The View From Under the War Eagle Bus Joshua Strange, Former Auburn University Student
On May 30th of 2011 at a party at a friend’s house, I was introduced to the person who would later become my accuser. We both were students at Auburn University. She asked me to spend the night at her condo the very first night. Our relationship developed quickly and she and her dog began living at my apartment by mid-June. I liked her so much that I asked my parents to come to Auburn for a weekend to meet her.
On the evening of June 29th, she and I went to a bar together to celebrate a mutual friend’s acceptance into law school. By the time we left the bar and went back to my apartment, we were both intoxicated. I had a female friend/witness that would later offer testimony that when my accuser and I got to my apartment, my accuser kept telling my witness that she just wanted to have sex with me. After my witness had left my apartment that evening, and my accuser and I slept for a while – I really have no idea exactly how long – we both woke up and she initiated sex. However, during the sex, she suddenly became upset so I immediately got up out of bed and asked her what was wrong. I had no idea what was wrong but I did not want her to be scared or upset, so I told her that I wanted her to have control of the situation. My bedroom door in the apartment had a single-key deadbolt on it so that it could be locked from the inside and only opened from the outside with a key. I told her that I was going to leave the room, lock the door with my key and the slide the key (the only key) under the door so that she knew that no one could come in unless she allowed it (a fact that she confirmed under oath in court).
After I had left the room and unbeknownst to me, she called an off-duty police officer friend who then in turn circumvented the 911 system and called the police for her. I was standing in the kitchen of my apartment when the police arrived and barged into my apartment unannounced. They approached me, instructed me to the get one the floor (which, obviously, I complied) and handcuffed me. I had no idea what was going on but I cooperated. One or two of the officers went back to my bedroom and she unlocked and opened the door. They talked to her. They talked to me. I was put in the back of a squad car and taken down to the Municipal Building. I was asked questions and I gave a statement. I was terrified. They took my picture. They took my accuser to the hospital for a rape kit. After what seemed like forever the officers got a call from the hospital, they took me back to my apartment, they said that her statement and my statement of events matched each other and that I was free to go, and they left me. I sat down on my couch in absolute disbelief at what had happened. I was terrified. I did not know what to do so I just sat there in the dark.
The police came back to my apartment with my accuser around 4:30 a.m. and asked me to step outside while she gathered her things and her dog. They then took her to her apartment and left her there. A short time later (around 5:15 in the morning) my phone began to ring and it was my accuser calling me. She wanted to come over to talk and I sure wanted to know what happened, so I agreed. She asked if the police were still there. I walked outside and saw that they were still in the parking lot outside my apartment so she said was going to park in another parking lot so that “the officer doesn’t see me going up there again.” She and her dog came back to my apartment and we talked. She and I both apologized for what had occurred and she told me that she saw it as nothing more than a misunderstanding between the two of us. I agreed – although I still was not sure what had happened – and she went back to my bedroom, got in my bed and went to sleep. She asked me to join her because she said I “looked exhausted”. I said that I did not want to go to bed so I sat on my couch. I still needed to wrap my head around the events of the evening.
In early August, we decided to take a break from dating. She was getting ready to go through sorority rush. This, coupled with her continued close relationship with an ex- boyfriend, led us to break up for the time being. We kept in regular contact and it seemed like we would probably get back together. The night before classes started (August 17, 2011) I awoke to a phone call around 1:30 a.m. It was she. She wanted to come over. I had an 8:00 a.m. class, but I agreed. She came over and we had sex. The next morning we parted ways but continued to speak through texting. It was not until August 28th that we decided to talk about the potential for us rekindling the dating relationship. She wanted to “get back together” but I had a stipulation. I was not comfortable with her extremely close relationship with her ex-boyfriend. When I voiced my concern, she became extremely angry. I told her “Since you will not back away from the relationship you have with him, you and I are done.” This was not what she wanted to hear and she stormed away.
After our conversation, I deleted her phone number from my phone and she and I were no longer friends on Facebook. It appeared to me that we were done. We had no contact at all from August 28 until September 4, 2011. That evening of September 4 (the Sunday of Labor Day weekend) I was walking to the bar with a couple of friends and my phone began to ring. I looked at the number and although it was no longer saved in my phone, I recognized it immediately. It was my accuser. I answered to her frantic voice asking where I was. I told her where I was and she said, “So, you’re not at your apartment?” I told her no and asked if something was wrong. She said everything was fine and that she wanted me to meet her to talk about the possibility of “us”. I could tell something was up but I told her that I was not going to meet her that evening. Just before I hung up I told her I would call or text the next day – Labor Day – if she wanted to talk. I did send her a text that Monday but she never responded to it.
