The music was thumping at the sprawling brick fraternity house as the Valentine’s Eve bash stretched into the wee Sunday hours in Chapel Hill. Students danced on a makeshift living-room dance floor while chugging beer from plastic cups.
University of North Carolina football player Allen Artis hit it off with Delaney Robinson after being introduced by a teammate. As the party wound down, the two students kissed outside -- not in farewell, but as a prelude. They left together.
Artis, then 19 and a full-scholarship sophomore defensive back from Marietta, Ga., was pursuing a business and economics double major. He had had a few beers and shots throughout that evening, but did not appear intoxicated. Neither did Robinson, an attractive brunette freshman from the prosperous Raleigh suburb of Apex who had also been drinking.
They got into an Uber car with another couple – Artis’s teammate and a close girlfriend of Robinson’s -- for the short trip to the on-campus Rams Village apartments. Security logs show the four arrived there around 2:50 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2016. They then paired off, with each young woman accompanying one of the players to his apartment.
Robinson’s friend would later testify that as they split off to go with the men, Robinson shot her a knowing glance – a sign she interpreted to mean that Robinson knew what she was doing and had the situation in hand.
Robinson and Artis had sex that night -- that is not in dispute. Much else would be, though, after she lodged a rape accusation, touching off a 17-month legal ordeal.
Most of the case remained out of public view until it was resolved this summer. Police, court and campus documents obtained by RealClearInvestigations, as well as exclusive interviews offer a rare inside look at the complex dynamics of sexual assault accusations and justice on American campuses.
They illuminate a dense and murky landscape where the “he said, she said” vagaries of sexual consent are exacerbated not only by drugs and alcohol but politically charged campus rape-response procedures.
President Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has vowed to reform this process – last week rescinding Obama administration guidelines meant to counter what some have called a college rape epidemic fueled by “toxic masculinity.” DeVos and other critics argue that those guidelines pushed schools to adopt procedures that denied the accused due-process rights and used a burden of proof for sexual assault lower than for, say, plagiarism.
The way forward for universities is as yet unclear. But the Artis case suggests that the challenges of dealing with campus rape could well outlive the policies of the Obama era. Inevitably, three separate agencies properly investigated the incident -- UNC administration, campus police, and the city of Chapel Hill. And both accuser and accused eventually engaged their own legal teams -- an emerging trend in such high-stakes cases.
The result was a legal labyrinth of costly, overlapping inquiries; more opportunities for mistakes; conflicting agendas; and justice delayed -- putting lives in limbo, imperiling reputations and tying the schools involved in knots.
Here is a chronicle from the campus-rape maelstrom.
This account of what happened when Allen Artis and Delaney Robinson went to his apartment is based primarily on Artis’s recollection. Robinson says she doesn’t remember much after leaving the party earlier in the evening.
When they went to his bedroom at 3 a.m., Artis says, he started streaming the horror comedy “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” from Netflix and turned off the light. He said a bemused Robinson asked: “Really, this movie?”
“Don’t judge me,” Artis responded.
The two laughed before Artis began kissing her lips and neck, he recalled. Artis says he helped Robinson remove her shirt and that he struggled to unsnap her bra because his right hand and wrist were in a cast from a football injury – so she took off the bra herself.
Artis told investigators that Robinson made “sounds of enjoyment,” urging him to “put it in” after he penetrated her with his fingers. She gave no indication she wanted him to stop, he said. But Artis was turned off. “It was kind of dry, I wasn’t enjoying it,” he told investigators. “The sex wasn’t feeling good, so I didn’t want to be rude, so I said I didn’t feel good and my stomach hurt. So I went to the bathroom.”
He sat in the bathroom for a few minutes, he said, to give the impression that he was sick. When he returned to his bedroom, Robinson was dressed and told him she decided she should leave. He walked her to his door and the two said goodbye.
Artis returned to his bed and fell asleep, later saying he was unaware that anything was wrong. To Robinson, the encounter was as wrong as could be: It was rape. She said she didn’t even remember going to Artis's room, only being on her back on the bed and feeling pain from his assault.
