Charlottesville, Va., police announced Monday that they could find no evidence that a rape happened at a University of Virginia fraternity as described in a Rolling Stone article and said they were suspending their investigation.
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo, in a televised news conference, said the college student who reported the rape, identified in the article only as Jackie, declined to cooperate with police and that investigators found inconsistencies in the stories she previously told to Rolling Stone and to campus officials.
"That's really the extent of this investigation," Longo said. "Unfortunately, we're not able to conclude to any substantive degree that an incident consistent with the facts in that article [occurred at the fraternity house named in the Rolling Stone story] or any other fraternity house, for that matter."
Longo added, "That doesn't mean that something terrible did not happen to Jackie. … I can’t prove that something didn’t happen.”
An attorney representing Jackie, Palma E. Pustilnik of the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, told the Los Angeles Times in an email Monday, "We have no comment at this time."
The police investigation centered on an incident described in an explosive Rolling Stone magazine story, published in November, that said a woman identified as Jackie had been gang-raped at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
After critics raised questions about the accuracy of the account, Rolling Stone issued an apology that said the magazine no longer trusted the story told by Jackie.
The saga rocked the University of Virginia, which the story accused of having a rampant culture of sexual violence, as well as the world of journalism, in which observers criticized the story's author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, for what they saw as lax and flawed reporting techniques.
Concerns also mounted that the story would damage the credibility of rape survivors elsewhere, whom advocates say are often not taken seriously by law enforcement officials and the public.
Erdely did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday. Investigators said she had cooperated "as best as she could" with police without compromising her sources for the story. A spokeswoman for Rolling Stone could not immediately be reached for comment following the police news conference.
University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan, who had asked law enforcement to look into the alleged assault shortly after the publication of the Rolling Stone story, said in a statement Monday that the police findings "confirms what federal privacy law prohibited the University from sharing last fall: that the University provided support and care to a student in need, including assistance in reporting potential criminal conduct to law enforcement."
Sullivan added, “There is important work ahead as the University continues to implement substantive reforms to improve its culture, prevent violence and respond to incidents of violence when they occur.”
Investigators proceeded without cooperation from Jackie, who had previously told a campus dean and a Charlottesville police detective about the alleged 2012 rape in April 2014, when she had reported a separate incident of being physically attacked by four men on campus, Longo said. (Police found inconsistencies in Jackie's account of the April attack, but Jackie did have an abrasion on her head, Longo said.)
Jackie didn't want to push for an investigation into the 2012 rape at that point, the chief said, and again declined to do so after investigators contacted her after the Rolling Stone story appeared.
Campus deans, fraternities, employees and friends of Jackie provided documents and accounts to police that did not support Jackie's claims of an attack at the fraternity on Sept. 28, 2012, Longo said.
Charlottesville police had already cleared Phi Kappa Psi of involvement in the alleged rape, announcing in January that they found "no basis to believe that an incident occurred at that fraternity."
In a statement released Monday through a public relations agency, Phi Kappa Psi criticized Rolling Stone for "recklessly and prejudicially" featuring the fraternity in its story and for leaving the story on its website, where it is preceded by a lengthy editors' note that details some of the discrepancies in Jackie's account.
"These false accusations have been extremely damaging to our entire organization, but we can only begin to imagine the setback this must have dealt to survivors of sexual assault," Stephen Scipione, president of the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, said in a statement. "We hope that Rolling Stone's actions do not discourage any survivors from coming forward to seek the justice they deserve."
The fraternity said it "is now exploring its legal options to address the extensive damage caused by Rolling Stone."
Monday's police announcement comes as Rolling Stone soon expects to publish an outside review led by Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and Sheila Coronel, the school's dean of academic affairs.
"We expect it soon, and will be publishing it in the next couple weeks," Kathryn Brenner, a spokeswoman for Rolling Stone, told The Times on Monday.
A spokeswoman for Columbia University told The Times that the report was in its "final stages" and that a release date would be announced.
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