.
MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey poses with members of the swimming and diving team at the Mizzou Aquatics Center. Menu Courey died after ingesting 100 Tylenol in June 2011. Courtesy of Mike Menu

The Columbia Police Department announced this morning the closing of the investigation in the case of Sasha Menu Courey’s alleged sexual assault because they could not identify a suspect.

The reasons for closing the case, according to police documents, include the fact that Menu Courey is deceased and therefore cannot give a statement about the incident; some of the evidence is missing or has potentially been tampered with; much of the statements obtained from witnesses are based on hearsay; and there was no information available to clearly establish a suspect in the case.

“We are out of leads and the detective has interviewed everyone possible,” CPD spokeswoman Officer Latisha Stroer said. “We put out information (during the investigation) through the university and our own social media for anyone to come forward with leads, but no one did.”

This announcement comes five years after the alleged assault, four years after Menu Courey killed herself and a little more than one year after an “Outside the Lines” report by ESPN, aired on Jan. 26, 2014, claimed MU knew of the alleged sexual assault and chose not to investigate it. MU announced it would begin to cooperate with an investigation by CPD the next morning, Jan. 27, 2014.

MU has since made several changes in response to the report and an independent investigation into the university’s handling of Menu Corey’s case. The Title IX coordinator position was promoted to full-time (and eventually rebranded as “administrator”). All UM System employees were also mandated to report any information regarding a sexual assault or harassment to the Title IX office. Yet, the university, which was never investigated for Title IX violations, struggled to roll out training for faculty and students. The full-time administrator was recently hired to replace Linda Bennett, who held the position of interim Title IX coordinator for nine months.

Although the investigation is inconclusive, it appears that the perpetrator was on the football team at the time. Witnesses did not even agree on the number of men in the room with Menu Courey at the time: some say, agreeing with her, that there was only one rapist, while others say there were multiple present. When Menu Courey checked herself into University Hospital in March 2011 for suicidal thoughts, a Missouri Psychiatric Center nursing assessment was completed and the notes contain “raped/football player,” according to police documents.

Before Menu Courey took her life in June 2011, she sent a package to her ex-boyfriend, Rolandis Woodland, containing a letter that discussed the alleged sexual assault, along with a compact disc that contained footage of the assault. He said neither the letter nor the footage detailed who was in the room with Menu Courey that February night in 2010. Woodland told police that Menu Courey wrote in the letter that the video was from an ex-girlfriend of one of the football players.

Woodland said he had placed the letter and video in a box for storage at his mother’s house, but she had thrown it away since then, according to the police report.

He also told police that a few days after the alleged assault, he overheard “several players talking about Sasha and how she liked to be filmed during sex,” according to police documents. Woodland told police he confronted the group, but only one admitted he had had sex with her, Gil Moye, and that it had been consensual.

The detective on the case, Brian Grove, wrote in the report that he contacted ESPN to obtain information on their sources, but was informed the organization’s editorial policy didn’t allow the revealing of sources. Grove also recorded that he had issues retrieving evidence that ESPN had used as sources in its report. Grove was not available for comment.

The fact that ESPN obtained the evidence before police, Stroer said, could have affected the outcome of the case.

“You never know if things are deleted or if anything is missing,” she said. “If someone else is looking at evidence that we’re going to receive, we check with the victim to make sure it’s accurate.” But in this case, they couldn’t.

There were multiple efforts to reach witnesses and sources, Stroer said. CPD and MU used their social media accounts to ask for leads, but they had no success. Other than reaching sources, Stroer said the police only worked with MU to retrieve medical records and counseling session notes related to Menu Courey’s treatment while at the university.

Before the announcement this morning, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin spoke briefly to the press about Menu Courey, one of the few times he has spoken publicly on the case.

“I’ve dealt with loss of life and sexual assault issues,” he said. “The frequency of these occurrences was unusual, though. Sasha Menu Courey, the collapse of the (University Village) apartments; I’ve dealt with those kinds of things before, but never so close together.”

The entire police report can be read here.

Stroer said if anyone has more evidence or information about this case to contact the police department.

Menu Courey’s time at MU

While alive, Sasha Menu Courey battled borderline personality disorder, a disease marked by extreme highs and lows. She first attempted suicide at the age of 16, but her psychiatrist didn’t want to diagnosis her at the time, Lynn Courey, Menu Courey’s mother, told The Maneater in 2011.