Memory lapses and changing recollections are common in disputed cases of sexual assault, when women say they were too incapacitated to give consent. Robinson has maintained that she didn’t remember getting dressed, and that her next memory was sitting outside in the cold. She said she banged on doors and windows, but no one helped her. In another interview, she said she didn’t remember doing this.
Phone records show that Robinson called her girlfriend nine times and sent three texts, including one confusing message that read: “Why woshebr. Help.” Two of the calls were listed as “missed,” another was cancelled, and five calls lasted between one and 38 seconds. The final call lasted three minutes.
After speaking with her girlfriend (whose name is being withheld by RealClearInvestigations), Robinson called another male student with whom she had been flirting earlier in the evening, according to phone records. She finally found a UNC police officer sitting in his patrol car nearby, and told him she couldn’t find her friend. Robinson was in tears, but Officer Ray Rodriquez said he thought it was because she was alone and cold. Receiving word that Robinson’s friend was looking for her, the officer drove less than a block and picked her up.
In the patrol car, Robinson was “hysterical,” according to her girlfriend, so she asked: “What did he do to you?” But Robinson wouldn’t say.
Rodriquez dropped the two off at their dorm. They did not stumble as they walked to the building, he wrote in his report of the evening. Once in their room, Robinson’s friend asked if she needed to go to the hospital. Robinson said yes. But first she went to the bathroom, where she urinated into a cup, which she brought with her to the UNC Medical Center.
Less than hour after leaving Artis’s room, Robinson told a sexual assault nurse examiner and campus police that she had been raped. She underwent a rape examination, with the hospital taking its own samples of her blood and urine. Photos were taken -- of the multiple marks on her neck, a bruise on her upper thigh and another mark on her shoulder.
In an observation that would become more important later, the nurse examiner, Suzan Henson, described the marks on Robinson’s neck in her report as “hickeys,” and said she saw no indication that Robinson had been choked. Henson also found vaginal tearing, an ambiguous characteristic in such cases: She told investigators it was consistent with sexual assault but also rough consensual or poorly lubricated sex.
The nurse told campus investigators: “Looking at her in total it definitely looked like someone had been pretty rough with her. She did not have her bra on when she got [to] the hospital, and she was missing a sock.”
The campus police investigation began immediately, a rarity at today’s colleges, where administrators typically deal with rape cases first. UNC Police Investigator Ross Barbee left the hospital after interviewing Robinson and the nurse, and within hours had interviewed Artis and his teammate.
Three weeks later, on March 9, Robinson filed a formal complaint with university administrators, who then began a parallel inquiry.
It turned out that Robinson and the university were unsteady allies. Early on in the police investigation, Robinson retained an attorney, Denise Branch, who raised concerns with the way UNC was handling the complaint. Branch questioned whether Barbee was properly trained to investigate a sexual assault.
Shortly after Robinson filed her formal complaint, university officials got word that she intended to sue the school over its response to her rape charge. Notes from a meeting of UNC officials on March 22 said they couldn’t talk too much to police investigators “because it’s become clear that Robinson is going to sue the school.”
The nine officials at the meeting were so-called Title IX administrators, working to ensure the school’s compliance with rape-investigation guidelines issued under sweeping anti-discrimination federal statutes enforced by the Department of Education. University funding hinges on following those guidelines, so schools across the country have spent millions to hire Title IX investigators focused on sexual assault cases and other gender-related matters. Harvard, for example, has 55. UNC-Chapel Hill has at least 17.
Nonetheless, the investigators’ task was daunting. Artis’s account of what had transpired in the bedroom could not be corroborated because the only other witness was Robinson, whose memory was spotty.
Holes of memory, often created by alcohol or drugs, mean that questions of whether sex was consensual or coerced often hinge on whether the alleged victim was truly capable of making an informed judgment whether or not to have sex in the first place. In this way, campus policy and law enforcement don’t differ. Given the lack of other reliable evidence, the investigations turned to whether Robinson was “incapacitated,” which UNC’s protocols define as a state of “sleep, unconsciousness, intermittent consciousness, or any other state where the individual is unaware that sexual contact is occurring.”
