Wright State professor resigns while under investigation

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Wright State professor resigns while under investigation

A Wright State University education professor resigned in May amid a four-month university investigation into accusations that he raped one student and sexually harassed other students.

The university’s Office of Equity and Inclusion launched the investigation of Jason Fruth, 37, on Feb. 19 after a graduate student filed a complaint claiming she had been raped by the professor, WSU investigative records obtained by the Dayton Daily News show.

Fruth denied the rape and harassment allegations and a criminal investigation by the Beavercreek police led to no charges.

He was placed on paid leave on Feb. 22 and resigned on May 31, two weeks before Wright State’s investigation was completed.

Following her complaint to WSU, the graduate student filed a complaint with Beavercreek Police on March 2 alleging Fruth had raped her in the early hours of Jan. 1, a police report shows.

Fruth was not charged following a Beavercreek police investigation. Police told the Dayton Daily News the case is closed and the Greene County prosecutor reviewed it and declined to file charges.

Wright State’s investigation uncovered allegations of 29 instances in which Fruth engaged in what the university considers inappropriate behavior. Students reported to Wright State that Fruth told them they were attractive, sent messages with photos of himself shirtless, and made sexual jokes, among other things.

Fruth was an assistant professor in Wright State’s College of Education and Human Services. He was hired as an instructor at Wright State in September 2011 and was promoted to an assistant professor in 2016, according to documents in his personnel file. At one point in his career at the university he also served as co-director of the intervention specialist program.

His biography, which has since been removed from WSU’s website, stated that he has worked with state and federal agencies as the lead investigator on projects to end sexual violence.

The graduate student who made the rape allegation was a student who worked for Fruth, according to the police report.

While Fruth has not been charged with a crime, Lindsay Wight, interim director of Wright State’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, concluded he broke three university policies, according to a report detailing the investigation’s findings.

The first violation was that he had sex with someone who was intoxicated and unable to give consent. That was the finding involving the case in which the student claimed she had been raped.

The second violation was that he had a sexual relationship with a student, who he had “direct supervisory authority over,” and did not report it to his superiors. Relationships where a “professional role-based power differential” exists between two people are discouraged by university policy. But, WSU policy states that if such a relationship emerges, the person in the position of power has a duty to report the relationship to their immediate supervisor.

The third is that he sexually harassed the student who accused him of rape as well as other students who did not work for him, creating a “hostile working and learning environment,” according to the report.

Fruth declined to comment when the newspaper contacted him in June and could not be reached to comment this week after several messages were left on his phone. Attorneys who represented Fruth at the time the March police report was filed did not return calls for comment.

The student who claimed Fruth raped her declined to immediately comment on the story stating she wanted to speak to her legal representation.

‘Frozen and unable to move’

The alleged incident that led to the rape accusation against Fruth began on Dec. 31, 2016.

The student who accused Fruth of rape said she and her friends had been drinking in celebration of New Year’s Eve, according to the WSU investigative report obtained through a public records request. The student said at some point in the night she and two of her friends went to Tuty’s Bar and Grill in Fairborn to continue drinking and celebrating.

The student texted Fruth “Happy New Year!” according to copies of the text messages in the investigative report. Fruth responded with three emojis of a woman dancing in a red dress and joked that it was actually an emoji of himself.

The two texted about “adding” each other on the messaging app Snapchat. The student asked Fruth “If I were yours, what would you do?” and Fruth responded “Snap me and I’ll show you.”

The student asked Fruth to come to Tuty’s because she was drunk and did not have a ride home, according to text messages in the investigative report. Fruth later told WSU that the student “exhibited sober behaviors” and that she did not seem drunk.

Fruth picked the student up from Tuty’s after midnight, telling her over text message that he drove to Fairborn from Middletown, the report shows.

The student told WSU that she was so intoxicated that a friend had to help her to Fruth’s car and that she could not remember the drive home nor arriving at her apartment. Fruth though said that the student gave him directions to her apartment, according to Wright State’s report.

The student told investigators she recalled being in her room and Fruth taking off her dress but she said she did not remember giving him consent, according to the report.

The student told Wright State that during sexual intercourse she felt “frozen and unable to move” and recalled thinking to herself “what is happening?” Fruth told investigators that the sex was consensual.

