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COLORADO Investigative committee needs to fast-forward

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

DENVER (AP) -- The committee investigating the athletics scandal at Colorado is going to have to move fast.
The seven-member group won't hold its first meeting until March 2 and that will focus on organizational rules and open meeting law requirements. It has until April 30 to get to the bottom of the allegations of sex, booze and rape surrounding the football program -- not nearly enough time, according to some.
Retired Maj. Gen. Josiah Bunting, a member of the independent panel that investigated the Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal last year, was skeptical of the time frame.
"Their first meeting ought to be this weekend, and they should be meeting continually," Bunting said Friday. "I found at the Air Force Academy that we kept uncovering more things, creating more work.
"They might be able conceivably to come up with a preliminary report," he said.
Didn't happen overnight
The scandal has grown over the past month with numerous accusations against the football program involving sexual assaults, binge drinking and strippers. In all, seven women have accused football players or recruits of rape since 1997.
On Friday, the school appointed longtime assistant coach Brian Cabral as the interim head football coach.
The panel, appointed this week by the Board of Regents, has been asked to determine whether "sex and alcohol are used as recruiting tools."
The committee members will likely want to talk with a number of people, from suspended football coach Gary Barnett and athletic director Dick Tharp to players, recruits and perhaps the alleged victims. There are thousands of pages of depositions that could be read.
"Anyone who volunteers for this has to be ready to drop everything and spend a lot of time on this," panel co-chair Joyce Lawrence said earlier this month.
Asked if she was confident the work could be done, co-chair Peggy Lamm said, "We will see how it unfolds." She said committee members wish they could speed up the process, but declined to answer other questions.
William Erickson is a retired Colorado Supreme Court justice who led a yearlong investigation that was unable to answer key questions surrounding the 1999 Columbine High School massacre that left 15 dead. He said the recruiting panel will need full cooperation from everyone.
Past experience
"We were promised that for Columbine but didn't get it from the sheriff's office and they had the most important information. The same thing could happen here," he said, noting the university committee, like his, will not have subpoena power.
"That leaves you at the beck and call of people you want to appear. They can just keep delaying," he said.
The committee has already had problems, with critics decrying its lack of victims' advocates.
Lawrence was also criticized for saying she wanted to know why some of the alleged victims attended an alcohol-fueled party that allegedly resulted in three rapes. She later said she hadn't meant to imply the women had put themselves at risk.
Another member, a former FBI agent, resigned after it was learned he had given a lie detector test to one of the football players at the party. Still another member, a minister, helped launch a Christian men's movement with former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney.
Regent Jim Martin said he doubts the committee can do the job and the investigation should be handed over to a grand jury.
"The Air Force Academy tried to do its own investigation but they scrapped it and started again," Martin said. An independent committee was appointed after critics challenged the credibility of the initial investigations.