The Alcohol Factor
Robinson’s account was especially complicated because neither she nor her friends said she drank to excess or appeared drunk. Robinson told investigators that by the time she arrived at the Chi Psi frat party she had consumed a glass and a half of wine before heading to a party in nearby Carrboro at around 11:30 p.m. There, she had two cups of “party juice,” or spiked punch, which she described as “weak, like water.” She told a campus investigator: “I had control over my body, I could feel I had alcohol, but I wasn’t -- it was the beginning stages of drinking, I guess.”
Her girlfriend, who was with Robinson nearly the entire night, characterized Robinson as being “slightly tipsy” and talking more than usual.
“I wouldn’t classify her as drunk or wasted,” the friend told campus investigators. “She was coherent and handling herself.”
Nevertheless, Robinson said she didn’t remember much after the Carrboro party. Her next memory is at Chi Psi, where she recalled helping a young woman who, she said, “wasn’t okay.” Robinson said it was “very possible” her drink was drugged while she was helping the young woman, but at the hospital no date-rape drugs were found in Robinson’s system.
Robinson also told investigators that she had texted with another football player about meeting up later that night. She texted him between 12:45 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. The texts were flirty and coherent. Apparently referring to how sloppy the revelry was becoming, Robinson asked the football player: “Why did I bother no [sic] wearing sweatpants???” She immediately sent a follow-up text correcting her spelling error.
At 3:19 a.m, the football player texted Robinson: “Where you at?” and included three grinning emojis. He then texted her again at 3:35 a.m, saying, “Damn, well maybe Sunday? (today) haha.”
Robinson did not respond immediately. This was around the time she was at Artis’s apartment. She would place a call to this man after leaving Artis’s apartment, prompting him to text her back: “Hey? Are you okay?”
By June 2016, school officials concluded that they lacked enough evidence to find Artis culpable of sexual assault. A draft report of the school’s findings stated: “a preponderance of the evidence supports that the Reporting Party [Robinson] was not incapacitated.”
Another draft report, dated July 18, found “photographs, text messages, call logs, and witness accounts that reflect that it is more likely than not that the Reporting Party was not incapacitated during her sexual contact with the Responding Party.”
Still, the school decided not to clear Artis, opting to wait until it received the toxicology report from the urine and blood samples taken at the hospital. That would not be received until October, fully seven months after the alleged crime. But it would throw into doubt much of what the witnesses remembered about Robinson’s behavior.
In the meantime, after determining that university police would clear Artis, Robinson and her attorney took advantage of a North Carolina law that allows civilians to press charges against others without police action.
All Robinson needed for the “civilian warrant” was to show Orange County Magistrate Jamie Paulen photos taken of her at the hospital and present her side of the story. Paulen, who previously served on the Board of the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, issued the warrant for Artis’s arrest on Sept. 13, 2016.
Immediately afterward, Robinson, her father, and Branch, her lawyer, held a press conference where they accused Artis of rape and claimed the police had mistreated Robinson.
Robinson said police asked her a string of “humiliating and accusatory questions” including: “What was I wearing? What was I drinking? How much did I drink? How much did I eat that day? Did I lead him on? Have I hooked up with him before? Do I often have one-night stands? Did I even say no? What is my sexual history? How many men have I slept with? I was treated like a suspect.”
She also said investigators treated Artis much differently, laughing with him and telling him not to worry. At that news conference, Branch displayed a photo of Robinson taken at the hospital that appeared to show large, purple and black bruises covering nearly all of Robinson’s neck.
Video and transcripts from her interviews suggest Robinson was not mistreated by investigators. She was asked about her clothing because, as Investigator Barbee later said, Robinson said she was missing items and police needed to know what to look for.
Transcripts also show that Robinson knew why she was being asked about the amount of alcohol she consumed. “For court, right, right,” she said. Barbee further explained that defense attorneys would ask such questions and he wanted “to go ahead and cut those off at the knees.”
