Skip to comments.David Wu, future Oregon congressman says he is sorry for his "inexcusable behavior" 28 years ago
Posted on 10/13/2004 11:56:22 AM PDT by crushelits
The couple met their freshman year at Stanford University, two bright science majors who shared a new circle of friends. She was a hard-working idealist and active campus volunteer. He was a chatty pre-med student whose interests would later shift to law and politics.
David Wu, future Oregon congressman, and the woman later dated in their junior year. But that spring, in 1976, she broke things off. A few months later, an encounter occurred that neither wants to discuss.
That summer, the 21-year-old Wu was brought to the campus police annex after his ex-girlfriend said he tried to force her to have sex, according to Raoul K. Niemeyer, then a patrol commander who questioned him.
Wu had scratches on his face and neck, and his T-shirt was stretched out of shape, Niemeyer said.
Earlier, someone had interrupted a scuffle in the woman's dorm room. A Stanford professor said the woman told him the next day that Wu had angrily attacked her. An assistant dean who counseled the woman for two months said that the woman called it attempted rape and that Wu used a pillow to muffle her screams.
Wu told police that what happened was consensual. "He said, 'We just, I was with my girlfriend, and we just got a little carried away,' " Niemeyer remembered. After that, he said, Wu "clammed up."
Wu, 49, issued a statement today admitting to "inexcusable behavior on my part," confirming that he was disciplined by Stanford and asserting that he worked with a counselor after the incident.
"As a 21-year-old, I hurt someone I cared very much about. I take full responsibility for my actions and I am very sorry," he said. "This single event forever changed my life and the person that I have become." Wu's admission comes after The Oregonian published its account of the incident today. He previously had declined multiple requests for interviews about the matter and did not respond to written questions. His campaign manager had said the Portland Democrat would not answer "unsubstantiated allegations."
Wu was not arrested. The woman ultimately declined criminal prosecution and did not file a formal disciplinary complaint, former Stanford officials said. But before the next school year began, Wu was "de-selected" for a job as a dormitory resident assistant, a professor who would have supervised him said.
With Wu running for his fourth term in the 1st Congressional District this year, The Oregonian investigated a recurrent rumor that he had been accused of a sexual assault during his college years.
Versions of the story have circulated behind the scenes among Democratic insiders since Wu's first run for Congress in 1998, when it figured in the unexpected resignation of his campaign manager.
Although the newspaper found that Wu did face serious accusations in 1976, some aspects of what happened remain hidden by the passage of time, by the fact that police and university records have been purged or are confidential, and by the unwillingness of Wu or the woman to tell their versions of events today.
Wu's ex-girlfriend steadfastly has declined to comment, both in person and through an intermediary, citing privacy concerns.
Reporters contacted scores of former Stanford students, current and retired university officials and professors, law associates, and former
campaign staffers and friends of Wu to determine what occurred.
Current Stanford officials would not discuss what happened between Wu and the woman or the university's handling of the matter, citing university policy and student confidentiality laws.
The account that follows is based on recollections of the Stanford patrol commander, the woman's counselor, two professors who supervised dormitories at the time and several classmates who were on campus that year.
Wu not arrested
Wu and the woman met as freshmen at their co-ed dorm in the Florence Moore complex.
They were among a dozen or so students who grew close that year, then remained friends during their years at Stanford. They began dating in 1975, said Susan Thibodeaux, a friend of the woman's. But she said the woman split with Wu in the spring of their junior year.
No one recalled the date of the altercation in the woman's dorm room that summer.
Neither could Niemeyer remember how police became aware of the incident. But Niemeyer, a captain who retired from Stanford's Department of Public Safety in 1999, distinctly recalled speaking with Wu after officers brought him in for questioning that day.
Niemeyer did not supervise the investigation but said he was called in as a senior officer because he had extensive experience handling sexual assault cases. He said Wu was fingerprinted and photographed and had "some visible, telltale injuries on him." Niemeyer did not see or meet with the woman but said his officers told him that she was bruised and that she and Wu previously "had some type of a relationship."
