Cover-Up Alleged in USC Trial
On the most unusual day in the sexual battery trial of three USC football players, a USC administrator was accused of trying to cover up the alleged incident, and the chief prosecutor in the case was called to testify by the defense.
The new information, received by the city attorney’s office this week, was presented to Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Edward A. Ferns to consider as evidence in the case against Michael Jones, Willie McGinest and Jason Oliver. They are charged with misdemeanor counts of false imprisonment, battery and sexual battery.
A potential witness told prosecutors that Valerie Paton, a USC assistant dean of student affairs, sent a memo to campus security that asked officers to pull the file on the incident so that it would not become public.
Paton said Thursday that she could not comment on the allegation because she has been subpoenaed as a witness.
Steven M. Ward, chief of security services at USC, said that his office does not have a record of a memo from Paton. However, he said a taped telephone call reveals that Paton asked security officers to withhold distribution of an internal crime-incident report--a synopsis of the complaint--until Los Angeles Police Department detectives classified the case.
Ward said the full report was hand-delivered to the LAPD’s Southwest Division on July 20, three days before Paton’s call.
“There was no attempt to cover up this incident,” Ward said.
Paton made the request after the alleged incident in which a 23-year-old woman said she was dragged into a dormitory room, pinned to a bed and sexually molested. The players contend the woman entered the room voluntarily and was involved in “horseplay.”
Defense witnesses have testified that the woman repeatedly touched Jones and McGinest although they did not like her.
Prosecutors said they are trying to determine whether the latest revelations from Morris DeMayo, a USC student, are relevant to their case. DeMayo worked in escort services, a branch of USC security. Sources say he was abruptly fired shortly after the alleged assault, but Ward said DeMayo resigned.
DeMayo, prosecutors said in court, also claimed that an original investigation report by USC security was redone to take out information that could hurt the players.
However, the investigating officer, Roberto Allende, testified May 23 during pretrial motions that his seven-page report was more favorable to the players than the one sent to LAPD officers. Allende said he labeled the incident a potential sexual assault, but Lt. Jim Kennedy condensed the report and classified it as an attempted rape.
Allende, who has worked for campus security for 10 years, testified that the July 20 report was the first he ever had rewritten. He stated that he had completed at least 1,000 reports as a security officer.
Ward, however, characterized rewriting of reports as routine in his office. He said Allende’s report was redone because Kennedy believed it would have been rejected by LAPD officials.
Whether USC’s involvement in the case will affect the trial is unclear. But Thursday’s unusual proceedings in the presence of the jury might.
George Lomeli, a deputy city attorney, was called to testify shortly after he had rested the people’s case. He was called to the stand because he had interviewed some witnesses without an investigator present or tape recording those interviews.
It is standard practice for prosecutors to be accompanied by an investigator when interviewing alleged victims or important witnesses. This is done to avoid forcing the prosecutor to take the stand as a witness and perhaps have his credibility attacked by the opposing side.
Maureen Siegel, head of the city attorney’s criminal branch, said that lawyers in her department do not always have the luxury of having an investigator available to accompany them during interviews.
“So sometimes you have to do it yourself,” she said. “Having to take the stand to verify a witness’ statement, that’s a situation you would like to avoid, but if you’re the only one who’s available, you don’t have any other choice.”