Why Was the Ukwuachu Indictment Sealed?

(UPDATED Feb. 11 to add Twitter conversation with Paula Lavigne, author of the OTL piece on Baylor)

Since the August conviction of Sam Ukwuachu for sexual assault, much has been written about Baylor and its response to investigating sexual assault, especially those involving athletes.

But a question has remained since August 2015, when Ukwuachu was convicted and then later sentenced: Why was crucial public information regarding Ukwuachu’s indictment withheld in June 2014? Who withheld it? Why?

More important, why is nobody asking why?

He was indicted for the crime, whose victim was an unidentified Baylor athlete, on June 25, 2014.  The list of indictments for that date does not include his name among the 100-plus released.

What happened was that Ukwuachu apparently was indicted first, then arrested and charged via a “direct indictment,” which shields the suspect and others from the open records of a pre-indictment arrest report.  The name was then redacted from the indictment list released to the public.

According to the attorneys that I talked to, a direct indictment, or any such situation where the case is sealed, is usually used when a juvenile or someone else involved in the case (usually the victim) needs shielding for their own protection.

Under what logic could that be applied to Ukwuachu’s case?  Concern for the victim?  The other sexual assault cases also involved victims, but the DA’s office did not seem to show the same reticence in publishing the names of those defendants.

And anyway, this is all speculation without a specific arrest report.  Remember that the information gap existed between the unreported indictment and the week before the trial began.  The arrest, never reported, falls into the same void.

UPDATE: After reading Paula Lavigne’s Outside the Lines report on Baylor’s response to sexual assault cases involving athletes, I linked her to this article and asked her if she had any idea why the Ukwuachu indictment had been sealed.  She replied via Twitter:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 4.56.05 PM

I do appreciate Lavigne’s taking the time to reply, but I don’t see the connection between an unreported indictment/arrest and a gag order.  A gag order is a frequent ruling in a high-profile trial.  But it relates to behavior outside of the court, not to the release of arrest information.

If the judge did want to limit public comments on the case, why not release the indictment/arrest (as is typically done) and simultaneously issue a gag order to all participants, as the judge did when Ukwuachu’s trial actually began?  Wouldn’t that accomplish the same goal, while providing the Waco and Baylor communities with important information?

Still, with the indictment information not released, as she pointed out, the Waco Tribune-Herald would not be in a position to know about the indictment:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.23.35 PM

(NOTE: The rest of these paragraphs were part of the original post.)

The on-campus student affairs office investigation had apparently been closed by the time of the indictment.  The various reports do not give specific dates on that investigation, but a university representative said they try to complete them within 60 days of reporting.

Were Baylor student affairs personnel aware of Ukuwachu’s indictment?  Would this provide the “new information” that allows a university to reopen a disciplinary case?

The broader issue here involves the openness of the legal system.  The Supreme Court has defended the open courts system — setting some sky-high hurdles for closing a trial.  That’s not a service to the media; it’s a right of the people.

Always, but especially these days, Americans need to know what is going on with their legal system.  When information is withheld, there needs to be an excellent reason for it.  Otherwise citizens might lose faith in the fairness of their legal system.

Now that they know, however, the media need to treat this more seriously.  It involves the withholding of sexual assault-related information to the Baylor and Waco community — to young women, to their parents.  It hindered the media from doing their job.

This editorial from the Waco Tribune-Herald asks some important, direct questions, but seems to breeze past the issue of the sealed indictment with little acknowledgement, as if it were a mundane legal procedure instead of an ethical decision that deserves scrutiny.

Perhaps there is a good reason for sealing the indictment and not disclosing the arrest, and if that reason is offered, I will share it.  (Update: Seven months later, a satisfactory reason still has not been shared.)  For now, it looks like the same cozy relationship between police and college football team that has been cited and criticized on other campuses — though for an issue like sexual assault, it is particularly unthinkable that any college or its surrounding community would tolerate the strategy used by the Waco police and DA.

Even more frustrating is when no one cares enough to ask DA Abel Reyna or Assistant DA LaBorde.

Baylor has faced and has tried to answer a lot of questions following the Ukwuachu and Tevin Elliott cases.

Let’s not ignore questions about another question: a published indictment list that omitted the name of an accused felon.

 

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14 thoughts on “Why Was the Ukwuachu Indictment Sealed?

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  2. Isn’t it interesting that the McLennan County district attorney, the aforementioned Abel Reyna, is a Baylor alum (both undergraduate and law school). What a truly amazing coincidence.

