Texas Rangers investigating Baylor's response to sexual assault claims

The Texas Rangers, the state's top criminal investigation agency, have opened a preliminary investigation of Baylor University's handling of allegations of sexual assault by students, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman told ESPN on Wednesday.

The Texas Rangers opened their inquiry two days after a group of legislators asked the agency to examine how Baylor officials and the university's police department responded to allegations of sexual assault.

Tom Vinger, press secretary for the Texas Department of Public Safety, wouldn't comment beyond confirming that the Rangers were conducting a preliminary investigation.

"The Texas Rangers are working with the local prosecutor to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if further action is warranted," Vinger said in a statement to ESPN.

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio who introduced Texas House Resolution 664 calling for the criminal investigation last week, expressed satisfaction on Wednesday that the Rangers had opened a preliminary investigation.

"I'm very proud of the fact that our elite team of investigators has seen that there's a need to go in there and look at what happened over the last five to six years and really to see if there's an obstruction of justice," Gutierrez said Wednesday on the Capital Games podcast with ESPN's Andy Katz and ABC News' Rick Klein.

In a news conference on Monday with fellow state Democrat lawmakers Reps. Ana Hernandez, Carol Alvarado and Diana Arevalo, Gutierrez demanded more accountability for "the obstruction of justice that has happened at Baylor University."

"What has happened here in Waco, what happened at Baylor, is so far different from any university in the state," Gutierrez said. "We can't stop bad things from happening, but we sure as hell can demand accountability. We sure as hell can demand that people protect our children."

Baylor has been under intense scrutiny since the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton produced a scathing review of the university's Title IX processes in a report in May 2016. The findings led to the firing of head football coach Art Briles, the demotion and resignation of former university president Kenneth Starr and the resignation of athletic director Ian McCaw.

McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna told ESPN on Wednesday that he has asked Baylor's general counsel to voluntarily turn over materials reviewed by Pepper Hamilton attorneys that were acquired during the inquiry into how the university responded to allegations of sexual assault.

Reyna said he also has asked the Rangers if they would review the materials should Baylor officials voluntarily turn them over. In the findings of fact that Baylor officials released in May, the university said Pepper Hamilton interviewed 65 current or former employees and students and reviewed emails, text messages and a myriad other materials.

Reyna said Baylor officials already have turned over information about specific cases involving sexual assault and other criminal conduct to his office.

"The information that was referred to in the Pepper Hamilton report -- the laundry list of what they did -- right now we're in discussions with the general counsel's office about voluntary disclosure to the Texas Rangers," Reyna said. "It's very early on. I'm merely facilitating the communication and disclosure of it to the Rangers for them to review. I don't investigate; they investigate it."

Reyna said Baylor officials, including university police officers, have consulted with his office about best practices for conducting Title IX investigations, including how to interview witnesses.

Seven federal lawsuits have been filed against Baylor, including five filed on behalf of women who allege the university failed to properly respond to and address allegations of sexual assault committed by students, including football players.

NCAA enforcement staff has interviewed former Baylor administrators, Title IX investigators and some of the women who alleged football players sexually assaulted them as it continues to investigate whether its rules were violated during the school's sexual assault scandal. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is also investigating Baylor, and representatives of that office were scheduled to be in Waco, Texas, this week to meet with students and faculty members.

Gutierrez called for a "sizable reduction" in the allocation of Tuition Equalization Grants that the state provides to Baylor University until "full accountability is realized and concrete measures are in place to make certain that nothing like this ever happens again at Baylor or any other university in Texas." Baylor, a private school, was allocated more than $10.4 million in TEGs in the 2016 fiscal year.

Gutierrez also asked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that at least $5 million be allocated from the Department of Public Safety in order to carry out a comprehensive Texas Rangers investigation. Gutierrez said he plans to speak with the governor's office and with DPS director Steven McCraw soon regarding his requests.

District Attorney Reyna wasn't immediately available for comment. Sources told ESPN's Outside the Lines last fall that the district attorney's office was examining police incident reports to determine whether additional players might be charged with crimes, and whether Baylor officials, including football coaches, might be charged with obstruction of justice or tampering with witnesses.