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Parents of UA student who committed suicide file wrongful death suit

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

The parents of a University of Alabama student who committed suicide have filed a Federal wrongful death lawsuit against the University, the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Department, and a wealthy Alabama booster, alleging her rape allegations against the booster were mishandled and ultimately led to her depression and suicide.

The student, Megan Rondini, who was from Texas, originally, told Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Deputies that she was raped by T.J. Bunn Jr. in July 2015. Those allegations against the 34-year-old Bunn didn’t result in charges against him, and a Buzzfeed News story last month detailed several questionable actions taken by both the Deputies and University of Alabama officials.

The lawsuit claims the defendants involved “negligently, recklessly, wantonly, and/or wrongfully acted or failed to act in response to Megan’s reported sexual assault.”

Those failures, the lawsuit states, led to a variety of issues for Rondini, including PTSD, panic attacks, depression, and suicide.

In addition to Bunn, the University and Sheriff’s department, the Rondini family, which is represented by Birmingham attorney Leroy Maxwell Jr., is also suing Alabama’s Title IX director, Beth Howard, and Cara Blakes, a graduate student who was serving as a therapist in the school’s Women and Gender Resource Center.

Prior to the lawsuit filing, Alabama officials responded to the original Buzzfeed story, saying it was saddened by her death and that Buzzfeed “ignored some significant facts.”

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The University said an advocate met Rondini at the hospital on the night she accused Bunn of rape. Later, Alabama provided a counselor when Rondini requested counseling. However, that counselor claimed she had a conflict of interest because she knew the Bunn family, so a second counselor was offered.

In police interview videos Buzzfeed obtained, Rondini said she met Bunn at a local college bar where they both were drinking. Later, he gave her a ride home after she became oddly blackout-intoxicated after what she described as only a few drinks. She told deputies that she doesn’t remember going to her apartment with Bunn or how she ended up in his Mercedes heading to his house.

She remembers telling Bunn once in his bedroom and he told her he wanted to have sex with her, that she had to leave and that she had friends waiting. She told investigators later that “he didn’t really take that.” So, she determined that allowing him to have sex with her was the only way she could leave.

The Rondini family claim Megan’s allegations were essentially ignored by both the Sheriff’s office and the University because those allegations were directed at Bunn – the son of an influential businessman with ties to the Governor’s office. Additionally, the Rondinis claim Megan became the target of police when she refused to drop her allegations.

Because she had taken Bunn’s pistol and a small amount of cash out of his car – after she climbed from his second-story bedroom window to escape him – police could file charges against her.

Months later, as the Rondinis were considering filing a lawsuit, the Tuscaloosa County District Attorney’s Office decided to take Megan’s case to a grand jury – after sending a letter to Megan stating her case was closed – but internal documents obtained by Buzzfeed show that the DA’s office told the Grand Jury that “no sexual assault occurred.”

The family dropped the civil suit and Megan Rondini dropped out of school and returned to Texas. In February 2016, she committed suicide.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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