UPDATE: Law firm to investigate MU's handling of Menu Courey case

Friday, February 14, 2014 | 4:49 p.m. CST; updated 5:17 p.m. CST, Friday, February 14, 2014

COLUMBIA — A St. Louis law firm has been hired to investigate the way MU handled reports that former student-athlete Sasha Menu Courey was assaulted by football players.

The Dowd Bennett Law Firm will seek to determine whether university employees acted consistently with university policy and legal statutes in the case, according to an announcement Friday from the UM System Board of Curators.

The firm is scheduled to report its findings April 11 in a closed curators meeting in Rolla.

Partly based on a journal entry by Menu Courey stating she was sexually assaulted in February 2010, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reported that MU was negligent in handling her case.

The board agreed to hire an independent counsel during its Jan. 29 meeting. The investigation started Friday.

In a teleconference Friday afternoon, board Chairman Don Downing said the independent counsel will investigate what MU learned, when it learned that information and whether it acted appropriately.

"The board believes that it is important to take an independent look at the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragic event, and how it was handled by university employees," Downing said in Friday's release.

Dowd Bennett, which was founded in 2006, represents clients in litigation, according to its website. The firm has served as a lead appellate counsel in cases involving Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Valero Energy and Anheuser-Busch.

Members of Dowd Bennett who will work on the investigation include Edward Dowd, Lisa Hoppenjans, Gabriel Gore, Jim Martin and Becky Powers. No members of the team are MU alumni, and the firm hasn't performed any previous work for the UM System.

The announcement noted that one of the lawyers had served as head of a sex crimes unit and inspector for the U.S. Postal Service. Another worked as an investigative reporter and has investigated another university's handling of sexual assault allegations. Two have served as U.S. attorneys and three as assistant U.S. attorneys.

"Our task from the Board of Curators is to do a complete investigation, get all the facts and report our findings promptly," Dowd said in the release.

In the teleconference, Downing said the counsel will be financed with fees and out-of-pocket expenses, but the cost of the investigation isn't a primary concern.

"We want the investigation to be thorough and done right," Downing said.

Downing added that the investigation's report will be made available to the public following the April 11 meeting.

University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe will form a task force to review the UM System schools' policies on reporting sexual assaults and availability of mental health services, Wolfe said in an email.

The task force will be led by Deborah Noble-Triplett, assistant vice president for academic affairs for the UM System, as well as leaders appointed by the four campus chancellors. Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton will represent MU in the task force.

Wolfe also said he is pledging to make additional resources available, including funding from the UM System budget.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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