The Dashing Despoiler

“I think that this state has so much potential, and I just think that the people you can meet here are just so welcoming and so warm.” – Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros, using the alias ‘Ed Darras’

He came on to her gently, complimenting the high school senior on both her French fluency and her accent. The handsome Frenchman then persuaded her to join him for more conversation and a beverage in the hotel bar. That’s where her group’s chaperone found them, and hustled her away – but not before the 18-year-old girl and the man ten years her senior had exchanged contact information.

Association Louisianaise des Clubs Francaise des Ecoles Secondaires convention at LSU Lod Cook Center, March 2018. Photo courtesy ALCFES Facebook page.

To a man with his proclivities, the March 2018 convention of high school French clubs, held at LSU, where Eduoard d’Espalungue d’Arros was a graduate student in French Studies, was like having a delectable buffet of choices delivered to his door. The debonair Frenchman, son of a Baron, orbited around and through various breakout sessions at the event and ultimately made his selection. He approached his target – we’ll call her NC – after she finished speaking with a well-known professor from U-L Lafayette, the university she planned to attend in the fall.

She was flattered when d’Espalungue contacted her later, and they began dating. It wasn’t long afterward that they became intimate.

The demands of NC’s freshman semester at ULL, coupled with Edouard’s studies and teaching schedule at LSU, limited their time together that fall. So when she invited him to a weekend retreat for ULL Catholic students, being held at a woodland conference center in Rapides Parish, he accepted. Because it was a faith-based event, they agreed not to divulge their relationship status to others in attendance.

One of the other retreat attendees – a 21-year-old ULL senior we’ll call BT – was charmed by the tall man’s soft French accent, and made a concerted effort to pay attention to the LSU grad student so he wouldn’t feel left out. The second night of the retreat, September 30, 2018, he followed BT when she left the bonfire, caught up to her and steered her toward a bench by the dock. She quickly found all her attempts at conversation cut short by his insistent kissing. She got up to leave, but he grabbed her, wrestling her to the ground on her back. He got on top of her, pulled down his athletic shorts and her leggings, and pinned her arms, and raped her. He left her lying there, on the ground.

She ultimately made her way back to the retreat center’s main hall, and curled into a fetal position, weeping. The priest in charge of the gathering was summoned, as were sheriff’s deputies. Despite one deputy’s efforts to dissuade her from doing so, BT insisted on filing a complaint and submitting herself to a rape exam. D’Espalungue was arrested and charged with sexual battery, then released within 24 hours upon posting a $25,000 bond. Four days later, following a more thorough investigation by law enforcement, he was re-arrested – this time charged with forcible rape. Once again, bond was quickly posted – $75,000 more – and upon surrendering his passport to the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Department, d’Espalungue returned to LSU in Baton Rouge.

Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros booking photo. Courtesy Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office.

ULL’s administration notified LSU authorities, and the attack and the arrest of the French grad student and Student Government Association senator made the news – TV and print – in Alexandria, Lafayette and Baton Rouge. LSU’s administration told the head of the French Department, Dr. Adelaide Russo, that d’Espalungue’s contact with students should be curtailed. He was removed from his duties as a graduate teaching assistant. (LSU employed him as an instructor of freshman French classes.) Thereafter, Russo met individually with the rest of the department’s grad students, instructors, and professors, informing each of them that d’Espalungue was innocent.

LD and SN, grad students within the department, disputed their department chair’s contention of the man’s guiltlessness. Each of the women told Dr. Russo they had been sexually harassed by the Frenchman, and they’d witnessed him hitting on other students. Clearly irritated, the department chair dismissed those complaints, going so far as to tell LD she should consider the man’s verbal comments “a compliment.”

Russo managed to keep d’Espalungue on the LSU payroll, by hiring him as her personal research assistant. She also allowed him to continue leading student activities within the department, including the weekly French table and French movie night. This kept him in regular contact with undergraduates. This both alarmed and outraged grad students LD and SN, so they, along with VT, a professor within the French department, reported their concerns and the situation to other LSU officials. Just over a month after d’Espalungue’s arrest for the rape of ULL student BT, the associate dean of the Humanities College met with Russo and d’Espalungue – on November 7, 2018. Both of them assured Associate Dean Jason Hicks that the Frenchman was only “taking classes, helping Dr. Russo with activities – research, projects.” He was “not leading anything.”

