By Brian Maass
PUEBLO, Colo. (CBS4) - Grant Neal, a promising student-athlete at Colorado State University-Pueblo, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the college and the federal government after he was indefinitely suspended for what he describes as a consensual sexual act with his girlfriend.
"It weighs on me because I see my life being ripped away from me for no justifiable reason," said Neal in an exclusive interview with CBS4. "I feel there's definite overreaction to what happened between this young lady and me."
Neal was a champion high school wrestler and outstanding football player at Regis Jesuit High School before deciding to attend CSU-Pueblo on scholarship. He planned to obtain a medical degree.
"I would like to be an orthopedic surgeon," said Neal.
But he said his dreams were destroyed last October. An ongoing friendship with a female trainer for the CSU-Pueblo football team progressed. On Oct. 23 Neal and the woman went to a movie. Afterward, Neal said the woman performed oral sex on him in his car. In text messages afterward the woman told Neal her roommates "said they saw us doing stuff."
Neal responded: "like what?? Kissing."
"No … like more than kissing," the woman texted back. "I'm so embarrassed … not gunna lie."
On Oct. 25 the female student invited Neal to her apartment saying she was alone. After a short amount of time the two students ended up in her bedroom, undressed. The two were making sexual contact when Neal said "She was very adamant in pulling me close and wanting me to have intercourse with her. At the beginning, when I was lying on top I didn't have a condom." Neal said the woman said she was not on birth control.
"I immediately got off her and asked if I should put a condom on and she said yes and then we engaged in sexual intercourse. She never said no and never told me to stop."
The next morning, Oct. 26, a friend of the woman's noticed a hickey on the woman's neck. When she learned the woman had sex with a prominent football player, she surmised her friend had been raped and reported that to university authorities. Neal's girlfriend texted him: 'I've been running around all day talking to so many people, trying to make things right!!! One of the other Athletic Training students screwed me over! ... She went behind my back and told my AT advisor stuff that wasn't true!!! I'm trying so hard to fix it all. I want to tell you what's going on. Please!"
Recognizing that something was going wrong, Neal met with the woman later that afternoon and recorded their conversation on his phone. In a recording obtained and reviewed by CBS4, the woman can be heard directly exonerating Neal of any rape accusation.
"I hope you know I don't think you did any of that, right? I may be acting like the typical girl who just got raped, but I hope you know I don't think I did," the woman said.
By Oct. 27 a full scale Title IX investigation was underway at CSU-Pueblo. The female student had talked to a university investigator and text messaged Grant Neal. She says she told the investigator, "He's a good guy. He's not a rapist, he's not a criminal, it's not even worth any of this hoopla."
According to CSU-Pueblo's internal investigation, obtained by CBS4, the woman told an investigator, "Grant was lying on top of me and I told him that I did not want to have sexual intercourse with him that is unprotected because I am not on any birth control. Although I told Grant no, Grant ended up penetrating me ... and I told him to stop. He stopped and pulled out from me immediately. Grant then said to me that if he used a condom, would I be okay with that. I told Grant yes to the condom. Grant placed on the condom and we began to have protected sex at this point which I was okay with it."
That same night, Oct. 27, the woman met with Neal and went to his home. His roommates were gone and again Neal and the woman engaged in consensual sex. This time his roommates returned home. One of them, Quinn Vandekoppel, opened the door to Neal's room and saw the pair engaged in sexual intercourse with the woman atop Neal. Vandekoppel told CBS4, "You don't come back to your alleged rapist's house and engage in sex with them the night after the incident. It just doesn't make any sense at all."
But CSU-Pueblo's Title IX investigation found the preponderance of evidence substantiated a finding of sexual misconduct on the part of Grant Neal for participating in non-consensual sexual intercourse on Oct. 25 for the moment when he didn't have a condom on during that sexual encounter. The university suspended Neal from campus, ruling he could not return until the woman graduates.
"They ripped my education away from that I worked tirelessly for," said Neal.
CBS4 traveled to CSU-Pueblo and contacted the woman at the center of the controversial decision. She said she felt "wronged" by what happened between her and Neal the night of Oct. 25, but declined to elaborate. She reiterated what she said numerous times during the investigation -- that CSU-Pueblo overreacted and handed out discipline to Neal that was too severe.
Brie Akins of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault said she would not discuss the specifics of the Neal case but told CBS4 victims of sexual assault often try to protect boyfriends from punishment. She said sexual assault victims often feel guilt and change their stories, but that doesn't mean nothing happened.
"Someone can acquiesce and give in to pressure but that doesn't mean that's what they want to do," said Akins.
She said one in every five women experience sexual violence while on campus, ranging from unwanted advances to rape.
CSU-Pueblo President Lesley Di Mare refused to discuss any aspect of the Neal case with CBS4. Responding to a CBS4 request for an interview with the college president, another university administrator, Cora Zalatel, issued the following response: "CSU-Pueblo cares deeply about its students and is committed to providing a safe and secure education environment. In accordance with the requirements of Title IX, CSU-Pueblo has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively to instances of sexual violence against students. Under the university's process for handling Title IX complaints, the interests of both the impacted party and the responding party are taken into consideration. As in all Title IX and student disciplinary matters, a thorough investigation is conducted and a student is afforded due process, the right to have an advisor, including an attorney, present at meetings and hearings, and a right to appeal. In light of student-privacy laws, the university is prohibited from commenting about specific student discipline cases. Accordingly, CSU-Pueblo is required by law to refrain from discussing any details of the matter. The university respectfully declines your request for an interview."
In the federal lawsuit Neal is suing not only CSU-Pueblo, but also the U.S. Department of Education for its Title IX process.
"CSU-Pueblo has violated my client's due process rights and engaged in gender discrimination in his wrongful suspension," said Neal's attorney, Andrew Miltenberg. "There's a mountain of evidence to prove my client's relationship with the alleged victim was entirely consensual, including statements from the alleged victim herself."
Miltenberg argues that in recent years there has been a surge in colleges and universities mishandling investigations and "wrongfully prosecuting male students for fear of losing federal funding. From the outset, Grant Neal was presumed guilty of sexual misconduct based on nothing more than hearsay and his own male gender."
Neal's CSU-Pueblo transcript now says "student suspended for disciplinary reasons." He says as a result it's been difficult to get into another university and his dreams of being a doctor are growing dim.
"It's been a living hell," said Neal. "It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with".
But he told CBS4 he hopes going public with his case will help other male college students facing similar circumstances.
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