Gian Clavell’s ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Bess, speaks out on domestic abuse case

Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick

After months of feeling like her domestic abuse case was hushed by the University, Stephanie Bess is looking for justice.

For Bess, a junior at Colorado State University and a D1 track athlete, justice looks like having a voice – having a voice to tell the story of her abusive relationship with Colorado State University basketball star Gian Clavell, as well as the University’s mishandling of her case. 

Clavell was arrested twice – in November 2016 and in July 2015 – and Bess was the alleged victim in both cases. Clavell won Mountain West Player of the Year earlier this week.

When Bess found the police had dropped the case against Clavell, she was disappointed by the lack of consequences he received. But, when she sought out advocacy with the University, she was even more disappointed by the lack of support she found.

“I don’t want to keep it quiet anymore because it’s a problem that’s been going on for decades and if nobody’s going to stand up against it, then nothing is ever going to change,” Bess said.

Harassment leads to arrest

Clavell was charged with false imprisonment with a domestic violence enhancement in November as a result of an altercation with Bess, and he was suspended from the CSU basketball team for nine games. The charges were dropped in January.

Gian Clavell and Stephanie Bess dated for about a year and a half. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Bess)

Both student-athletes, Bess and Clavell met in a training room. They dated for a year and a half. Bess said she was in love with Clavell, and she even intended to marry him. She says he was goofy, fun, and her biggest support system.

She also said there was a pattern of abuse.

“He had control issues, he had trust issues, he was very manipulative, and he was very verbally abusive,” Bess said. “I gave him a lot of chances, when you love someone, when you care about someone, you hope that they are going to change.”

Clavell declined to interview with the Collegian, and referred to his lawyer, Erik Fischer, for comments.

According to Fischer, there was no pattern of abuse.

“Mr. Clavell has always asserted that there’s never been any pattern of abuse whatsoever,” Fischer said. 

In an interview with the Collegian on March 2, Clavell said, “The people that really know me know what type of guy I am.”

In an article by The Loveland Reporter-Herald, the reporter describes Clavell as embracing the role of the “villain.” In response to fans holding up his mug shot at games, Clavell told the Reporter-Herald, “At the end of the day, I know what’s true, what’s not. It’s just fun.”

However, others close to Bess said they could confirm the patterns of emotional and verbal abuse. Mason White, who worked at the same mall as Bess during the summer of 2016, became close with Bess after the two broke up. White described the end of Bess and Clavell’s relationship as tense. 

“We started dating at the end of the summer and it was constant – he was calling her, texting her, and if she answered he would be yelling,” White said.

Clavell was arrested Wednesday, Nov. 9, after his ex-girlfriend reported to police that he physically restrained her and continued to contact her after she repeatedly asked him to stop. (Photo courtesy of Larimer County Sheriff’s Office)

White described a time when Clavell left early from a basketball tournament in Las Vegas to drive to Fort Collins to confront her. White said he encouraged Bess to file a restraining order after witnessing these interactions.

Carolanne Winkler has worked at the mall selling make-up across from Bess for over a year now. She witnessed Clavell coming into the mall to confront Bess several times after their break-up.

“He came in a couple of times, one time for quite a while and he was giving her a really hard time,” Winkler said. “You could just tell she was really upset … I think he was pretty nasty to her.”

According to the police report, Bess filed for a restraining order following an incident on Nov. 3. Bess reported Clavell following her out of Moby Arena, cussing at her, yelling, grabbing her arm, and taking her backpack from her. The backpack contained Bess’ phone, wallet and keys.

When he was later interviewed by police, Clavell admitted that he attempted to force her to stay and talk to him during the incident, according to the police report.

Bess said she did not intend for Clavell to be arrested, but her report warranted it. She messaged Clavell the same night to clarify that she did not want him to be arrested.

Reactions: Bess unravels, University quiet

Following the arrest, Bess said she unraveled. She saw a psychiatrist for depression and anxiety, she dropped a course and she felt her athletic career was affected.

“I honestly self destructed – I went through a phase where I thought it was my fault. I put the entire blame on me, and it’s a very common thing that victims do,” Bess said.

According to Bess, during this time she was receiving emails from the conflict resolution center and CSUPD. Because of her experience from when Clavell had last been arrested in June 2015, and for the sake of her mental health, she did not respond, so the legal charges were dropped by the 8th Judicial DA’s office. 

