"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
If you’ve been following the Jameis Winston rape case, you probably already know that the Tallahassee Police Department waited nearly a full year before bringing the investigation to the state attorney. And you may also know that the lawyer representing Winston’s accuser said that police threatened her against pursuing the case, telling her that her client’s life would be “made miserable” if she moved forward with the investigation. (Tallahassee was “a big football town,” and Winston was its star player.) And maybe you also know that video evidence of the incident was destroyed by a key witness, and that police did nothing to attempt to recover it.
A Wednesday report from Walt Bogdanich at the New York Times details these and the many other failures of the case, from start to finish. It’s a devastating read. (It’s also a maddeningly familiar set of circumstances.)
Here are the five most egregious failures excerpted from the report:
There was no real investigation — from the police or the school.
The police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA.
The detective handling the case waited two months to write his first report and then prematurely suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser. By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared, including the video of the sexual act.
“They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do,” Mr. Meggs said in a recent interview.
The university waited until football season ended before interviewing Winston about the alleged rape.
Records show that Florida State’s athletic department knew about the rape accusation early on, in January 2013, when the assistant athletic director called the police to inquire about the case. Even so, the university did nothing about it, allowing Mr. Winston to play the full season without having to answer any questions. After the championship game, in January 2014, university officials asked Mr. Winston to discuss the case, but he declined on advice of his lawyer.
When The Times asked Mr. Winston for an interview, an Atlanta lawyer advising his family, David Cornwell, responded, “We don’t need an investigation, thorough or otherwise, to know that Jameis did not sexually assault this young lady.” Mr. Cornwell, who has represented major sports figures and the N.F.L., added, “Jameis has never sexually assaulted anybody.”
Another woman had been sexually violated by Winston and reported it to the school.
A month before the rape accusation became public, the university’s victim advocate learned that a second woman had sought counseling after a sexual encounter with Mr. Winston, according to the prosecutor’s office. The woman did not call it rape — she did not say “no.” But the encounter, not previously reported, “was of such a nature that she felt violated or felt that she needed to seek some type of counseling for her emotions about the experience,” according to Georgia Cappleman, the chief assistant state attorney, who said she had spoken with the advocate but not with the woman.
The victim advocate was concerned enough about the episode to have alerted Mr. Winston’s first accuser.
Claims that police dropped the investigation because Winston’s victim stopped cooperating with police are false.
The case came at a time of turmoil for the Tallahassee police. In March 2013, a grand jury investigating police misconduct in an unrelated matter called police supervision “careless, uncaring, cavalier and incompetent.” The grand jury said supervisory deficiencies were so deeply ingrained that the city police, which has more than 350 sworn officers, should merge with the sheriff’s department, with the sheriff assuming overall control.
Late last year, Mr. Winston’s accuser and another Florida State student filed internal-affairs complaints, charging that Tallahassee police officers had investigated them, rather than the accused, and then prematurely dropped their cases.
“My attorney’s repeated calls to Tallahassee Police Department prove that I had not dropped the case,” Mr. Winston’s accuser wrote in her Dec. 19 complaint.
Two days earlier, the other student had written, “Why did the detective insist my case was closed and refused to answer calls and emails?” She added, “I am SO ANGRY!”
Investigators did not contact key witnesses, waited months before collecting evidence and misled their superiors about available leads.
Not only would Chris [Casher, a witness who took video of the alleged rape] have been easy to find, but the police already had an investigative file that identified Chris Casher as Mr. Winston’s roommate. A little more than a week before the sexual encounter, the Tallahassee police had interviewed both men in connection with 13 damaged windows at their off-campus apartment complex, all caused by football players engaging in a long-running BB gun battle. The Florida State athletic department promised that the $4,000 in damages would be paid, and no charges were filed. [...]
Officer [Scott] Angulo, who had told his superiors that he “had no real leads,”suddenly got a big one on Jan. 10, a little more than a month after the encounter. As a new semester was beginning, the accuser called to say she had identified the suspect — Jameis Winston — after seeing him in class and hearing his name called out.
Again, Officer Angulo hesitated. Nearly two weeks passed before his backup investigator contacted Mr. Winston — by telephone, records show.
“Winston stated he had baseball practice but would call back later to set a time,” Officer Angulo wrote. The police did get a response — from Mr. Winston’s lawyer, Timothy Jansen, who said his client would not be speaking to anyone.
With Mr. Winston identified, the next logical step would have been to quickly obtain his DNA. Officer Angulo decided against it. Ms. Carroll, the accuser’s lawyer, said the officer told her that testing Mr. Winston’s DNA might generate publicity. “I specifically asked and he refused,” Ms. Carroll said.
Officer Angulo concluded his six-page report by saying: “This case is being suspended at this time due to a lack of cooperation from the victim. If the victim decides to press charges, the case will be pursued.”
After the case was closed, Winston went on to win the Heisman Trophy. He resumed life as usual. He is currently playing baseball for FSU and, according to a glowing little piece from NFL.com, feeling “drained” trying to balance the demands of his hectic schedule as a beloved sports star.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)