University of Missouri responds to Menu Courey tragedy, allegations

Jan 27, 2014

Former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey
Credit Courtesy of Mike Menu

In a press statement released Sunday, the University of Missouri says MU Police has turned over information about the alleged assault of former MU athlete Sasha Menu Courey to the Columbia Police Department. And in another statement released Sunday, UM system President Timothy Wolfe has asked for an independent review of the university’s handling of Menu Courey’s situation. An ESPN story posted online Friday questioned the university’s handling of an alleged sexual assault of Menu Courey, who died of suicide in 2011, about six months after she seems to have talked to a crisis hotline counselor about being sexually assaulted. The  incident, now in the hands of the Columbia police, may have involved one or more members of the MU football team. The MU statement says that a “late 2012” review of a transcript of that crisis hotline conversation was the point at which MU first became aware of the alleged assault, after Sasha’s June 2011 death. The statement says “MU was previously unable to go forward with an investigation because there was no complaint brought forward from the alleged victim or her parents, and there was otherwise insufficient information about the incident.” It continues: “Privacy laws prohibited MU medical personnel from reporting anything Sasha might have shared with them about the alleged assault without her permission.”

MU officials also say that the matter will now be handled by the Columbia Police Department, since the alleged assault took place off campus and falls within CPD jurisdiction.

The ESPN report raises many questions about Menu Courey’s assault and the possible failure of the campus system to intervene in Menu Courey’s situation, either through criminal justice channels or effective mental health response, despite her hospitalizations for mental illness. The report paints a tragic picture of the former swim team member’s hopes for returning to school and her struggle to cope after the alleged assault that may have been videotaped. The ESPN picture is enhanced by piecing together Menu Courey’s communications with friends, members of the MU Athletic Department, and MU officials from whom, ESPN reports, she had received a letter informing her that she would no longer be eligible for financial aid.

MU's athletic department released a statement yesterday (Sunday) answering some of the points raised in the ESPN report "skewed and unfair." The statement is somewhat vociferous in tone, and ends with this: "We think it is strange and inappropriate for the University to be criticized for not undertaking an investigation when Sasha's parents chose not to respond to our request for their input. If they wanted an investigation, they simply could have responded or made a report to law enforcement. Instead, it appears that great lengths have been taken to paint the University in a bad light simply because it asked Sasha's parents about their wishes rather than immediately launching an investigation based on a highly ambiguous chat transcript." The Athletic Department also previously released a copy of its correspondence with ESPN producers addressing similar concerns before the story aired.

UM President Wolfe's statement takes a different tone. "In light of the ESPN 'Outside The Lines' report that questioned the response of our Columbia campus to an alleged sexual assault of a former MU student athlete who also suffered from severe mental illness," Wolfe's statement says, "I want to address the questions raised with all of you and ask for your immediate assistance and support."

Wolfe says he'll ask the board of curators to hire "outside independent counsel" to investigate how the university handled Menu Courey’s allegations.