The day after I sent that text to her (Tuesday, September 6, 2011), I went to Wal- Mart with a female friend/neighbor of mine because I needed groceries. While in the check out line, my phone began to ring. It was one of my roommates telling me that police officers were at my apartment and wanted to speak with me. I had no idea what they wanted but I checked out quickly and rushed home. When I pulled up to my building the police were waiting for me at my parking spot.
At that point I was arrested, booked and photographed but no one would tell me the charge. My best friend, Tim (the one who had introduced me to my accuser) called my parents to tell them I had been arrested. They arranged for my bail. They told me to deactivate my Facebook page and my Twitter account, to stay off my phone and not to talk to anyone, including my roommates, about what had happened until they got to Auburn the next morning.
It was not until two days later, on September 8 , that I finally learned the charge. She claimed it was assault and battery – CDV III. She said that I had approached her in a parking lot and hit her in the face on September 4, the night that I was walking with friends when she called on my phone. There is no way I had done this. I had not seen her in days and I was nowhere near where she had claimed the battery occurred. I could prove it.
My parents and I met with a lawyer on September 8, 2011. I told my parents and my lawyer everything from June 29th all the way to the events of that day – not a conversation you EVER want to have, especially with your parents.
My world was crumbling and I had no way to control it. Within a short period, I found out that she had filed a charge against me with the University for beating her up and using that claim, the school allowed her to go outside of the 15-day complaint period to file a rape charge against me, too. Then I was told that I was going to be presented to a Grand Jury on the sex assault charge and that there was a hearing set in criminal court for the battery charge, and the university began to pursue disciplinary charges against me for crimes that I had not committed. Many of my friends ceased to speak with me. My fraternity kicked me out. My accuser had gone to several different groups on campus claiming that I had raped her, beaten her up....she even told some people that I had raped other students and that I had tried to poison her dog while she was living with me over the summer. I have statements from some of these individuals affirming that she made these defamatory statements. But I could not talk to anyone in order to defend myself. I had to try to make sure that I was not going to prison for something I did not do and that, according to my attorney, meant silence.
On September 27, there was hearing on a Protection from Abuse complaint that my accuser had filed on September 9 and during the hearing, she testified that I had hit her so hard, I had done permanent damage. She showed up being escorted by Susan McAllister, the Assistant Director of Public Safety for Auburn University. (Funny, no one from the school offered to be there to support me.) My parents, my sister and my brother-in-law were there for me. Her family was nowhere to be seen which the judge found odd and even asked her about it. When she took the stand, it was clear that the bruise was on the wrong side of her face for my right-hand dominance. She had no medical records to show that she had sought any medical treatment. She had waited 2 days to even go to the police to file a complaint about the purported battery. She had attended the AU/Miss State football game on September 10, 2011 with another guy and had posted pictures on Facebook of her at the game – no bruising on her face to be seen. She said that there were witnesses to the battery but she did not want to give up their names. The judge issued the PFA – they are easy to get – but it was a mutual PFA.
On October 17, 2011, I got an email from Kelley Taylor, the Auburn University then-and-current Title IX coordinator, wanting to schedule a meeting with me. She refused, however, to “deal” with my attorney so my attorney advised me not to meet with her since anything that I said to her could be subpoenaed for criminal court.
The university scheduled Student Disciplinary Hearings on both of the charges but only one of them came to fruition. The first hearing was set for November 8 and was to be on the sex assault, even though she had filed that complaint second to the battery complaint. The school said that it had to hear the sex assault complaint first because it was more serious, but I question that since there was merely 1 week between to two scheduled hearing dates. The second hearing on the battery was set for November 15, 2011.
In mid-October, about three weeks before the first hearing, the school informed me they were lowering the standard of evidence in the sex assault to preponderance. Prior to that time, everything they had given me about the hearing had indicated that it would be clear and convincing. My mother3is a paralegal and she immediately knew that this was not going to go well. How could a battery be “clear and convincing” and a rape be “preponderance”?
In the meantime, walking around campus had taken a terrible turn. It is hard to put the feeling into words. As stated earlier, my accuser had gone to anyone who would listen on campus and spread the lies about me. People were staring at me while I walked to and from class and I could hear them talking about me in the line at Chik-fil-A in the student center and on the campus bus transits. I could hear comments like “That is Josh Strange. He raped and then beat a girl up.” I heard people whisper and call me a “monster”. It was the worst feeling in the world. I wanted to say something, but I knew I could not. There was nothing I could do and it only exacerbated my despair. I was all alone. Yes, I had my family and my closest friends who stuck by my side, but I was really all alone. What was worse, my school did not attempt to reach out to me at all....I had no one.
