Just when it seemed like the last 18 months of Xavier basketball could not possibly get more tumultuous, Dez Wells was expelled with barely a hint of warning. The sophomore had averaged 10/5/1 in his first year at Xavier and was expected to handle the majority of the heavy lifting for the Musketeers this year. Rumor and entendre swirled around Cincinnati, but with no real public explanation, Wells was gone.
Today brings with it yet another twist in the case. News broke roughly an hour ago that a Hamilton County grand jury had heard all the evidence in the Wells case and chose not to charge Dez with even one count of any criminal wrongdoing. While that was itself enough of a bombshell, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters was hardly ready to just move on. Deters released a statement and also appeared on 700 WLW with Bill Cunningham this afternoon. Hardly strangers to PR nightmares, it seems like the Xavier administration has landed themselves squarely in the middle of another one.
Deters was not in the mood to go kindly on the Xavier brass this afternoon. Using the bully pulpit afforded by his position, he took the school to task. In his official statement he hinted at his feelings by saying, "I have nothing but the greatest respect for Xavier University, and in particular Father Graham. I would sincerely hope the institution would revisit this situation." Because of state law protecting grand jury proceedings, Deters is not permitted to reveal exactly what the charges leveled against Dez Wells were. Wells was expelled by the decision of a bourd of faculty and staff at Xavier, and Deters was loath to let that pass either, "there is something flawed with a procedure where a young man and his accuser appear before a group of people, which I would suggest probably isn't well trained in assessing thse types of cases, and they sit there and tell their stories. No lawyers, no nothing. There's just something wrong with that."
Deters went on to call the situation "fundamentally unfair" to Wells and pointed out that Wells' reputation has been tainted by the rumor and allegation that were rampant in the last week. Deters closed by saying, "I think Father (Michael) Graham is one of the most impressive, fair people I've ever met and I hope he has the ability to look at this and correct an injustice." While that was the end of Hamilton County's thoughts on the matter, it is hardly the end of the fallout.
While it is obviously clear that whoever is in charge of public relations at Xavier has been dozing at the wheel for quite some time, this cannot be cleared up by the simple quick fix of waking him or her up. Several problems now confront the university as they try to move forward from another very public misstep.
1. Would Wells even want to return now? The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Wells' attorney has intimated that Wells is open to it, but also hurt by the way he was handled by the school.
2. Could Wells come back? Yes. Despite the school overruling his appeal on August 9th, he could be reinstated as a student. As for being a scholarship athlete, things are a bit murkier. Chris Cantino already holds Wells' scholarship slot. Cutting another player off scholarship at this point reeks of yet another media disaster. It's clear Coach Mack would like to see Dez back, how he can get him is anyone's guess.
3. Who is wagging the dog here? More ominously, it seems like these allegations against Wells only arose because Xavier University went looking for them. A school with a formerly spotless record was hammered July 23rd when the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights set in place strict new guidelines for the university after alleging Title IX non compliance. In short, Xavier was accused of discrimination against women. While that came from one case, the school removed several high-ranking faculty for their parts in hiding multiple sexual assault and rape cases. Barely a week later, Xavier went after a young man with no record, expelled him, and then failed to provide evidence "It wasn't even close. We would never take anything like this to court. It just wouldn't happen," said Joe Deters.
So Dez Wells no longer has the sceptre of 11 years in prison hanging over his head. Unfortunately for him, he has lost his reputation, his game, and his education. Unfortunately for Chris Mack, his best player is gone. Unfortunately for Xavier University, the missteps of the last 18 months are piling up quickly. At some point, the piper will come calling.
Update: Xavier released the following statement regarding the Wells situation:
Federal law (Title IX) and federal regulations and guidances prohibit universities from ceding student conduct matters to the criminal justice system. The federal law requires schools to act quickly and all schools, by law, must use the "preponderance of the evidence" standard, whereas the criminal justice system uses the "probable cause" standard to indict, and the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard to convict.
The process used by the Xavier University Conduct Board is the standard used in American universities. The conduct board heard evidence that may or may not have been heard by the Grand Jury. After the conduct board reached its decision, the matter was considered and upheld by an appeal board of members of the student body, faculty and staff and is final.
Make of that what you will.