Florida State University officials and Tallahassee police took steps to both hide, and then hinder, the criminal investigation into a rape allegation against the school's Hesiman-trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston last fall, a FOX Sports investigation has found.

The upshot: University administrators and Winston’s attorney, Tim Jansen, had a head start on the state attorney in Tallahassee responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious crimes. Florida State administrators, for instance, had all the police reports at least four days before State Attorney Willie Meggs was handed the case.

After learning in December of 2013 that no charges would be filed, FOX Sports examined thousands of pages of documents -- including law enforcement files, e-mails and other correspondence as well as video and audio interviews conducted by detectives and other records -- through a series of requests filed with multiple agencies under Florida's public records laws.

Among the findings:

-- The university's police chief obtained original police reports as well as supplemental reports from Tallahassee police on Nov. 8, 2013, at least four days before the case was turned over to Meggs, the local prosecutor responsible for investigating serious crimes and filing criminal charges.

-- The university's police chief forwarded the reports to a high-ranking administrator in the Florida State athletic department, and within days they ultimately wound up in the hands of Winston's defense attorney -- also before Meggs was notified of the case and launched his own investigation.

-- Two critical witnesses -- Florida State football players who said they were present the morning of the alleged assault -- discussed the case with Winston's lawyer and ultimately signed affidavits at his behest backing the quarterback's version of the incident. That happened before law enforcement officers tried to talk to them about what they saw and remembered, a dramatic road block in the state attorney's effort to determine whether Winston should be charged with rape.

-- That same high-ranking administrator in the athletic department sought information from the university's police chief about a reporter seeking the reports on the allegations against Winston.

-- The second-highest ranking officer in the campus police department ran interference with another reporter seeking information about the allegations, terming them a "rumor" that he was glad he could "dispel."

-- Both of those police officials were involved in updating Florida State administrators on the case and helping formulate the school's public relations response in the first days after the explosive story became public.

These new revelations come as Florida State is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation into its handling of the rape allegation against Winston in December 2012. After his DNA was matched to genetic material found on the woman’s underwear, his attorney asserted publicly that they’d had a consensual sexual encounter. Investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are looking at whether the university’s administrators complied with the requirements of the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX.

Among the things that federal investigators can examine is the conduct of school administrators once they learn of an alleged sexual assault. Title IX requires that colleges and universities receiving federal money conduct prompt investigations into allegations of sexual assault against students if they know about them -- or should know about them.

In this case, the woman who alleged she was raped made her initial report to the university’s police department within hours of the incident. The university police then turned the case over to the Tallahassee Police Department after determining the incident occurred off-campus. School administrators, by their own admission, did not attempt to interview Winston until January 2014 and contend the woman was uncooperative up until August 2014 -- something her attorneys vehemently dispute.

Winston, whose attorneys have repeatedly maintained is innocent of any wrongdoing, separately faces a university investigation into his conduct, which is being carried out under Title IX. Although that investigation cannot result in criminal charges, he could be accused of violating the school’s student code of conduct. If he were to be convicted of a serious violation of the Florida State conduct code, such as sexual misconduct, the penalty could be as severe as expulsion.

Friday, in the face of repeated inquiries in recent weeks by FOX Sports and other media organizations, Florida State University officials released an "open letter" to the school community that included a timeline in the case. In that letter, Florida State officials acknowledged for the first time that officials in the athletic department helped Winston find an attorney and failed to notify the school's Title IX coordinator.

“The first time anyone at FSU outside the campus police and Victim Advocate Program learned about the alleged sexual assault was in January 2013, when a Tallahassee PD detective called the athlete on his cellphone,” the school’s letter said, in part. “The athlete immediately notified the Athletics Department, where officials referred him and his family to a Tallahassee attorney.”

The school’s letter also said that athletic department officials failed to notify the school’s Title IX coordinator -- an issue that federal investigators are almost certain to examine closely.

John Clune and Baine Kerr, two attorneys for the woman who alleged Winston raped her, released a statement in response to the Florida State letter calling it “a little preventive damage control.”
In the weeks leading up to today's release, multiple Florida State officials failed to respond to requests for interviews from FOX Sports.

Browning Brooks, a spokeswoman the school has designated to field questions about the allegations against Winston, declined in an email to discuss the actions of Florida State administrators or their communications with law enforcement officials about the incident, saying she could not respond “because you are asking about a specific case.”

Brooks also declined a follow-up request for an interview for this story and has repeatedly cited student privacy laws as the reason she could not comment.

Tallahassee police officer David Northway, the department’s spokesman, did not respond to multiple messages left by both telephone and e-mail.

Meggs, the top prosecutor in Florida’s capital city for nearly 30 years, told FOX Sports recently he was handicapped in trying to conduct a proper investigation of the case. Meggs said he called attention to the fact that university officials apparently turned copies of the police report over to Winston’s attorney days before his office even knew the allegation existed.