AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Breaking months of public silence, former Baylor coach Art Briles said Thursday he could no longer “remain silent” and insisted he did not cover up sexual violence by his players or try to obstruct any investigations tied to the assault scandal at the nation’s largest Baptist university.
Briles released a one-page letter defending himself against allegations that he ignored incidents of assault and ran a rogue football program full of miscreants. The letter was issued one day after the Texas Rangers, the state’s elite criminal investigations unit, said it had opened a preliminary probe into how Baylor handled assault reports over several years.
“I did not cover-up any sexual violence. I had no contact with anyone that claimed to be a victim of sexual or domestic assault. Anyone well-versed in my work as a coach knows that I strove to promote excellence, but never at the sacrifice of safety for anyone,” Briles wrote . “I did not obstruct justice on campus or off.”
When alerted to an assault incident, Briles said, his response was that victims should go to the police so it could be prosecuted.
Baylor officials declined comment.
Baylor faces several federal lawsuits from women who say Baylor mishandled, ignored or suppressed their claims of assault for years, including several cases involving football players. Briles is named as a defendant in at least one of those. The school also faces a federal civil rights investigation.
Baylor fired Briles in May 2016 and demoted former President Ken Starr, who later resigned, after an outside law firm determined the school had mishandled cases for years.
The Pepper Hamilton firm determined Briles’ program acted as if it was “above the rules” and that unnamed members of Briles’ staff had improper contact with victims or witnesses and may have interfered with investigations.
Baylor officials say that investigation found at least 17 women who reported being sexually assaulted by 19 football players, but one lawsuit claiming Baylor fostered a “culture of sexual violence” puts the number at more than 50 acts of rape over a four-year period.
To date, only two of Briles’ former players have been tried and convicted of sexual assault, and another is currently charged in a 2016 assault.
Lawyers for two women suing Baylor were dismissive of Briles’ letter.
“It’s hard to take any of Baylor’s former coaches seriously at this point. We’re going to find out for ourselves what happened and who deserves further consequences,” said John Clune, attorney for a woman who is suing Baylor under the pseudonym Elizabeth Doe.
Irwin Zalkin, attorney for Jasmin Hernandez, who was sexually assaulted by football player Tevin Elliott, said Briles would have to be “deaf, blind and dumb” to have not known about previous allegations involving Elliott.
Briles never met with Hernandez and he refused her family’s efforts to engage with him, Zalkin said. The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify sexual assault victims, but Hernandez has spoken publicly to draw attention to the case.
Baylor officials last month revealed selected text messages between Briles, assistant coaches and staff members that appear to show them trying to shield players from police and university discipline.
In one instance, when shown a list of names of players a woman said attacked her, Briles allegedly responded: “Those are some bad dudes. Why was she around those guys?”
Briles called for “full disclosure” of what the Pepper Hamilton investigation found. A group of wealthy and powerful Baylor alumni called Bears for Leadership Reform, which includes many Briles supporters, has also called on Baylor’s Board of Regents to publicly release the Pepper Hamilton investigation in full.
“(R)umor, innuendo and out of context messages, emails and comments have no place in a true fact-finding mission,” Briles wrote Thursday. “The key to growth for the school begins with full transparence, not selective messaging.”
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna told The Dallas Morning News his office “months ago” requested interviews and documents collected in the Pepper Hamilton investigation. Reyna did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press.
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