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  3. Are you certain that it was the district attorney and/or district clerk who chose not to make Ukwuachu’s indictment public, or could it rather have been that the Waco Tribune-Herald chose to omit Ukwuachu’s indictment from the list created by the district clerk? That would add yet another level of shame to the entire situation, if these “professional journalists” were complicit in shielding the football program from having to answer for their actions in keeping on scholarship a player indicted for a second degree felony sexual assault of another Baylor student-athlete.

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  4. That is an interesting point, and I did consider it. I figured if that were the case, it would be in the DA’s interests to publicly state that the decision was not theirs, and that they passed along a complete list to the Waco Tribune-Herald. It seems like the DA’s office would want to do everything to combat the perception that they would shield a defendant in a felony sexual assault trial. This is why it’s important for everyone — the DA AND the Waco Tribune-Herald — to be open with the public about such issues.

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  5. BU grad here. 1) continuing to pray for the victim and her family. 2) anyone that had done one thing to do with reducing her scholly has to go 3) I welcome all investigations and lawsuits to determine actual facts 4) our dumbass FB coaches speak like dumbass FB coaches but that does not prove BU’s guilt or malevolence.

    Re, the gag order and sealed indictment, the topic of your article – It has been widely reported that the prosecutor asked and for and the judge granted that the indictment be sealed and a gag order placed on the parties. This has been reported all the way back to the original Tx Monthly.

    If you are have troubling researching this or if I have faster Internet speed than you, perhaps I can help you by posting this link-

    http://www.texasmonthly.com/article/silence-at-baylor/

    We can speculate whether this was done to protect the victim or is evidence of a widespread conspiracy involving Baylor. It wold certainly be a huge story to break if you can prove Wrongdoing. Perhaps you could begin by asking the prosecutor her story?

    It would help your readers and your story to include this basic fact when writing an entire article about the gag order and sealed indictment.

    Thank you.

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    • I appreciate the reply, Kelly! The only distinction I will make is between the gag order (which was put in place right before the trial began) and the sealed indictment (which began in June 2014 and continued until right before the trial). I have no problem with gag orders, as long as the trial is open, and the request for the gag order was public. It is the secrecy and lack of explanation behind the sealed indictment that continues to bother me. If it was for a specific, valid reason, why not tell us? After all, this pre-dated the gag order.

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      • BU grad here. 1) continuing to pray for the victim and her family. 2) anyone that had done one thing to do with reducing her scholly has to go 3) I welcome all investigations and lawsuits to determine actual facts 4) our dumbass FB coaches speak like dumbass FB coaches but that does not prove BU’s guilt or malevolence.

        Re, the gag order and sealed indictment, the topic of your article – It has been widely reported that the prosecutor asked and for and the judge granted that the indictment be sealed and a gag order placed on the parties. This has been reported all the way back to the original Tx Monthly.

        If you are have troubling researching this or if I have faster Internet speed than you, perhaps I can help you by posting this link-

        http://www.texasmonthly.com/article/silence-at-baylor/

        We can speculate whether this was done to protect the victim or is evidence of a widespread conspiracy involving Baylor. It wold certainly be a huge story to break if you can prove Wrongdoing. Perhaps you could begin by asking the prosecutor her story?

        It would help your readers and your story to include this basic fact when writing an entire article about the gag order and sealed indictment.

        Thank you.

        Like

  6. Good question. I believe that the sealed indictment was between the parties and the judge? Who requested it? Is it customary? Some of my layer buddies, say that is sometimes to protect the victim but that is no guarantee that BU did not conspire with all of the parties, including the victim’s lawyer to keep it quiet. I would love to learn more.

    It surprised me to learn that you are very knowledgable about the sealed indictment and gag order, I just assumed that you left mention of them out of your article because you did not know or maybe space requirements demanded that you leave it out for more pertinent info?

    Thank you.

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    • Of course, the sealed indictment was the main focus of the blog post. I didn’t touch on the gag order because it only covered the time of the actual trial, by which point the public was aware of the charges. Also, a gag order does not close the trial down; it only prevents the participants from conducting interviews. I’m OK with that, because it does help guarantee a fair trial to the defendant.

      You bring up a great point on whether the indictment was sealed to protect the victim. Two points on that: 1) the victim’s name is typically redacted from such indictments; and 2) as I stated in my blog post, the other sexual assault defendants were named, so their victims, even with names redacted, were not accorded the same protection.

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