The parents of a former University of Alabama student are suing school officials, the local sheriff, and others, alleging that their insufficient handling of their daughter’s alleged rape led to her suicide. Megan Rondini was allegedly raped in the summer of 2015, after becoming intoxicated or being drugged at a Tuscaloosa bar, the lawsuit says. Law enforcement and school officials ultimately determined not to pursue any charges, the complaint claiming that this was because the alleged assailant’s family had community connections and were substantial donors to the university.
The lawsuit states that Megan was at a bar on July 1, 2015, and left with Terry Bunn and another man, going to Bunn’s home. Megan asked to go home, the complaint says, but Bunn, who is named in the lawsuit, allegedly refused, took Megan to his bedroom and raped her.
Megan then went to the hospital for treatment and had a rape kit prepared, but law enforcement officials never had it tested, the complaint says. As a result, the only physical evidence of the alleged assault was that Megan tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease that she allegedly got from Bunn. The complaint says that investigators who were on the case did not adequately question Megan about what happened, nor did they speak with any of Megan’s friends who were at the bar with her on the night in question, or any of the bar employees.
The district attorney later told Megan’s father that they were not pursuing the case because during her police interview, Megan didn’t refer to the incident as a “rape,” but a “sexual assault,” the complaint says.
Bunn, according to the lawsuit, belongs to a prominent Tuscaloosa family. The complaint alleges that during the investigation, Bunn’s lawyers spoke to a Sheriff’s deputy who was on the case, and the deputy said he was “just kind of waiting to see how far she’s gonna push this.”
According to court documents, Megan sought counseling when she returned to school for the fall 2015 semester, but the counselor refused to treat her after learning the details of the situation, because she knew Bunn and felt there was a conflict of interest. Megan was then referred to another school counselor, who allegedly wouldn’t treat her until she obtained medication. Meanwhile, Megan was experiencing emotional distress and concerns, as Bunn, 34 years old at the time and not a student, was free to visit campus and she was afraid of seeing him.
Later that semester, Megan decided to withdraw from the school and go back to her home state of Texas. The school said they would help her with whatever was necessary to assist in her withdrawal and transfer to another school, but the complaint claims that they failed to notify Megan’s professors and for months would not respond to requests for a letter of good standing, which was required to complete a transfer to a new school.
Megan received treatment for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder upon her return to Texas, but on February 26, 2016, she hanged herself.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, blames the investigators with the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office for inadequate investigation due to “deliberate indifference,” and also names Sheriff Ronald Abernathy for negligent hiring, training, and supervision. Also named in the lawsuit are the school’s Title IX officer, who allegedly failed to properly assist Megan, and a school counselor for not providing necessary services, despite allegedly being aware of Megan’s psychiatric condition.
Bunn’s lawyer, W. Ivey Gillmore, told AL.com that the allegations are “baseless” and “simply false.” Gillmore also said, “Unfortunately, bringing this matter before the courts in this civil action will only prolong grief without changing the reality.”
The Rondini family’s lawyer, Leroy Maxwell Jr., said that they and the university also went through mediation, but the details are confidential.
In a statement posted on the University of Alabama the day after the lawsuit was filed, the school said:
The University of Alabama has been deeply saddened by the death of Megan Rondini, and we continue to offer our sympathy to her friends and family. The University supports the staff and dedicated work of its Title IX office and the Women and Gender Resource Center, but will not otherwise comment on the substance of the lawsuit. The University remains committed to providing a safe learning environment for all students. As part of its efforts, and specifically in regard to sexual assault, the University has been working closely with partners throughout the Tuscaloosa community to help raise awareness, prevent and support victims of sexual assault.
[Image via CBS screengrab]