I submitted all of my witness information and evidence, as I was supposed to do, the Friday before the Tuesday, November 8 sex assault hearing. We were supposed to do that so that each of us could view the other’s information before the hearing. She did not submit hers because she claimed she had to be out-of-town due to her brother’s injury in a very serious accident. (We have information that in fact her brother rode in a rodeo that very next weekend so he could not have been seriously injured in an accident the weekend before the hearing.) Regardless, I did not get to review her “evidence”.
The morning of November 8, 2011, I entered the “hearing” room and saw a black sheet hung across the middle of the room so that my accuser and I could not see each other. The minute I entered, a feeling of doom came over me. I somehow knew at that moment that my time at Auburn was over. For the hearing, I was allowed to have one person in the room with me but that person could not speak. She could have a “silent” advisor, too. We could present witnesses and evidence but we could not ask each other direct questions nor could we question the witnesses directly. My attorney had asked that her “other” boyfriend be compelled to attend the hearing as we felt that he had pertinent information about the night of June 29 since he was also at the bar and was, we believe, buying her drinks. However, Dr. Brandon Frye, Dean of Students at the time, said that he was not able to compel students to attend a hearing.
My accuser’s advisor, much to my dismay, was the prosecutor for the City of Auburn that was going to try me in criminal court. As soon as my attorney saw him, I was told not to testify in my own defense since my attorney could not actively assist me during the hearing. Again, anything said in that room could be subpoenaed and held against me in criminal court, I would have been testifying in front of the criminal court prosecutor, and because my attorney could not speak or object to anything said during the hearing, he did not want me to say anything at all.
The hearing began. She presented her case and her “witnesses” – the Title IX coordinator and the Assistant Director of Public Safety for the school – neither of who had witnessed anything and even admitted that they had not asked her any details about the “rape” incident. She testified that she had to be tutored/home schooled because I was such a threat - I have downloaded her FaceBook information that shows her at sorority rush, at fraternity parties, at football games, hanging out with her other boyfriend, and at various places on campus during this time, which directly contradicts her allegations that I was a threat to her and she was afraid of me4.
I then presented my witnesses: Tim, who told about our obvious ongoing relationship post-June 29; my sister and her husband who each testified about the relationship during the weekend that they spent with us in mid-July; and my female friend that had helped us on June 29th when my accuser had repeated several times that she wanted to have sex with me that night.
After the deliberations, the university hearing panel found me “guilty” and recommended expulsion. Although I could not see her on the other side of the black curtain, I heard a slight laugh come from her direction. It felt like being punched in the gut. I walked out of the room to see my parents. I had to tell them but the words would not come out. My knees buckled. I heard my lawyer tell my mom. She looked as though she was going to be ill. I will never forget seeing how much this had hurt my parents.
After she got the result she wanted in the sex assault matter, my accuser dropped the battery complaint with Auburn so we never had the student hearing set for November 15. The school did not inform us that she had withdrawn the complaint until the evening before the hearing so my parents had already driven all the way back to Auburn for the second time in a week when we found out she had withdrawn it. No matter to the school or to her since her parents – her parents had not attended anything except football tailgate parties so far that semester. They certainly never showed up for the school or for the court hearings.
The wait for the decision by the VP of Student Affairs then began. It was an agonizing three weeks before Dr. Ainsley Carry rubber-stamped the expulsion. Again, another kick in the gut. I thought surely he would listen to the hearing recording and know that her testimony was false – the school should know that she wasn’t being home- schooled, right? – or perhaps ask me or my witnesses questions......something....anything. He didn’t. To this day, I don’t think he ever even knew exactly who I was.
From the date of Dr. Carry’s decision, we had five calendar days to enter an appeal of the expulsion to the President of Auburn University, which we did within the time limit given by the university. We filed it at the beginning of December. She, in turn, was to have five days to respond to my appeal. She finally sent her response in on January 18, 2012, more than a month later. I assumed that Dr. Jay Gouge would not accept her response. Wrong again.
Keep in mind that while all of this was going on, I was still facing criminal charges from the City of Auburn (battery) and potential Grand Jury presentation in the State of Alabama (rape). I was in a constant feeling of despair and fear, depression. I was always looking over my shoulder and putting my head down, hoping that people wouldn’t notice me and say something. It was a terrible feeling. Even more crushing was that I knew my parents were feeling the same way. They would call to make sure I was all right, sometimes multiple times a day. I knew they were worried for me and about me. It was defeating.
Finally, after all of this waiting - this pain and anguish that I had been experiencing - a small ray of sunshine broke through the clouds. I was “no-billed” by a Grand Jury on the sexual assault charge stemming from the June 29th incident. Surely, if the Grand Jury found not even probable cause then the President of Auburn should see that there was no preponderance of evidence, since that is a higher standard. I was happy that I had finally been cleared and that others realized I had not committed a crime.
