An Arapahoe County judge issued a highly unusual ruling this week ordering Clyde Surrell — one of the football players at the center of a University of Colorado recruiting scandal — be prosecuted on charges of sexual assault stemming from an incident in 2000.
The alleged victim in that case, who has asked to be identified only as Julie, has spent the past several years trying to get prosecutors to file charges against Surrell. In April, she asked a judge to take the case away from Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers, who had declined to pursue it.
In court filings, Julie’s attorney said Chambers refused to prosecute not because of a lack of evidence, but because she didn’t want to get involved in the “three-ring circus” surrounding CU athletes.
On Monday, Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos Samour granted her request. He’s expected to appoint a special prosecutor from another county or private practice in the next few weeks.
“It’s huge … it’s awesome,” Julie said. “I’m really, really, really excited about it. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, to be honest with you. It’s been eight years of them saying ‘no,’ and people telling me I don’t have a case, or I do but it’s been too long … It is very gratifying to finally get some validation after eight years.”
Attempts to locate Surrell using public records on Wednesday were not successful.
‘Very high burden‘
The lawyer who filed the motion requesting the case be prosecuted, Boulder attorney Baine Kerr, won a nearly $3 million settlement from CU for two women who claim they were raped at a 2001 recruiting party. The December 2007 settlement ended a years-long recruiting scandal sparked by the off-campus party.
Surrell — who played for CU from 2001 to 2004 — was among the players and recruits at that party, and a female soccer player later accused him of sexually assaulting her in a dorm room that night. Boulder County prosecutors never filed sex-related charges against any of the athletes. Surrell did plead guilty to providing alcohol to minors.
Julie and the motion her lawyer filed provide the following account of the alleged 2000 assault and the investigation: Julie, then 18 and a cheerleader, said she was assaulted at a party of Eaglecrest High School students in Aurora in 2000. Surrell had just graduated from the school and been picked as a CU football recruit. She drank too much and passed out, waking up to the realization that she’d been raped, according to police.
The woman agreed to have her phone tapped, and in those conversations, Surrell denied ever having sex with her.
“I swear I did not do anything to hurt you,” he said then, according to a report from the Aurora Police Department. The report also states that when the woman asked Surrell, “You didn’t have sex with me?” he answered, “No.”
But the police report said DNA evidence collected from a rape kit linked Surrell to the alleged assault.
Then, in an interview with 9News last year, Surrell said he and the woman had consensual sex.
Julie says investigators at the time were prepared to bring her case to court. She cites as evidence including an arrest warrant that was never executed and a letter from prosecutor Karen Pearson to Aurora police Detective Ronald Hahn that said she was ready to press charges.
But Julie declined to go forward with the case. Her father was dying of leukemia at the time, and Julie said she had attempted suicide.
When she changed her mind, Julie said, prosecutors stonewalled her.
Kerr, Julie’s attorney, said it’s extremely unusual for judges to question a prosecutor’s decision not to file charges in a case. A judge seeking to overturn a prosecutor’s decision must be able to show that it was “arbitrary, capricious and without reasonable excuse.”
“It’s a very high, high burden to meet the proof that’s required for a judge to take a case away from a prosecutor,” he said. “It’s very gratifying.”
‘An ethical obligation’
Kathleen Walsh, a spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office, said the facts of the case — not politics — influenced Chambers’ decision not to press charges.
“We have an ethical obligation — we cannot take a case to trial unless we have a reasonable belief that we will get a conviction. After a review of the evidence, we did not believe we could get a conviction in the case,” she said. “Another DA’s office reviewed (the) case and came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to warrant filing.”
Walsh was referring to Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson, whose office last summer reviewed the case and agreed with Chambers’ decision.
Kerr, Julie’s attorney, said the review was incomplete and informal. He said Larimer officials also had a conflict of interest because they had previous dealings with Chambers’ husband, defense attorney Nate Chambers, who represented Tim Masters, a suspect convicted of murder in Larimer County in 1999 who has since been exonerated.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Ryan Morgan at 303-473-1333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.