When Michael Burch – a former assistant wrestling coach – met William McCormick III on Sept. 13, 2006, he fit the role of an accused rapist. McCormick was a 6’4”, 275-pound, lumbering heavyweight wrestler who was asking help from Burch in dealing with a sexual assault charge that had just been filed against him. The case against him was strong; the charge was extreme and the University told Burch that physical evidence was coming. McCormick even seemed like a guy who would take advantage of a girl; he was a big, strong, and socially awkward student who was adjusting to his first few weeks in college. After meeting with McCormick – who was adamant about his innocence – Burch could tell that he was scared, and for good reason. The young woman who had accused him was Marcella “Beth” Dresdale ’10, daughter of the founder of a $2.1 billion equity firm and an essential donor to the University, Richard Dresdale ’78 P’10.
McCormick’s Life Is Turned Inside Out:
When they began their lives at Brown in fall 2006, McCormick and Dresdale were both freshmen living in the same residential hall. They met, like most other new students, during the icebreaker activities of orientation, quickly becoming friends within the first week and exchanging both phone calls and emails. After a few days, however, Dresdale’s contact with William dwindled, even though he continued to email and call her regularly. The situation came to a head on Sept. 5, 2006, seven days into their stay at Brown, when Dresdale spoke with her Residential Counselor accusing McCormick of acting “creepy” and stalking her. On Sept. 7, Dresdale made a sexual harassment complaint against McCormick.
Brown’s reaction to the allegation was swift. On Sept. 8, McCormick was ordered to move all his belongings across campus without any assistance from the University. He was also forced to drop two of his courses because they were in the same building as some of Dresdale’s classes. He was restricted to only eating at dining halls and participating in clubs located on Pembroke Campus. During this time, however, Dresdale did not file an official report with the Providence Police Department.
After learning about the initial charge, McCormick contacted Michael Burch about becoming his faculty advocate for the impending student hearing. Burch took McCormick’s case and anticipated a student hearing on the sexual harassment complaint, but there never was one. Instead, on Sept. 13, 2006, Dresdale’s Residential Counselor, Shane Reil, lodged Dresdale’s second complaint via email that McCormick raped Dresdale on the night of Sept. 6. Brown police immediately removed McCormick from campus, even though it would later be discovered that the allegation had not been reported to the campus police, and took him to Michael Burch’s house. Within 14 hours of the rape charge being filed, McCormick was on a plane back to his home in Wisconsin, never to return to Brown again.
While in Wisconsin, Richard Dresdale’s attorney, Joe Cavanagh of the Rhode Island law firm Blish-Cavanagh, allegedly pressured McCormick into signing a waiver that forbade him from ever returning as a student to Brown, indefinitely prohibited him from traveling to Providence without the permission of the Dresdale family, and required that he seek approval from the family before he could apply to any graduate school, fearing that Beth may be attending the same one. On Oct. 15, McCormick officially withdrew from Brown – having never received his student hearing – citing a previously existing seizure condition. This condition caused him to have about one seizure a day since childhood, but by the time he returned home to Wisconsin, he was allegedly having 20-30 seizures a day. In Sept. 2009, McCormick filed a complaint against Richard Dresdale, Marcella Dresdale, and Brown University claiming wrongdoing in his dismissal from Brown.
Richard Dresdale Plays Dirty:
Richard Dresdale’s influence over Brown stems from his significant donations to the University. He has a medical school scholarship named after him. He and three other donors were lauded for their “extraordinary generosity” in building the Brown Rugby field. He is one of only 54 members of the Brown Annual Fund Leadership Council. He is on the board of directors for the Brown University Sports Foundation. He is a past recipient of the H. Anthony Ittleson ‘60 Cup, which is given to extraordinary donors to the Brown Annual Fund. By contrast, McCormick was attending Brown on full financial aid.
