There have been countless articles published at this point about the situation at Baylor University in Waco and the failure of the university to address sexual assault cases of its football players. On Thursday May 26th, the controversy reached its tipping point when the University made the decision to fire head football coach Art Briles. Most articles and information being disseminated tend to point toward Briles and others at the University failing to take appropriate steps to handle accusations that members of the football team had committed sexual assault offenses.
Briles’s supporters have argued is that the head coach never actually received information about the allegations. The counter-argument is that the head coach should always know what is going on with his players, especially if it involves a felony allegation. If there was any hint of an allegation that a player, or players were involved in a sexual assault, common sense tells us that somehow, someway that information will get to the head coach. If true, that begs the question: what should Briles have done?
From a criminal defense standpoint, we also ask the question – if Briles knew that an offense or offenses had been committed by his players, did he do anything illegal by not saying or doing anything about it?
Texas Law and the Duty of Report
Texas law actually establishes an offense for failure to report a felony. In Texas, a person commits an offense for failure to commit a felony if that person observes the commission of a felony under circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that an offense had been committed in which serious bodily injury or death may have resulted; and fails to immediately report the commission of the offense to a peace officer or law enforcement agency. The offense of failure to report a felony is a Class A misdemeanor.
The Texas family code also establishes that anyone who has knowledge or reason to believe that a child is being abused in any way must report that to a peace officer or law enforcement agency. Failing to report child abuse or a sexual assault of a child is also a Class A misdemeanor in Texas.
So, if Briles knew that an offense committed by one of his players had occurred, did he have a duty not only to address that with his University, but also to report it to law enforcement officers? Not likely, if not at all. Under the penal code, a person must actually observe the commission of the felony and in addition, it must be a felony in which serious bodily injury or death may have resulted. While one can argue that serious bodily injury or death can occur in a sexual assault case, there is no information being brought to the public’s attention that Briles actually witnessed anything personally. So, based on the loose knowledge of what is out there right now, he couldn’t be accused of failure to report a felony. In addition, there’s no evidence or allegations existing that indicate there were any children involved in any of these allegations, and so he couldn’t be accused of failure to report child abuse or sexual assault of a child.
In the grand scheme of things, there very well may be those who think that Briles’s actions should be considered criminal and there will be those who will defend him forever. But, to suggest that he’s committed any criminal acts would be irresponsible at this point. There’s nothing that’s been released to the public at this point to suggest Briles has committed any criminal acts.
Coach Briles has lost his job. Perhaps he wanted to focus on his job as a coach instead of his role as a glorified babysitter. But, the fact remains that the safety of young men and women in college – away from their parents – trumps football. And, that’s a good thing.
One shouldn’t expect Briles to be charged with anything criminal, but it should not surprise if the legislature ripped a page from this saga and placed a higher duty on college administrators and coaches to report crimes when they find out about them.