That happiness and relief was short-lived. Five days after the Grand Jury “no- billed” my case, I was called into the Office of Student Conduct. The President of the University had finally made a decision on my case: it was February 8, 2012. I sat down across from the Dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Brandon Frye, and he began to explain. His almost smug demeanor and his words will live with me forever: “Some days my job is very good because I get to tell students that their troubles are over and they get to stay in school. Some days my job is one of the worst because I have to tell students that they have been expelled from school and cannot return. Unfortunately, this is one of those days. I am sorry to say you have been officially expelled from Auburn University on the grounds of violating the Code of Student Conduct.” That was it. I was officially expelled. I was never allowed to return to university grounds unless I wished to face charges of criminal trespassing. I texted my mom, “I am gone. Expelled. It is over.” I knew she would be devastated, too. I was at the bottom of the pit.
I had previously thought that I couldn’t possibly feel any worse than I did the day they recommended expulsion. Oh, how I was wrong. I spiraled into a deep depression. I was rejected and shamed. I had spent so much time and money with the university and I had absolutely nothing to show for it except failure. I felt more alone than ever. I remember going home and just sitting on the couch alone and thinking “What in the hell do I do now? What just happened? Why is this happening to me?” I could barely breathe. It hurt so much I could not even cry. I guess it was shock.
We asked for a refund of my tuition for Spring 2012, since it was just the beginning of the semester. They refused. I had to remain in Auburn from February 8 until the assault hearing 3 1⁄2 months later because I had to report to a bail bondsman once a week – something I had been required to do every single Tuesday at noon for 8 long months. The refunded tuition money would have helped me support myself. To add insult to injury, when grades came out for Spring 2012, they had not withdrawn me and had instead let me fail. They even sent a letter saying that according to my professors, I had “stopped attending classes” and as such, they had returned my student loan money to the Federal student loan program and they were going to invoice me for the money that I now owed them. I still have that letter.
Time dragged until it was time for the hearing on May 24, 2012. My parents yet again drove the 4 hours to Auburn and paid for a hotel room and paid attorney fees for the hearing. My accuser did not show up – purportedly because, as she told the court, she had to work at her waitressing job. We subpoenaed copies of her work records for that day – she had the day off. Her failure to show up for the hearing resulted in a dismissal of the case against me. I was glad it was over but I was very disappointed that not only did I not get to prove in court that she had lied about the entire incident but I had also asked my witnesses to drive in from out-of-town for the hearing which turned out to be a waste of their time.
I left Auburn and moved home to South Carolina shortly after May 24, 2011, still in a relatively deep depression. I constantly felt doomed. I began drinking a lot. I spent weeks in my room with the drapes drawn. I still had no FaceBook page, no social media at all, no social life at all. My parents finally convinced me that I needed to try to get into another school – to get a life and find a futu6re. The Dean of Students at Auburn had told me that my transcript would be stamped “Expelled” so I was terrified to try to apply anywhere else. I did not want to have to explain it, to have to talk about it. I just wanted to hide.
My mother finally convinced me that I needed to find a way out of the despair.
She talked me into applying to The University of South Carolina-Upstate. I was accepted, much to our shock and surprise. My transcript from Auburn actually showed me as a “Student in Good Standing”. Auburn had also changed my “Fs” to “W” since we contacted their outside counsel and pointed out the error of their ways in not withdrawing me.
Unfortunately, because I have spoken to the media, and although her name has never appeared in print, Auburn University dragged their feet in letting me see my records that I had requested under FERPA because they claim that I have divulged her identity to the media. She ran all over campus telling anyone she could find all of her claims about me, never attempting to hide her identity but I am not allowed to talk about my story, according to Auburn University. I was finally allowed to view my records this past February – we were required to drive 5 1⁄2 hours to Montgomery, Alabama to see them – but Auburn has still refused to allow me to have a copy of them. In reviewing them, however, I now know that all of these false police reports, the lie about the battery charge, it is all in there. We have asked Auburn’s counsel what we can do to get my side of the story into my file, since the hearing on the battery never took place and therefore my information has been left out. They have refused to let us submit anything in my defense. According to them, the case is “closed” and nothing can be added or removed. Any grad school, any security clearance that I may need to further my professional career can be derailed by what is in that file. It is a never ending story.
My life will never be the same. My dreams have changed. My hopes have changed. Friendships have been lost. To this day, I am afraid to date. My parents have had to struggle to pay legal bills. My mom still cries at times. It does not have to be this way. It should not be this way.