Laura Dunnagan – The Davidson Police Department arrested George “Ward” Coleman ’19, a member of the varsity baseball team, on February 2 on a charge of sexual battery against a fellow Davidson student that occurred earlier this semester.
According to Cristina Shaul, the Town of Davidson Public Information Officer, the victim came directly to the town’s police force and reviewed facts and procedures with an officer.
When asked for comment, Coleman, via email, maintained his innocence against the accusation from a fellow Davidson student.
On Tuesday, February 7, President Quillen met with a group of sexual assault survivors and sent a community-wide email urging students to join the groups and individuals on campus addressing and tackling the issues pervading sexual assault culture. She urged students to take action, writing, “Participate in bystander intervention training. Talk with each other. Ask questions. Learn what consent means. Hold friends accountable. Look out for each other, even when it’s awkward or hard.”
The following Thursday, more than one hundred students participated in a silent protest during baseball practice. The purpose of the “Sit in for Survivors” was to show support for sexual assault survivors while adding pressure to athletic staff to suspend Coleman from the team throughout the duration of his criminal proceedings.
Coleman was also suspended from Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Phi Delta Theta President Colin Brown ’18 commented, “When we heard of the charge, Ward was suspended from the fraternity for an indefinite amount of time. Prior to this cause, our administration took the initiative to create a bylaw that mandates the immediate suspension of any and all brothers under investigation for any sexual offense. As a chapter, we take all accusations of sexual assault seriously.”
The most circulated student response has been an online petition, created by members of Rape Awareness Committee and sexual assault survivors, asking for Coleman’s suspension from the baseball team. As of Tuesday, February 14, 892 members of the Davidson community had signed the petition.
Coleman’s arrest follows a high number of reported rapes at Davidson. There were 15 reported rapes in 2015, 12 reported on-campus rapes in 2016, and 64 reported sexual misconduct cases in the past three years. (1) Because of Davidson’s small student population, these numbers place the school at the top of several statistics as reported by the U.S. Department of Education. The Charlotte Observer reports that “from 2012-14, Davidson reported 33 on-campus forcible sexual offenses, ranking it first in the Carolinas and 31st nationally among private, nonprofit four-year universities.” Additionally, Davidson’s three-year total of sexual offenses ranked ninth among all colleges with fewer than 2,000 students. (2)
Though the reported numbers are comparatively high, Dolores Stafford, a national expert in issues surrounding campus assaults and former police chief at George Washington University, reported to the Charlotte Observer that this indicates a campus culture that “invites and supports students who come forward” and a school system that has “more programs and watchdogs in place.” According to Stafford, Davidson’s high comparative numbers show the school is “trying to be proactive.” (3)
According to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office website, Coleman was charged with sexual battery, an A1 misdemeanor. This is the highest class of misdemeanor offense in North Carolina and has a punishment of 1-60 days of community, intermediate, or active punishment.
Wilmington criminal defense attorney Patrick Mincey ’03, who has much experience representing college students charged with sexual assault crimes, says the minimum of community punishment usually entails a suspended jail sentence and probation. A conviction for the offense has a maximum punishment of up to 150 days in jail. Additionally, a conviction of sexual battery in North Carolina requires the assailant to register as a sex offender and be placed on the North Carolina registry for a minimum of ten years.
Davidson College released a full statement on February 8. The statement expresses the College’s concern about sexual assault, support for survivors, and active efforts toward education about and prevention of sexual assault. That statement is available here.
Charlotte attorney Chris Fialko is represent ing Coleman. Fialko claims that Coleman is innocent of the charge. Coleman’s next court date is March 2.
(1) http://www.wbtv.com/story/34470239/davidson- college-responds-to-report-of-sexual-assault-oncampus; https://www.davidson.edu/offices/public-safety/ campus-crime-stats
(2) https://ope.ed.gov/campussafety/#/institution/ details; http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/ crime/article131771859.html
(3) http://www.nccourts.org/Courts/CRS/Councils/ spac/Documents/misdemeanorpunishmentchart.