Attorneys for plaintiff Nicole Eramo called her former boss, Dean of Students Allen Groves, to the stand October 26 to bolster her claims that she was unfairly portrayed as a callous administrator to victims of sexual assault in Rolling Stone’s article, “A Rape on Campus.”
“My first impression, and it remains my impression, it painted a picture of Nicole as someone who was cavalier, no pun intended,” as someone who suppressed statistics and who was not advocating for students, Groves said of the November 2014 article.
Student trust of administrators is “hugely important,” said Groves, and that was why Eramo was removed from her position as sexual assault intake counselor after the article was published. “Not because I did not believe she was anything but capable,” said Groves. “My fear was the perception of the student body was that she was not.”
Groves was aware that Jackie had reported her alleged September 2012 assault to Eramo months later on May 20, 2013.
And in April 2014, after she’d allegedly been beaned by a bottle thrown in retaliation for her advocacy work among assault survivors, Jackie came back to Eramo and reported two other women had similar experiences at Phi Kappa Psi, he testified.
On April 22, 2014, “Jackie said she was willing to talk to police,” said Groves. “I was ecstatic.” That euphoria quickly waned when Jackie said the detective she talked to was “aggressive” and she refused to name her assailant.
“I was angry that Jackie would not tell us this guy’s name,” said Groves. “I couldn’t understand how you could have that violent an act and not take action.”
Under cross-examination, when Groves was questioned about a September 17, 2014, text Eramo sent to Jackie and Alex Pinkleton that said the university was “flat-out fucked” because of Hannah Graham and the upcoming Rolling Stone article, Groves paused for an emotional moment.
“That was a very difficult fall for us, the most difficult I’ve encountered,” he said. “Sorry.”
He said if he’d known about that text and another in which Eramo referred to some of her survivor students as her “awesome bitches,” he would have advised her, “I’d prefer you don’t use that language in talking with students.”
Groves acknowledged that the university was already under fire for its handling of sexual assault cases, and the Office of Civil Rights had begun an investigation in April 2011.
When reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely e-mailed Eramo for an interview, Groves wrote, “I’d prefer not to do it at all. In my opinion, Rolling Stone has not been objective in recent years. The description of hypotheticals, OCR, specific cases, etc., leads me to believe this is a hatchet job.”
That same fall, UVA’s alumni magazine also was working on a story about how UVA handles sexual assault, and Groves was sent a draft to edit, he said.
The article began with Emily Renda’s assault as a first-year after getting drunk. “My case is a fairly typical campus sexual assault story,” she’s quoted as saying. “How can this be a ‘typical’ experience at our nation’s institutions for higher education,” questioned the piece, which noted that no one has ever been expelled for rape at the university, a fact also included in the Rolling Stone article.
The alumni magazine story was killed.
Groves said he believed Jackie until the Rolling Stone article came out. So did associate dean Laurie Casteen. And so did Alex Pinkleton, according to their testimony.
Pinkleton, a sexual assault advocate active in One Less and a 2016 UVA grad, was a close friend to Jackie—at least before the article. Initially, she said, she was excited about the story because she wanted to draw attention to rape culture on campus and raise awareness. She said 90 percent of her comments to Erdely were about that, but she was quoted in the article as talking about how “hot girls” can get into fraternities.
“Obviously I was offended,” said Pinkleton.
“I”m very critical of UVA, but Dean Eramo is not part of that,” said Pinkleton, who said she respected Eramo and babysat for her. And she said she was concerned about how Erdely would portray Eramo.
Pinkleton said she encouraged Jackie to stay involved in the story “because it’s important to control your story.” And she said she’d never questioned Jackie’s story. “I just validated what she said. That’s what advocates do.”
During cross-examination, when describing her reaction to the article and how it portrayed Eramo, Pinkleton began crying. The judge ordered a short break.
When she came back, she said she was critical of how UVA handled sexual assault after Jackie’s tale of being raped by seven men at Phi Psi, and wrote in a 2014 e-mail, “They can investigate and notify students. That’s inexcusable.”
Pinkleton said she is represented by the same firm representing Eramo, Clare Locke, which helped her prepare for testimony for several hours. “The reason I did was because Rolling Stone subpoenaed my e-mails for two years,” she said.
Illustrator John Ritter, who did the now-notorious illustration that Eramo said made her “look like the devil,” testified that he had altered her eyes because they were downcast and not looking at the student figure he’d photoshopped into his illustration.
Jurors got to see other illustrations he’s done, including one of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, whose eyes are altered, as well.
Rolling Stone deputy managing editor Sean Woods was the last witness of the day, and attorney Libby Locke grilled him on the decisions he made in editing Erdely’s story, including cutting out a section about Eramo taking Jackie to the police.
“You didn’t see that as relevant?” asked Locke.
“I disagree with that characterization,” said Woods.
Eramo’s team expects to finish with its witnesses tomorrow.
Outside the federal courthouse, Locke said it was another good day in court with Groves and Pinkleton testifying about how they read the article “as a negative portrayal” of Eramo.
Rolling Stone’s attorney David Paxton seemed equally pleased. “Through this part of the trial, we’ve heard no evidence there was any actual malice.”
Clarification 10:26 am October 27: Alex Pinkleton’s criticism of UVA’s handling of Jackie’s alleged rape was from a 2014 e-mail, about which she testified in court.