From the beginning, Dresdale tried to use his wealth and influence to force McCormick out of the University. On Sept. 6, the day after Beth Dresdale accused McCormick of stalking her, Richard Dresdale emailed former Associate Vice President Ronald Dalgliesh ’91. Dalgliesh indicated that the issue was going to be resolved with the help of Shane Reil, Beth’s Residential Counselor. On Sept. 7 Beth Dresdale writes a sexual harassment complaint. On Sept. 9, Richard Dresdale went to Providence to take Shane Reil out to dinner at fellow alum and also wealthy private equity manager Habib Gorgi’s ’78 home and watch a football game with Beth Dresdale. On Sept. 11, Shane Reil wrote Richard Dresdale an email saying that Beth Dresdale had mentioned her father would “help straighten out a path for [his] future,” that he was thankful Dresdale was “making [him]self available to [him] as a mentor” and that he and Beth were “becoming very close.” Two days later, Reil filed the rape charge — retroactively changing the original sexual assault complaint — against McCormick and allegedly included vicious character attacks against him.
Dresdale’s influence didn’t stop with Shane Reil. He also asserted his authority over President Ruth Simmons. Not only was Dresdale one of the biggest donors to Simmons’s university, but they were also business partners. Dresdale’s Fenway Partners worked closely with Goldman Sachs (where Ruth Simmons was on the board of directors at the time), and they were involved with the takeover of Simmons (no relation) Mattresses – according to a report by PR Newswire. On Oct. 3, Dresdale emailed Simmons saying, “Ruth … I am working to resolve the matter with the student who attacked Beth — the goal is to have him withdraw from Brown and not have a University hearing. This will enable Beth and the other students to avoid having to come in contact with the student and face questioning from his advocate [Burch].” Consequently, there never was a student hearing.
The Deans Engage in Misconduct:
Richard Dresdale wielded such considerable influence that he was able to prevent any semblance of a fair trial for McCormick. Not only were the deans unwilling to give McCormick his due process, but they were also instrumental in his dismissal. In an interview, Burch singled out Associate Dean Terry Addison, then-Interim Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Russell Carey ’91 (who personally handed McCormick his one-way ticket home), and then Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Dean for Student Life Margaret Klawunn, whom Burch described as a “ringleader”. The only dean whom Burch claimed was privately sympathetic to McCormick was former Associate Dean of Student Life Robert Samuels, who told Burch, “We are all scared for our jobs.”
Perhaps it was this fear that prompted the deans to perform a wholly inadequate job of granting McCormick a fair trial. They allegedly disregarded, hid, or tampered with vital pieces of evidence in the case
The first instance of alleged misconduct by the deans occurred when witnesses re-wrote character assessments for McCormick, a highly unusual and dubious action. The original statements, which the Spectator has obtained, described McCormick as an average freshman with no outward signs of violent tendencies. What makes the deans’ integrity questionable is that the new assessments – from the same students, whom Burch claimed at the time may have rewritten their accounts at the prompting of the deans – came back as acerbic assaults against McCormick’s character, a curious result considering that these students had not seen much of McCormick in between the writing of these assessments since he had already been removed and barred from campus.
One of the more puzzling aspects of the entire case was the fact that the rape was not reported to the Providence Police Department or the Brown Campus Police. In an interview with both Margaret Klawunn and Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Jonah Ward that the Spectator conducted on May 2, 2012, when asked if “it would be unusual for an egregious sexual assault not to be reported to the police” Klawunn responded, “Absolutely” and Ward concurred saying, “Right, right.” One can only wonder why neither Klawunn nor Ward – both involved with the McCormick case – reported to the Providence Police after Dresdale filed her complaint.
The deans also appear to have ignored a closer examination of the incident’s timeline. Beth Dresdale claimed that the rape occurred on the evening of Sept.6, curiously the same day that she spent the entire afternoon discussing the “creepy” McCormick with her RC and a University advisor. Furthermore, just hours after the alleged rape occurred, Dresdale and McCormick were seen together at a birthday party in their dorm. In two separate emails to Terry Addison – both dated Sept. 15 – two witnesses described Dresdale and McCormick as behaving normally. When this detail was brought to their attention, Klawunn and Carey proceeded to keep McCormick out of Brown, while Dresdale enjoyed college life at her father and grandfather’s university.