"Whether it was an amorous one or whether it was just platonic or what, I never was able to determine because, you know, the guy, he basically clammed up after that and wouldn't talk," Niemeyer said.
Niemeyer said the other officers reported the woman's story to him: "Basically, that 'he was forcing her, that she didn't want to have sex, but she doesn't want to prosecute,' " he said.
"It was a he-said, she-said thing," Niemeyer said. "Based on that, if we would have gotten any kind of a green light, to say, 'Hey, this guy did it and I told him no and he wouldn't stop and I want him prosecuted,' he would have been off to jail."
Wu was not arrested, he said.
George Brown, an English professor who was the resident fellow in the woman's dorm, said she reported her story to him the next day.
Though most students had checked out of the dormitories for the summer, several housing complexes remained staffed by resident fellows who lived in adjoining cottages and supervised dorm operations, including the selection of resident assistants - undergraduates who are paid to live in the dorm and help other students.
Now a professor emeritus at Stanford, Brown said he knew the woman well because of extensive interviews they had when she applied to be a resident assistant that spring. He said the woman described what happened as "a sexual attack," and he found her to be credible.
"I think the fellow actually came and demanded entrance, something like that," Brown said. "It wasn't the outcome of a pleasant evening of wine and roses."
Brown said the woman told him she and Wu had been together before the alleged attack and perhaps had been kissing.
"Then he got more and more demanding," Brown remembers the woman telling him. "And she then put up the resistance and he wouldn't take no, and then he got angry and roughed her up a bit. From what she described, it was quite hostile. It was a mean act. It wasn't an act of just passion."
Brown said the woman told him she wanted Wu to be disciplined and "indicated she was willing to put her reputation on the line and talk about it, and not only to me, but to others."
But Brown said he could not remember how the woman's complaint was resolved.
He said he referred her to either Leah Kaplan, the school counselor who ended up working with her, or Larry Horton, who was then the associate dean of residentia l education, the office that oversaw resident assistants.
Horton, now Stanford's director of government and community relations, said he could recall no such incident. Neither could Norman Robinson, who replaced Horton as associate dean when the school year began and is now retired from Stanford.
Woman turns to counselor
Soon after she met with Brown, the woman turned to Kaplan, a prominent Stanford figure who later became known for her work in rape education and for developing Stanford's policies on sexual harassment.
Kaplan, who counseled the woman for about two months, died Aug. 24 at age 83.
In May, Kaplan spoke to reporters at her home on campus. She had told her son Paul, who relayed a question about Wu from reporters, that she remembered an allegation of sexual assault involving Wu and that the incident was broken up. She agreed to discuss it despite failing health that in recent years left her in a wheelchair and speaking with difficulty because of a tracheotomy.
Kaplan spoke passionately about the incident, pounding her dining room table for emphasis and stating that she remained angry about the way Stanford handled the matter.lack of response from Stanford.
Kaplan said the woman claimed Wu had entered her dorm room, attacked her and wrestled with her. She said the woman told her that she was fighting Wu off and that he tried to silence her by holding a pillow over her mouth.
"She was screaming. He tried to rape her," Kaplan said, recalling the woman's account.
Kaplan said she reported the allegation to Jim Lyons, then dean of students, expecting it would lead to disciplinary action. But Lyons was impressed with Wu's grades and plans to attend medical school, Kaplan said."The dean of students thought he was great," Kaplan said of Wu. "They dismissed everything she said."
Lyons did not ask to see the woman or Wu and decided that day not to investigate, Kaplan said.
Lyons, now retired and living in Palo Alto, told The Oregonian in May that he did not recall meeting with Kaplan to discuss the allegation against Wu. He also said that, for him, a student's academic standing would be "irrelevant" when considering any such allegation.
At the same time, Lyons declined to criticize Kaplan's credibility. "If she said she came to talk to me, then she came to talk to me," Lyons said. "She's a straight arrow. That's probably what happened. I just don't remember."
