Over one year after 21-year-old Megan Rondini committed suicide, a new report is giving insight into the abuse she experienced at the hands of the wealthy man who allegedly raped her and the police who covered it up.
When Rondini was found dead on Feb. 26, 2016, the only note she was accompanied by was an intake form for SMU’s mental health center, in which she revealed that she thought she was “better off dead” more than half of the time, and she listed her major life crises as “Raped, bullied by police, changed university,” according to a report from Buzzfeed.
Just one year before she ended her life, Rondini was attending the University of Alabama on an honors scholarship. She had a 3.8 GPA, she was part of a coveted MBA program, and she was working after class at a lab studying Alzheimer’s disease.
However, all of that changed in July 2015, when Rondini accepted a ride home from one of the wealthiest men in Tuscaloosa. T.J. Bunn Jr. or “Sweet T” is a member of the ST Bunn Construction family. His father and the owner of the company, Terry Bunn, is listed as one of the most influential men in Alabama, in addition to being “an influential University of Alabama donor and supporter.”
When Rondini reported her encounter with “Sweet T” to the police, she did so after escaping from his mansion, going to the hospital for a forensic exam, and then arriving at the police station in the middle of the night, according to the report from Buzzfeed.
“The 34-year-old later told authorities he offered 20-year-old Megan a ride home because he and a friend saw her leaving downtown Tuscaloosa alone. Megan couldn’t remember how she ended up in Sweet T’s white Mercedes on the way to his ornate mansion … But, Megan later told police, she was sober enough by the time he pointed her toward his bedroom to know she didn’t want to have sex with him—and, she said, Sweet T should’ve known it, too.”
Alabama’s rape law states that the victim must be an individual who “engages in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex by forcible compulsion,” or who is “incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless or mentally incapacitated.”
Buzzfeed reported that because the investigator who interviewed Rondini “quickly decided she hadn’t fought back against Bunn—she hadn’t ‘kicked him or hit him,’” the investigation concluded that “no rape occurred,” and the investigator then began “building a case against Megan, questioning her for multiple crimes she wasn’t even aware she had committed.”
“She did everything that she could to protect herself and to get help,” Megan’s father, Mike Rondini, told Buzzfeed. “She should have gotten that help, and she didn’t. That is a failure on everybody’s part.”
The report also noted that in Tuscaloosa, all sexual offense cases are handled by a multi-agency homicide department, and it is up to a grand jury to decide if the cases move forward.
However, according to the captain of Tuscaloosa’s homicide department, up to 50 percent of all reported sexual assaults are labeled “special inquiry,” which means that “the victim does not know what or if anything happened” and the investigators don’t think the accusations will result in criminal charges.
“As of February, only 10 cases out of 98 sexual assault reports in 2016 were heard by a grand jury, and 12 out of 124 from 2015. (Those numbers don’t include a few dozen cases that are still pending.) The county district attorney’s office couldn’t say how many sexual assault cases in Tuscaloosa led to formal charges, because it did not begin using a computerized tracking program until late last year.”
Instead of taking her allegations seriously, investigators picked apart Rondini’s story. She claimed that after Bunn forced her to have sex with him, he passed out, and she couldn’t get out of his room. She said she tried to escape from the second-story window, but then couldn’t find her keys, and went on a frantic search that included taking a gun she found in Bunn’s car because she was leaving the house in the middle of the night, alone. The part about Rondini taking the gun was the part investigator Adam Jones seemed intent to focus on.
“Before I ask you any questions, you got any reasoning behind why you did what you did?” Jones said.
“What do you mean?” Rondini said.
“I just need you to tell me, once we get into the questioning, what your reasoning was about why you did these things,” he said.
“I was never going to hurt anybody with it,” Rondini said, crying. “I got it just to protect myself but I don’t eat meat, I could never kill anything, even if it came to that point I wouldn’t have been able to use it on a person.”
Eventually, Jones returned to Rondini’s rape allegations. “Based on your statements to me, you said that you never resisted him,” he said.
“I did resist him,” Rondini said, listing the ways she did, from repeatedly telling Bunn she wanted to leave to turning away when he kissed her. “I wanted to go home,” she said. “He didn’t take me home.”
“Look at it from my side,” Jones replied calmly. “You never kicked him or hit him or tried to resist him.”
Ultimately, with help from the Tuscaloosa police, Rondini never filed charges, and Bunn was never held accountable. Rondini left Tuscaloosa and transferred to SMU at the end of the fall 2015 semester, before taking her own life in early 2016.
Following the release of Buzzfeed’s report, the Bunn family was quick to release a statement, claiming that the report “distorted or disregarded matters of fact.”
“While a police investigation found no evidence of sexual assault, the young woman admitted to acts that subjected her to possible criminal prosecution,” the statement from the Bunn family said. “At one point, the young woman’s family took steps to bring civil action against various parties who are the targets of these unfounded accusations. Such action would undoubtedly include demands for financial compensation.”
The University of Alabama also released a statement, insisting that the recent news accounts “do not tell the full story.”
“Information published by news outlets this week has unfortunately ignored some significant facts,” the statement from UA said. “When Megan went to the hospital, a University advocate met her at the hospital to provide support and stayed with her throughout the examination process.”
The Rondini family’s lawyer, Leroy Maxwell Jr., told AL.com that the family is planning to file a federal Title IX complaint against the University of Alabama by the end of June.
“Megan was loved by everyone who came in contact with her. Her loss is everyone’s loss,” Maxwell said. “Title IX, the University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s department and the overall judicial system in Tuscaloosa let her down on every level. Through litigation our firm is committed to doing everything in our power to shine a light on Tuscaloosa’s systemic problem with sexual assault.”