“I wasn’t ready, I couldn’t talk about it,” Bess said.

However, an internal investigation conducted by the CSU Student Resolution Center found Clavell responsible for abusive conduct, gender-based harassment and evidence of violation of the law, according to the case documents provided by Bess. 

The Student Resolution Center could not comment on the case. In an email to the Collegian, Craig Chesson, the Associate Dean of Students, wrote that under FERPA, the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, information about individual students is protected. However, he did comment on the conduct process.

“Students play an active role in the conduct process and receive due process,” Chesson wrote.

According to Clavell’s lawyer, Erik Fischer, he believed the decision was fair.

“He believes he shouldn’t have ever gotten charged, but he was very happy with the outcome and thought it was fair that they ultimately dismissed the case – that was a very positive outcome for him,” Fischer said. “He’s thankful that CSU stood behind him and gave him a chance to finish up his schooling and basketball.”

“He’s thankful that CSU stood behind him and gave him a chance to finish up his schooling and basketball.” -Erik Fischer, Gian Clavell’s lawyer

Although Bess did not intend for Clavell to be arrested, she was surprised by the lack of consequences he faced. She said she feels student athletes should be held more accountable for misconduct.

“Obviously their entire world revolves around sports, and that is a privilege. You are not entitled to be a D1 athlete, you earn that,” Bess said. “My perspective is that your character means way more than your talent, so taking away basketball or football, taking that away from them, I feel like that would encourage them to get some help.”

Bess said she was frustrated by the decision, and by the lack of help she felt she received from the University. This frustration increased during winter break when Bess was unable to use athletic facilities while Clavell was there based on a No Contact Order. 

“I had to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour just to use the facility,” Bess said. “It was like they were punishing me instead of (Gian), which doesn’t really make sense.”

However, Christine Susemihl, the deputy Title IX coordinator for athletics, wrote in an email to the Collegian that in cases where both students must maintain distance, whoever was present first at the gym, or whoever had scheduled an appointment time, is given priority over the other student athlete.

Looking for Change

Bess leaned on her track team to support her through the gym issues and her mounting frustration with the University’s lack of accountability. She said her track coaches are like father figures to her. They encouraged her to go to Susemihl to ask for help.

Bess and Susemihl met a week before spring semester started. According to Bess, Susemihl apologized for the issues with gym use, but discouraged Bess from doing anything more.

Stephanie Bess, CSU Track and Field, Pole Vault
Stephanie Bess is a theater major by day and track star by night. Specializing in pole vault, Stephanie has been competing since her junior year of high school and now stars on CSU’s track team. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

“She was like, ‘If you try to fight against this, you’re only going to be putting gasoline into the fire,’” Bess said. 

Bess said she felt like Susemihl’s priority was protecting the University, and Clavell. According to Bess, Susemihl told her that Clavell had been through enough with his injuries, and pointed out that it was his last year to play basketball.

Susemihl did not confirm or deny these accusations. In an email to the Collegian, she said she would not share information regarding Bess’ specific case, “out of respect for the privacy of our student-athletes and the confidentiality they’re entitled to.”

However, Susemihl did comment on the office’s protocol for helping victims.

“We do our best to provide the most information possible about the resources and assistance available to them at Colorado State, and we try to help them access those resources, if they’re interested. And, we do not discourage them from pursuing what they feel is appropriate or necessary for them,” Susemihl wrote. “Our role is to educate, inform and support them in that process.”

Following the interaction with Susemihl, Bess said she became more inspired to speak out about her relationship with Clavell and the lack of support she received from the athletic department. Although she was hesitant to ask the campus for help, she went to the Women Gender and Advocacy Center at CSU and was relieved to find the office ready to support her.

“(I want) to show what the University has done to me, so that people are aware that the University isn’t just rainbows and butterflies,” Bess said. “There are a lot of secrets and there’s a lot of unfairness, and there’s a lot of double standards going on.”

Bess is a full-time student, an athlete who has placed at championships and a part-time employee, but when she gets the time she plans to organize a protest in partnership with the Red Whistle Brigade, and if she can, a game walk-out.

Bess says she has nothing to hide; she wants to tell the truth about Clavell and University protocol.

“I want the campus to be aware of what they’re supporting,” Bess said. “I want them to know the truth.” 

Collegian Assistant News Editor Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @tatianasophiapt.