Perhaps the most destructive misconduct that deans committed was concealing evidence from McCormick and his advocate Burch. In the entire rape case, there was only one piece of supposed evidence against McCormick: a pair of ripped boxers. Beth Dresdale claimed to have the pair of boxers that she was wearing when McCormick allegedly ripped them off and proceed to rape her. This being the one and only alleged piece of physical evidence in the entire case, Burch rightfully asked to see it in order to examine it for finger prints and DNA — anything to help determine McCormick’s innocence. The deans refused. In an email from Terry Addison, dated Sept. 25 he said, “The boxer shorts will not be entered as material evidence. References to the shorts in witness statements will not be stricken” i.e. witnesses can still claim that the boxers were ripped off. In an email to Spectator editor Ryan Fleming dated May 3, 2012, Ward wrote, “If there is a question about sexual activity, any reasonable evidence to help determine the truth would be admissible and reviewed by both the complainant and respondent.” That, unfortunately, does not appear to be a right afforded to William McCormick.
Richard Dresdale Gets Caught in the Act:
In April 2010, Burch discussed part of the story to the Brown Daily Herald. A few months afterwards, Richard Dresdale began to target McCormick’s advocate. In fall 2010, he hired a private investigator to intimidate Burch.
On Sept. 27, 2010, a package addressed to Michael Burch was delivered to the house of his girlfriend, a single mother. Burch had not shared the location of his girlfriend’s house to any of his coworkers and was disturbed that someone had located him at that address. Upon opening the package, Burch discovered an invitation to a free meal at McCormick’s attorney’s – Scott Kilpatrick – favorite restaurant, the once popular Down City Diner in downtown Providence. When he arrived for dinner, he learned that two anonymous women had paid for his meal. The next day, he received a call from a woman claiming to be in charge of a company that delivers anonymous gifts, inquiring whether he had enjoyed his dinner. When Burch questioned her about the company, she hung up. The message to him was clear: People were watching his and Kilpatrick’s every move.
Through court subpoenas, Burch was able to trace the calls back to former New York Police Department Detective Patrick Brosnan (whom Dresdale glowingly praises in an online testimonial), the current CEO of Brosnan Risk Consultants, an investigative firm. Brosnan had been hired by Richard Dresdale to “keep a close eye on Burch, out of concern for his daughter.” Dresdale had paid $10,000 to Brosnan so that he could keep constant watch on Burch.
Shortly after the incident, Kilpatrick – a former Assistant Attorney General, in the Criminal Division for Rhode Island – filed a motion to default for the ongoing case of McCormick vs. Dresdale on account of witness intimidation, i.e. that the defense – Dresdale – would automatically default (lose) their case. After a deposition of Brosnan, Kilpatrick withdrew his motion to default and stopped the witness intimidation investigation. In a letter dated Nov. 8, 2010 Burch wrote to Kilpatrick “Scott…you are acting like someone who has been threatened. If this is baseless, then I really need some very, very good explanations for why you are taking such a different tact since Brosnan’s deposition.”
Burch, fearing for his own safety, was granted a temporary restraining order against Dresdale and filed an official complaint with the Pawtucket Police Department. Despite initial enthusiasm for investigating the case, the police quickly responded that they would not pursue the investigation. Burch speculated that it could have been because of Dresdale’s influence went beyond Brown University to elected officials (i.e. Democratic Senator Jack Reed, to whom he donated $3,300 in 2007) as well as Dresdale’s firm, Fenway Partners, receiving significant investments from the Rhode Island’s state pension fund, $15 million according to Pensions and Investments.
Not Just Isolated Cases:
A case like this seems like an anomaly. It cannot be too often that a university like Brown is seemingly willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of one of its students simply to protect their endowment funds. Unfortunately, there is evidence that Brown’s actions in the McCormick case may have been the rule, not the exception.
In September 2009, just three years after the McCormick incident, there was another eerily similar case. A student, who wishes to remain anonymous, approached Michael Burch — who was known for advocating on behalf of McCormick — seeking help after being accused of sexual assault.
The student dated the daughter of another wealthy member of a private equity firm throughout the 2008 school year until they had a tumultuous break-up during the summer of 2009. After the break-up, the daughter allegedly filed a sexual assault complaint with Brown Police but told them not to process it. Then the student claimed that he was indirectly warned by a Brown police officer that there was a potential charge against him. Upon learning this, the male student contacted Michael Burch asking for help.
