STILLWATER — Prosecutors charged an Oklahoma State University student Wednesday with three counts of sexual battery, accusing him of groping male students after they had fallen asleep.
Nathan Michael Cochran, 22, was charged in Payne County District Court. Each of the three counts carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Police have said there may be additional victims.
An arrest warrant was issued, but Cochran had not been arrested by Wednesday evening.
OSU officials became aware of the alleged assaults when several people told the university's Office of Student Conduct they'd been assaulted. The school elected to handle this as an academic matter and did not notify police. Stillwater police eventually learned about the case through the school's student newspaper.
Before Cochran was charged, Stillwater police Capt. Randy Dickerson said a former member of the FarmHouse fraternity allegedly sexually assaulted an “undetermined number of young men,” some of whom were also members of the fraternity. Cochran is a former FarmHouse member.
The three charges stem from two incidents in November 2011 and a third in August 2012. The incidents occurred in an OSU dormitory and elsewhere in Stillwater, according to court documents.
One man told police Cochran groped him while he was asleep and attempted to place his penis in the man's mouth on Nov. 3, 2011.
A second man told police Cochran groped him in the early morning hours of Aug. 15, while the man was asleep in Cochran's dorm room.
The man said he got up from bed and went to the bathroom and that Cochran texted him about the situation.
He showed police a text message on his phone in which Cochran said “Please I can't ruin my life cause I was black out drunk ... Just text me?”
According to OSU's website, Cochran was active in the university's Interfraternity Council, having served as secretary of the council. He also served as a student director for Gundyville, a program that allows OSU students to camp near Boone Pickens Stadium before home football games.
Cochran did not return calls for comment.
Dickerson said Wednesday that police had interviewed about five men who claimed to have been sexually assaulted. Police think the alleged assaults may have taken place in at least three jurisdictions: Tahlequah, Stillwater and on the OSU campus.
OSU officials became aware of the alleged assaults when the first of five students told the Office of Student Conduct he'd been sexually assaulted. OSU officials opened student conduct hearings against Cochran, but didn't notify police about the alleged assaults. School officials have maintained the Federal Education Rights Privacy Act, or FERPA, prohibited them from notifying police.
The student conduct hearings resulted in Cochran's three-year suspension from the university starting Friday. He was also ordered not to have any contact with the complainants.
OSU defends actions
Gary Clark, the university's vice president and general counsel, said during a conference call on Wednesday that the act prohibits them from releasing the names or information of victims and witnesses in the case.
Included in FERPA is a provision that says the act doesn't prohibit an institution from contacting police to ask them to investigate possible crimes.
But Clark said that provision doesn't override the requirement that the university protect the identities of the victims. University officials could have given Cochran's identity to police immediately after the hearings concluded on Nov. 30. Officials decided not to report that information because they didn't think it would be useful to police, Clark said.
“What would the police be able to do with that information?” Clark said. “Nothing, as far as I can tell.”
Dickerson has said he wished somebody would have notified police of the matter earlier, and delays in such notification can harm criminal investigations.
Clark said he thinks the university's handling of the situation has been unfairly criticized in the press. OSU officials contacted alleged victims repeatedly, encouraging them to call the police, Clark said. None of the alleged victims were interested in involving the police at the time, he said.
“The press has tried to indicate we tried to hide something,” he said. “It's not our place to try to force them to do something they don't want to do in this regard.”
Although they became aware of the alleged assaults last month, university officials never notified police about the incidents.
Stillwater police learned of the alleged assaults Dec. 6, after being contacted by a reporter from the OSU student newspaper. The school first learned of the case on Nov. 9.
What would the police be able to do with that information? Nothing, as far as I can tell.”
OSU's vice president and general counsel, about the university's decision not to tell police the identity of the man now charged in multiple sex assaults