Stanford's disciplinary policy allowed a student accused of wrongdoing to have his or her case heard by Lyons or by a judicial council made up of students and faculty. Lyons said that for him to proceed, the woman would have to meet with him. Kaplan's involvement wouldn't have been enough, he said.
"If you accuse somebody, you need to be able to explain to somebody what happened," Lyons said. "There are no secret complaints."
Lyons added that if a woman was too traumatized to come forward, "That is the counselor's role: to be at her side to do what they have to do. But a counselor doesn't serve as a surrogate complainant."
Debra Zumwalt, current vice president and general counsel for Stanford, contradicted Lyons, however. She said rules in effect then and now require someone to report improper behavior before the university can consider disciplining a student. But "that report did not have to be by the alleged victim," Zumwalt said.
In July, The Oregonian questioned Lyons again about Wu. He said then that he recalled "the incident" but could not explain further because of student confidentiality. He has declined further comment.
Wu's statement today confirmed that he was disciplined, although the statement did not say who at Stanford handled the issue or describe the punishment.
Kaplan said she did not tell the woman about her meeting with Lyons or the dean's decision. Shesaid she believed the woman's account and urged her to report it officially, but the woman did not.
"If she had wanted to, I would have supported her," Kaplan said. "She felt th ey wouldn't have believed her."
Wu loses dorm job
Campus police did not immediately drop their investigation, even without a willing accuser.
Niemeyer, the campus police commander, said Stanford officers met with the Santa Clara County district attorney's office to make sure there was nothing more they should do. He said they were told, in effect, "You've got to get some definitive action by the victim before we can proceed with this."
But the woman wanted the matter handled by the university, Niemeyer said. He said he heard from people at the university that Wu would be expelled. "I was told the guy was kicked out for life, OK?" he said. "The guy was going to be persona non grata."
Niemeyer said he learned later that had not happened. It came out some months after the alleged attack, when he appeared at a student forum on women's safety issues.
After a student asked him about ways to address sexual assault complaints outside the criminal justice system, Niemeyer described the Wu incident as an example of how the university could punish an offender administratively.
"I mentioned this particular case, not by name, but there was this case where there was this encounter . . . and the guy was kicked out," Niemeyer said. "And they said, 'Wrong!' "
Niemeyer said he was flabbergasted when students at the forum told him the alleged attacker had not been expelled. "They were steamed about it," he said.
Sometime before fall classes began, however, Wu found himself out of a job.
Wu had been selected the prior spring to serve as a resident assistant, or RA, at Stanford's Twain dormitory during his senior year. The post paid $1,050 to $1,350 a year, which most RAs used to pay for housing.
But Lyman Van Slyke, a history professor who oversaw Twain in 1976, said he received word from the campus housing office "that there had been a problem" and Wu had been "de-selected" as an RA. Van Slyke said he never learned specifically what prompted the change, but he presumed it was a "disciplinary incident."
Van Slyke, now a professor emeritus, said he had to find a replacement for Wu before fall classes began. "He came to us and said he was sorry he wasn't going to be able to serve as an RA," Van Slyke said. "He was very distressed and . . . there really wasn't much for us to say except for we're sorry, too."
Wu was in line to be the senior resident assistant at Twain, which had two other resident assistants. He was replaced by Nancy Burrus, who said she was promoted to his job. Burrus graduated in 1977 and is now a Silicon Valley venture capitalist.
After students arrived that fall, a few of the new RAs whispered about the alleged attack and Wu's absence from Twain.
"There was behind-the-scenes conversation because Dave was not an RA, and he had been chosen to be one," said Jane Soyster Gould, who served as an RA in 1976-77, her junior year, and who is now an Episcopal priest in Lynn, Mass. "The residential education office said that, 'We can do this, even if he's not formally charged.' "
Gould said she did not speak about what happened with Wu or the woman. She said her information came from Karen Harrison, who was assistant dean in the residential education office. Harrison told The Oregonian that she did not recall speaking with Gould. However, she said there was only one sexual assault allegation that resulted in a male student losing a position as resident assistant during her tenure from 1971-78.