Transcripts also support Barbee’s denial that he asked Robinson accusatory questions regarding her sexual history. He did ask if Robinson and Artis had exchanged phone numbers, but he explained that he did so to see if there would be relevant evidence in their communications. Just before Robinson and her attorney went to the magistrate, Branch also sent a lengthy letter to UNC-Chapel Hill claiming it had mistreated her client and had done “nothing” to help her.
The school pushed back hard. It detailed several efforts to help Robinson: issuing her a parking pass for therapy appointments and notifying her professors confidentially of her situation to ensure she would be accommodated academically. It was UNC officials who urged Robinson, repeatedly, to file a formal complaint with the school, which she finally did. The school issued a “no contact” order against Artis within days, to keep him away from her, and agreed to help her pay her medical bills.
More important, UNC was following the Title IX guidelines. Under the Obama administration, schools were told that cross-examination – a tenet of due process – could be hurtful to accusers in sex assault cases. So procedures were tilted in their favor, with accused students like Artis losing the right to an attorney in university investigations -- and the ability to question witnesses and accusers.
Even though Artis never faced a school hearing, he was interviewed repeatedly without an attorney, while being assured by police he shouldn’t worry, according to transcripts. The school, however, regularly shared information with UNC police, which allowed the police to get around due process, since those rules don’t apply to college campuses. Responding to Robinson’s lawyer, UNC’s vice chancellor and general counsel, Mark W. Merritt, sent a letter demanding that Branch cease publicly accusing the university of mishandling the case.
“I also want to be clear that the false public accusations that you have made are contrary to the interests of survivors of sexual assault,” Merritt wrote. “For survivors of sexual assault to be willing to come forward, there must be belief that the process works.”
The day after the charges were filed, Artis retained counsel himself, hiring Kerry Sutton, a well-known Durham attorney who had successfully represented a student involved in the 2006 Duke lacrosse team rape hoax, and her law partner Steve Lindsay. Sutton sent her own cease-and-desist letter to Branch, and accused her of altering the photo of Robinson’s neck.
Shortly after Robinson and her attorney persuaded the magistrate to file charges against Artis, Barbee was made aware of two other women who were accusing Artis of sexual assault. He shared this information with the district attorney. One woman was from another university and came forward after Robinson’s press conference. The other accuser knew Artis in high school, when both she and Artis were minors.
The Courts Take Over
Artis turned himself in after the warrant was issued and was released on an unsecured bond. For the next year, suspended from the football team, he remained in legal limbo after the district attorney’s office, which had taken the case after the citizen’s warrant was issued, found reasons to delay his trial.
When the toxicology report arrived in October, it only muddied matters further. It showed Robinson’s blood alcohol content was 0.15 – almost twice the legal limit at which a motorist is considered impaired. This figure conforms to Robinson’s account of how much alcohol she had consumed. A woman of average size, like Robinson, would typically consume four or five drinks to register 0.15. And though behavioral reactions to alcohol vary greatly from person to person, the toxicology report seemed to undercut witness accounts that Robinson was merely tipsy. Yet it also raised a key question: If her friends couldn’t tell she was drunk, how could Artis?
While Robinson’s attorney claimed the blood test proved Robinson could not consent to sexual activity, the school found she did not meet the definition of incapacitated because of how she acted toward others at the Chi Psi party (helping the intoxicated woman, for one) and her ability to walk, text and dress herself.
One drug was also found in Robinson’s system, Doxylamine, a sedative found in over-the-counter sleep medications. The report made no indication about how the substance got into Robinson’s system. The presence of this drug raised no concerns for investigators, likely due to its common usage and limited presence in Robinson’s system.
Meanwhile, the prosecution was running into problems with the accusations from the other women. Text messages provided to District Attorney James Woodall by the second accuser’s roommate made it clear that this accuser wanted to have sex with Artis. Woodall determined he couldn’t use her as a witness on May 25, 2017, according to Barbee’s notes on the investigation. Yet at a hearing on June 8, Woodall declared that he had “identified” two other accusers, but would not “commit to a number” about how many would actually testify, leaving open the implication that more than two might do so.
