OSU student is charged with sexual battery
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer & SAMANTHA VICENT World Correspondent
Thursday, December 13, 2012
12/13/12 at 12:59 PM
STILLWATER - An Oklahoma State University student who was suspended by the university over allegations that he sexually assaulted at least four male students was charged Wednesday with three counts of sexual battery, records show.
Five students told administrators between Nov. 12 and Nov. 28 that Nathan Michael Cochran, 22, had sexually assaulted them, and university discipline panels ruled Nov. 30 that four of the complaints were justified, university officials told reporters in a teleconference Wednesday.
Administrators encouraged the accusers to report the crimes to police but chose not to notify police themselves out of respect for the accusers' privacy, OSU Vice President and General Counsel Gary Clark said.
The Stillwater Police Department began the investigation that led to the charges after a reporter with the university's student newspaper asked police about the allegations Dec. 6.
An officer wrote in a Payne County court affidavit that two men had confirmed allegations of sexual abuse, but Stillwater Police Capt. Randy Dickerson said investigators have spoken with six possible victims and that there may be dozens more.
Cochran turned himself in at the Stillwater Police Department on Wednesday night and is to be arraigned in Payne County District Court on Thursday, Dickerson said.
The Oklahoman reported that Cochran previously served as secretary of the university's Interfraternity Council. He also served as a student director for Gundyville, a program that allows OSU students to camp near Boone Pickens Stadium before home football games.
According to the police affidavit, one man told police that Cochran touched him and performed oral sex on him after he fell asleep at a house in Stillwater as the two prepared to watch a movie Aug. 15.
Another man said Cochran touched him Nov. 3 while they were in an OSU dormitory, according to the document. That man showed investigators text messages in which Cochran apologized and asked him "not to ruin his life," the document says.
School officials said they didn't know whether the men interviewed by police were among the same students who talked to university officials.
"We don't know who has gone to the police," university spokesman Gary Shutt said. "Those students in the (discipline panel) hearings, that's maybe as much as they wanted to do."
Shutt told The Oklahoman earlier this week that the university did not inform police of those students' allegations because the Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act prohibited them from doing so.
However, a provision in the act says institutions are not prohibited from informing police of possible crimes.
Clark said in Wednesday's teleconference that state Department of Education officials told him administrators could have told police after the Nov. 30 discipline panel rulings, which is when the university determined that crimes had occurred.
But because the victims are adults, the federal law would have prohibited administrators from releasing their names without their written permission, Clark said.
"If you think about it, if we had provided that information let's say on the earliest date we could have, which was Nov. 30, (and) we couldn't provide them the names of the victims, what would police be able to do with that information?" he said. "Nothing, as far as I could tell."
He added that releasing the accusers' names would have "kind of revictimized them." He pointed to one man who called administrators after the initial news media reports this week.
"He said, 'You haven't given my name to police, have you? Because my dad would kill me,' " Clark said.
"That's not our place to force them by giving their name to police."
Clark said the first accuser reported the alleged abuse in writing Nov. 12 to the Office of Student Conduct, which oversees fraternities and sororities.
Cochran was a member of the FarmHouse fraternity, but police do not believe that the alleged acts were connected to the fraternity, The Oklahoman has reported.
The second man reported his allegation Nov. 13, and three more did so Nov. 28, Clark said.
The latter three were added to a Nov. 30 discipline panel hearing that had been scheduled Nov. 19, he said.
The hearing consisted of five separate panels for each accuser, each panel with a faculty member, a staff member and a student hearing the allegations.
The panels' rulings prompted the university to suspend Cochran for three years beginning Dec. 14, the last day of the semester, and to order him to avoid contact with the accusers.
At each stage, administrators urged the accusers to contact the police, and they did so again after Stillwater police opened their investigation, Clark said.
He added that if administrators believed students were in danger, they would have contacted police under a provision of FERPA that allows information to be released during emergencies.
That was not the case because the alleged abuse involved people Cochran knew and did not constitute random assaults, Clark said. Administrators also believe that Cochran has been away from campus for weeks, he said.
"We're here to support our students and to respect their privacy rights," he said. "Our goal is to try to follow the law as best we can, and that's what we've tried to do at every step of the way."
He added that he believes the news media have treated the university unfairly over its decision not to report the allegations.
"We haven't enjoyed being bashed in the press - and we think unfairly - for trying to follow the law as best we understand it," Clark said.
"To be quite honest, it seems to me that the press has tried to indicate that we've tried to hide something, and that's not true."
Original Print Headline: Student is charged in assault case
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
Nathan Michael Cochran