Menu Courey came to MU from Toronto on a swimming scholarship. In February 2010 of her freshman year, she was sexually assaulted by a member, or potentially more than one member, of the football team.

With her sophomore year, more troubles arose. She first told a university official of the assault in December 2010. In the spring semester of her sophomore year, her position on the swim team was in jeopardy. Swimming coach Greg Rhodenbaugh sidelined Menu Courey in January 2011 in related to a consistent back injury.

Menu Courey briefly checked herself into University Hospital in March 2011 for suicidal thoughts. Her parents rushed to visit their daughter.

“She was already six feet under when we found out she needed help,” her father, Mike Menu, told The Maneater in a Jan. 26, 2014 article, referring to the fragile state in which Courey and Menu found their daughter in March.

In April 2011, she attempted suicide by cutting her wrist while in a Columbia motel. Police responded to the scene and used tasers and pepper spray to pry the razorblade from her hands, according to previous Maneater reporting. Another female was with Menu Courey and also attempted suicide in the motel room, according to police documents. She told Grove that after the police arrived, the two women were “transported to the hospital naked because they were bleeding and in a state of undress,” according to police documents.

The witness said she had no further contact with Menu Courey. Her name was redacted from police reports.

Three days after Menu Courey’s suicide attempt, while she was still on suicide watch and 96-hour involuntary commitment, athletics staffer Meghan Anderson presented Menu Courey with a university withdrawal form. Anderson claimed it was in Menu Courey’s best interest so that she could keep her grades up if she wished to return to MU in the fall, per previous Maneater reporting. But with the signing of the withdrawal form, Menu Courey also lost her scholarship, which she found out about in a letter sent to her in May 2011.

Menu Courey was transferred to Belmont, Massachusetts, for further treatment until she took her life in June 2011. She swallowed 100 Tylenol. She was 20 years old.

Changing the system

On Jan. 29, 2014, three days after the “Outside the Line” report — and almost four years after Menu Courey’s assault — UM System President Tim Wolfe suggested to the UM System Board of Curators to hire an independent counsel to investigate MU’s handling of the Menu Courey case. The next day, the Board of Curators voted in favor of the proposal, hiring Dowd Bennett, a St. Louis-based law firm.

“Ms. Courey’s story is very tragic and sad, and our sympathy and prayers are with her family, friends and teammates,” said Don Downing, Board of Curators chairman in a Jan. 30, 2014 Maneater article. “The board wants to take an independent look at what happened here.”

There was a deadline set for the investigation of April 11, 2014. The investigation eventually determined MU had flawed policies for reporting and handling incidents of sexual assault. Bennet reported “MU has many inadequate policies regarding reporting sexual assault,” according to previous Maneater reporting.

On April 20, 2014, the UM System hired the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management to assess the mental health and sexual assault resources offered on all four campuses. Loftin also released a list of mental health and sexual assault resources, sending an email to all MU students, as the first part of the assessment.

After a two-month lapse in public discussion about sexual assault, Loftin announced on June 24, 2014, that he would make the Title IX coordinator a full-time position. The Title IX coordinator is responsible for handling student and employee complaints regarding sexual discrimination, harassment and sexual assault.

“We have been working to improve coordination among law enforcement, our Title IX coordinator and the Office of Student Conduct related to the handling of conduct allegations and investigations, particularly those involving sexual assault,” Loftin said in an email sent to the MU community after the announcement.

Linda Bennett was hired as the interim Title IX coordinator while the university searched for a permanent coordinator.

Loftin and UM System officials switched gears for a while and focused their attention on the policy side of Title IX during the fall 2014 semester. Wolfe implemented Executive Order 40 which designated all university employees with knowledge of sexual assault against a student as “mandated reporters,” with the exemption of health care workers and counselors. All instances of sexual assault will be reported to the Title IX office.

New online training was also rolled out for mandatory reporters. The training struggled during its initial launch, though, as many faculty and staff couldn’t access or navigate the program easily. MU also reviewed how the Office of Student Conduct addresses sexual assault cases.

The search for a new Title IX coordinator, now titled “administrator,” continued through the fall 2014 semester while Bennett was still holding down the fort. The search committee hosted open forums for all four candidates.

The new administrator, Ellen Eardley, was finally announced Feb. 25. She is scheduled to begin April 20.

“If Sasha would be here today, she wouldn’t find a person to blame,” Courey said in a Jan. 26, 2014 Maneater article. “She’d be looking to change the system.”

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