Harrison, who is no longer with Stanford, said she had forgotten the names of the students involved.
That fall, the woman confided in Peter Buffett, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. He was an 18-year-old freshman at Stanford who lived in the dorm where the woman was a resident assistant.
Buffett said that he dated the woman steadily that year and that she told him about Wu. The story angered Buffett enough that, soon after, he said he clipped out a magazine article about rape, found Wu's car and tucked the story
under the windshield wiper.
"I wanted him to know, 'I'm not going to let you forget what you did,' " Buffett said. "I remember her being hurt that nothing happened (to Wu). I think that's part of why I did what I did, and that I cared for her."
No records on encounter
Reporters searched extensively for records documenting the incident but found none. Sgt. Rick Tipton of Stanford's Department of Public Safety said his office had no reports dated before 1988. Deputy Terrance Helm of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office said the agency had no records with the name of the woman or Wu.
Santa Clara County courts also had no relevant records. Zumwalt, the university's general counsel, said the school could not release records without a student's written consent. On June 28, The Oregonian requested Wu's consent from his attorney, Michael Simon, but received no response.
Zumwalt said a 1974 federal law protects student confidentiality and prohibits Stanford from disclosing information about a disciplinary case "to anyone other than those with a need to know, such as those people necessary to implement a sanction. Thus, even the victim might not know what sanction had been imposed."
The Oregonian spoke with seven Democrats who confirmed that in 1998 they heard about an incident involving Wu and a woman at Stanford. They include Neel Pender, now the executive director of the state Democratic Party, and Maria Smithson, who was Wu's campaign manager when he first ran for Congress that year.
Smithson said she heard the rumor, including the Stanford woman's name, a few days before she quit the campaign three months before Election Day. Though she didn't know whether it was true, the rumor came at a time of growing friction between Smithson and Wu and became "a very small, but final, straw that broke the camel's back," she said.
Pender was the campaign manager for Wu's 1998 primary opponent, Linda Peters. "There was a rumor about an altercation with a female at Stanford," he said. "Before my time at the Peters campaign, that was looked into and there was nothing there. There was nothing to indicate it was true."
The Oregonian first asked Wu's campaign manager, Cameron Johnson, about the incident in early June. He subsequently refused repeated interview requests.
"This is not the time or place for us to go on the record to confirm or deny," Simon said in a June 8 conversation with The Oregonian's lawyer, Charles Hinkle. Earlier that day, reporters had sent Wu a letter asking to meet and discuss an allegation of sexual assault.
Wu has not answered written questions delivered to Simon's office Aug. 3.
Wu, who spent one year at Harvard Medical School before earning a law degree at Yale Law School, is running for re-election in one of the few dozen competitive U.S. House races this year.
Before his election in 1998, Wu had only limited experience with public office and the scrutiny that comes with it. He was appointed to the Portland Planning Commission in 1986 and served for three years. He became active in Democratic politics in 1984, working on Gary Hart's and Walter Mondale's presidential campaigns.
His Republican opponent, Goli Ameri, graduated from Stanford the year after Wu but said she did not know him while on campus. The Oregonian did not rely on Ameri, her campaign staff and consultants, or Republican Party officials and activists for tips or other information developed while pursuing this story.
"his ex-girlfriend said he tried to force her to have sex,"
Maybe he was just trying to look 'presidential'.
Already posted here.
Nah, he was going for a career in basketball.
Are you with me David Wu?
He just needs to hold her down and bite her lip next time.
Are you really just a shadow of the man, that I once knew
He must have been there on a Kennedy scholarship. I wonder did he take "Swimming 101".
Once I had the misfortune of attending an event at OHSU where Wu spoke. He was low-key, but smarmy and superior, a garden variety liberal. And he gave me the creeps. There was something strange about him that I couldn't put my finger on.
This is a purely subjective memory of this man, but after reading this account of his assault on this young woman I'm not at all surprised.
Don't think for one second that this woman was his only victim.