In a letter to Beavercreek police, Greene County prosecutor Stephen K. Haller said that charges would not be filed because the student could not remember if she gave consent, that there was no actual evidence she was impaired by alcohol and because she and Fruth exchanged flirtatious and sexually suggestive text messages before the alleged rape.

Rape cases based on intoxication are hard to prosecute because intoxication is tough to prove unless corroborated by witnesses, said Becky Perkins, communications director for the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence. While needing a ride home may “theoretically” seem like evidence, it’s difficult to show someone was intoxicated because by the time a victim usually seeks help, the alcohol has left their system, she said.

“The criminal justice system is based on things that can be proven and it’s difficult to prove,” Perkins said.

Few college sexual assault and rape cases ever end in convictions or arrests, a 2016 Dayton Daily News investigation found. Just five of 79 cases at eight Ohio universities examined by this newspaper led to arrests in 2014 and 2015, while none led to convictions.

In 2014 and 2015, Wright State police investigated nine alleged rapes, one of which led to an arrest in 2016.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told this news organization last year that “people have to understand an intoxicated woman cannot give consent.”

“There has to be a discussion about consent, that an intoxicated person cannot give consent,” DeWine said. “Not only does it need to be discussed in schools, it needs to be discussed in homes.”

Student worked at WSU

The student told Wright State that she hesitated to report the incident, fearing that she would lose her job because Fruth was her boss, according to a Beavercreek police report.

On Feb. 19, the student notified the university that she wanted to file a complaint against Fruth.

In a statement on the matter, the university said “The University’s Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) received a complaint alleging a violation of the University’s Gender-Based Harassment and Violence Policy. In accordance with policy, the OEI promptly conducted and completed an investigation concerning the complaint.”

Following her encounter with Fruth on New Year’s Eve, the student told Wright State officials he made her feel uncomfortable on other occasions.

In mid-January, the student told Fruth via text message that she had not been paid for her work and he offered to pay her out of his own pocket. The student declined the offer, according to text messages between her and Fruth that were compiled in Wright State’s investigative report.

She also told the WSU investigator that Fruth would assign her tasks that would require her to come to his office. She became so uncomfortable with the requests that she made up excuses and asked other people to complete the tasks, according to the report.

The student told WSU that Fruth had previously sought a relationship with her when she was a sophomore at Wright State.

The student said Fruth told her “that he would like to see her in her underwear, told her repeatedly that she was pretty, asked her how someone like her was single, and told her that he would treat her better than anyone her own age.”

One time when the student was at a North Carolina airport, she texted Fruth to let him know she was stuck at the airport and would not be able to attend his class, according to the report.

Fruth called her and said he had ordered her a car to take her to a hotel he had paid for. The student told investigators she considered that a “weird gesture” and said she did not have much more contact with Fruth as an undergraduate, according to the report.

Fruth told Wright State that such gestures for his students were not out of the ordinary for him to make. He also said he once helped a female student pay to have her car fixed so she could get to class, according to the report.

Other allegations

Wright State’s investigation also examined a sexual relationship Fruth allegedly had with another student. Fruth was accused of having sex with a student in his university office, though he denied the allegation, according to WSU.

The student confirmed she had a relationship with Fruth but declined to be interviewed for WSU’s investigation, according to the report. While Fruth denied having sex with a student in his university office, three witnesses stated that he had.

In 2014, a different student accused Fruth of sexual harassment but did not want to file a formal complaint with the office of equity and inclusion, according to the report. The report does not say whether Fruth contested the allegation.

That student requested that the university address the issue with Fruth “so as to prevent this from happening to someone else.”

The student told Wright State that Fruth invited her to lunch off campus and while she was in a car with him, he touched her leg and made inappropriate comments, according to the report.

The director of Wright State’s office of equity and inclusion spoke to Fruth following the alleged 2014 incident and thought that the discussion was “effective in stopping the objectionable behavior with respect to” the student, according to the report.

While no formal complaint was filed against Fruth in 2014, spokesman Seth Bauguess said the office of equity and inclusion’s meeting with him was documented.

Dayton Daily News staff writer Josh Sweigart contributed to this report.

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