At Burch’s suggestion, he filed a slander charge against the female student. However, for nearly three months neither Burch nor the male student knew if there was an official complaint filed against him. They claim to have repeatedly visited, called, and emailed Brown Department of Public Safety, Jonah Ward, and Margaret Klawunn asking if there was an official charge, but they never received a clear answer.
After months of asking, Brown officials finally told the male student that a formal complaint was never filed against him. He claimed that he was advised by the university to not proceed with his complaint and let both charges fade away since he was graduating later that year.
The male student wished to proceed with his slander charge, seeking an apology from the female student and a retraction of her statements. He was told to meet with Dean Richard Bova. The student claims that Brown would not allow Burch to attend the meeting. When they finally acquiesced, neither Burch nor the student could make the meeting in time. Days later, the student claims that he was told that the meeting that they had missed was in fact the judicial hearing for the case and that the University would not disclose the outcome of the hearing. Having a student hearing without the accuser being present would contradict statements made in the interview with Klawunn and Ward, where Ward clearly stated that at any judicial hearing the accused, the accuser, an advisor and a student conduct panel would be present.
The McCormick case was not entirely unique in Beth Dresdale’s history. Two years into the McCormick case, a former high school teacher of Beth Dresdale’s revealed that he allegedly had a similar experience and that during Beth Dresdale’s freshman year of high school, she was involved in another sexual misconduct scandal.
In spring 2003, Beth Dresdale was allegedly caught cheating on a 10-point quiz by her science teacher, who wished to remain anonymous for this story. Following the teacher’s personal policy on cheating, he did not give Beth a zero on the quiz, but instead talked with her privately about the incident and discussed the possibility of retaking it. After their discussion, Dresdale accused the teacher, who had 32 years of experience, of sexual harassment. According to the teacher, Richard Dresdale quickly became involved, taking the case to the police. The police dismissed the claim and told the school to handle the situation. Within a week the teacher was escorted out of the school and was later released. Following the incident, Beth Dresdale transferred to an all-girls private school in the fall.
Following his coerced withdrawal from Brown, McCormick sued the University Beth Dresdale and Richard Dresdale. In December 2011 the case was settled after McCormick had been offered approximately $1 million, according to Go Local Providence,who had obtained a secret recording of Kilpatrick discussing the settlement negotiations. McCormick finished his college career at Bucknell University, where he continued to wrestle, and majored in Film. Beth Dresdale graduated from Brown without interruption in 2010.
Burch continued to work for Brown until 2009, when he resigned from his coaching position, claiming that he was pressured to do so. In 2010 the University cancelled his summer teaching contract that he had had for 7 years prior. After his dismissal from Brown, Burch continues to support McCormick’s innocence, saying, “as long as there is a Brown University I will talk about this story for fear it will some day be repeated, whether it be falsely accused students or victimized students who are denied justice, Brown cannot be trusted when their money or public image is at stake. We ought to be thankful that William McCormick stood up against such odds – he did so for a lot of people.”
Klawunn, who headed the case against McCormick, was promoted to vice president for campus life and student services shortly after, while the sympathetic Robert Samuels left Brown not long after the case. Unfortunately, The Spectator could not find any solid evidence linking these outcomes directly to the deans’ involvement in the case.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the case is a loss of faith in the University. Brown is supposedly a place where students can learn, experiment, and express themselves in a protected environment regardless of personal background. The University, however, has punctured that dream. Furthermore, both Beth Dresdale and Brown have unnecessarily called into question the veracity of any rape accusation. Through their actions, they prove accusing someone of sexual misconduct can be used as a means of manipulation. Brown’s unwavering protection of the accuser at the expense of the accused — no matter how much the evidence points in the other direction — is a major flaw in the University’s judicial system. One hopes that what happened to McCormick will never happen again, but with the current judicial structure and Brown’s own track record, there is little reason to believe this will be a unique occurrence.
“I came along with African-American parents who couldn’t read or write all that well, but they brought along traditions from their parents. I would love to live in a world where people are valued on the basis of what qualities they offer as a person, rather than on the means that they happen to have at any given time. …”
EDIT: The interview with Margaret Klawunn and Allen Ward has been uploaded to Youtube