While the case in criminal court was proceeding, UNC-Chapel Hill issued a statement saying that “a preponderance of the evidence does not support a finding that the Responding Party forcibly sexually assaulted the Reporting Party on February 14, 2016.” This was some five months after Robinson’s press conference.
Robinson appealed that ruling, and withdrew from the university in early February, according to a late revision of the UNC investigative report. On April 28, 2017, UNC’s decision to find Artis not responsible was upheld. A week later, Sutton filed a complaint with the North Carolina state bar against Denise Branch, alleging ethical violations related to the photograph and extensive and unjustified pre-trial publicity on the part of Robinson’s attorney.
At the June 8 hearing, Orange County District Court Judge Charles Anderson made the unusual move of encouraging the two sides to enter mediation instead of going to trial. The prosecution, at the behest of Robinson and her attorney, would not relent. At a hearing on June 23, Artis’s attorneys argued behind closed doors that Woodall shouldn’t be able to refer to the other two accusers if they weren’t going to testify, so as not to further poison their client’s reputation in the media with unsupported or false accusations.
As the crowded courtroom waited, attorneys for both sides met in chambers with the judge for three hours. Twice Woodall came out to retrieve Branch. The second time she returned from the judge’s chambers, her facial expression darkened. She had been asked by the judge about the photo from the press conference, according to Artis’s attorney.
Artis’s attorneys agreed to a proposal from Woodall: If Artis would attend a mediation meeting, the charges would be dismissed. On June 29, Kerry Sutton, her partner Steve Lindsay and Artis attended mediation in one room, while Robinson, her father and her attorney were in another room. Artis and Robinson did not see or speak to each other during the process, and what transpired is unclear.
At her own press conference later, Sutton presented another photo of Robinson provided to her by the district attorney and taken at the same time as the allegedly altered photo presented by Branch. This photo appeared to show the marks on Robinson’s neck were hickeys -- and not from choking.
Artis was free and clear to return to the football team and his life.
Allen Artis returned to UNC’s football team after the charges were dismissed and started as a safety in the team’s opening game this fall against the University of California. He is considering a civil suit against the school and others for damage to his reputation and prospects that he sustained during his 17-month ordeal, including a year of lost eligibility after being suspended from the team.
Accused students such as Artis who have gone through the campus-rape investigation process have been suing at an increasing pace over the past half-decade since the Obama-era sexual assault guidance was issued. More than 200 lawsuits have been filed, with varying but increasing success.
The police found insufficient evidence to support Robinson’s accusation of rape, but because North Carolina law allows private citizens to bring charges against each other, Artis found himself facing a trial. Throughout the 2017 North Carolina legislative session, attorney Kerry Sutton and others worked to raise requirements for using that law going forward. On July 21, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law a measure authorizing a magistrate to issue a criminal summons, not a more serious arrest warrant, only if a complaining witness puts the allegations in writing in the form of an affidavit.
At a meeting in Washington, D.C., on July 13, Artis and other men accused of campus sexual assault got a sympathetic hearing from DeVos. And now her Education Department is proceeding with replacing the Obama campus-rape policies, aiming to restore normal due process for the accused while ensuring protections for victims of sexual assault.
Having left UNC, Delaney Robinson could still sue the university, alleging her case was mishandled. She and her attorney declined interview requests from RealClearInvestigations.
But the costs for all concerned already have been high. People familiar with the case say Artis’s legal bills could stretch into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, after attorney and expert fees, court costs, polygraphs and other expenses -- especially if he files a civil suit.
After the charges were dismissed against Artis, Denise Branch released a statement to the press.
“The parties worked diligently at mediation to resolve this matter to their mutual satisfaction resulting in a dismissal of the charges,” she said. “The resolution is confidential. Delaney has suffered immeasurably and hoped that today’s resolution could begin her healing.”
Yet this is a case where no one emerged unscathed.