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Attorney says OSU band director was wrongly fired as audio recording surfaces

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jul 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-28 18:57:22-04

The attorney for Ohio State University’s fired marching band director contends the university report that led to Jonathan Waters’ firing was “deeply flawed.”

Waters, a former assistant band director and former sousaphone player in the marching band in the 1990s, was fired last week after a university investigation concluded he “knew or reasonably should have known about sexual harassment that created a hostile environment.”

“The report is deeply flawed. Out of 225 band members, over an eight-week period, Ohio State University managed to interview exactly four, including the person who made the complaint, and three people to whom she referred the university,” Waters attorney David F. Axelrod said on Monday.

Axeldrod added that of the thousands of local OSU alumni, the university interviewed just five during its two-month investigation. “With that sort of a skewed sample, the report does not accurately portray anything and cannot be relied on for the facts.”

The report, released last Wednesday, described longtime traditions in the band like sexually explicit nicknames and something called the “midnight ramp,” in which band members entered the stadium through a ramp wearing only their underwear. The report alleged staff members, including Waters, were present for the annual event.

Axelrod denied this allegation during an interview with CNN on Monday. “They did not march on the field in their underwear. That’s something, even in that area, the report couldn’t get it right,” he said.

Axelrod says the so-called “midnight ramp” was not a mandatory event but a “welcoming practice.” He described an e-mail he received from a former band member.

“No one who didn’t want to participate had to participate. If you didn’t want to march in your underwear, you didn’t have to,” the attorney said in detailing the e-mail. He went on to say the woman who sent him the e-mail “wore a tank top and gym shorts when she marched in it.”

“I’ve gotten e-mail after e-mail from former band members saying exactly the same thing,” Axelrod said..

An audio recording, purportedly of Waters yelling and cursing at a band member, surfaced on Sunday. On the tape released by Ohio State University, the fired band director is heard shouting at a member who contradicted him during practice.

“You ever do that again after we’ve given you a direct g*****n order, and you’re done. Do you understand?”

Axelrod conceded Monday that Waters knew about some of the band’s bad behavior, but he said Waters did “everything he possibly could to end it.”

“You know he experienced inappropriate behavior as a rookie band member himself. He was deeply affected by it and that’s why as band director he did everything he could to stop anything inappropriate,” the attorney said.

But the university didn’t think Waters did enough in the 21 months he led the marching band, first as interim director, then as band director.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” OSU President Michael Drake said. “We expect every member of our community to live up to a common standard of decency and mutual respect and to adhere to university policies.”

The university has appointed former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery to lead an independent task force to further investigate the situation and ensure steps are taken to change the band culture, Drake said.

The Ohio State University marching band is considered one of the best college marching bands in the country. The band calls itself “the best damn band in the land.” It shot to fame with an amazing halftime show tribute to Michael Jackson in 2013 that has garnered millions of YouTube views.