After the meeting, d’Espalungue sent an email inviting undergrads and grad students to the next evening’s French movie night.

Professor VT messaged Hicks’ boss Dean Troy Blanchard that same day, right after receiving d’Espalungue’s email. VT said, “As long as Edouard is allowed to be a senator, VP of the grad student association, and coordinator of (and attendee at!!) French table and cinema club, the students are not being protected. If the point of removing his teaching assistantship was to protect undergraduates, then he should also be prevented from attending any undergrad events or interacting with that student population.”

No administrative action was taken at that time. More complaints and warnings were filed with additional LSU officials.

Associate Dean Hicks met with Russo again on January 24, 2019. Again she denied her research assistant had any duties that put him in contact with other students.

On January 31, 2019, Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros raped TT, a freshman who had been one of his French 1001 students the previous semester, before he was suspended from teaching.

American Journal of French Studies tabling at Highland Road Park in Baton Rouge. d;Espalungue on left; Dr. Adelaide Russo in striped shirt next to him. Photo courtesy AJFS Facebook page.

In March 2019, with the assistance of department chair Dr. Russo, d’Espalungue launched the American Journal of French Studies. The promotional material for the publication claimed it was being published by the LSU College of Humanities and Social Studies, and it solicited essays, poetry, and short stories from high school and college students, to be submitted to “Ed Darras” – one of several aliases d’Espalungue began using following the publicity over his rape arrest the previous fall.

He also solicited assistance from undergrads in reviewing the submissions to the journal. IB, a freshman who had been in one of his fall classes, was one of the volunteers. On April 2, 2019, he texted her, urgently requesting they meet. When they did, he began groping her. She broke away, and headed back to her dorm room. He followed her, grabbing and kissing her as she tried to go in her door. She was finally able to get inside, and lock herself in.

Subsequently, he bombarded her with text messages, including threats to oust her from the journal staff if she did not comply with his sexual demands.

The first awards program for the American Journal of French Studies was held at LSU on April 25, 2019. d’Espalungue was heard repeatedly remarking about his romantic and sexual interest in one of the high school essayists in attendance. Within less than a month he’d seduced her.

In late August 2019, at the start of the fall semester, d’Espalungue – as the American Journal of French Studies director and editor-in-chief “Ed Darras” – was welcomed to three high school campuses in Lafayette, speaking to French students about the cachet of having their writings published in the journal. Oh, and then there are cash prizes given out at the awards ceremony held in April at LSU. All you have to do is submit your essay, poem, or short story – written in French, of course – accompanied by your name, email address, and phone number.

At the end of of the 2019 fall semester, in December, graduate student LD, psychologically and emotionally exhausted up with being “complimented” by d’Espalungue’s verbal sexual harassment, gave up her full-time status as a doctoral student in French literature.

Then, at the start of 2020, came COVID.

LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge shut down March 23, 2020, and the rest of the semester’s classes were conducted entirely on-line. d’Espalungue earned his master’s degree that May, and remained enrolled as a graduate student, now working toward his Ph.D.

In-person classes on campus resumed August 24, 2020.

On September 6, 2020, less than two weeks into the new semester, d’Espalungue raped another undergrad. We’ll call her KC.

They had met not long before, when she got a flat tire on her bicycle and he stopped to offer her help. He ended up giving her his phone number, and she later texted him her thanks for his assistance. Subsequently they spoke by phone a few times, and, over the Labor Day weekend, met on Sunday for a picnic. During their al fresco date, he began touching her leg and asking her about her sexual preferences. She then said she was going home, and he offered to drive her. He drove her to his place instead of hers, and he raped her.

She went to a medical facility and had an exam and rape kit done. And when school reopened after Labor Day, she reported the rape to LSU’s Title IX office.

The Title IX Office punted the complaint to the university’s Student Advocacy and Accountability Center, ostensibly because the rape occurred off campus. Yet it should also be noted that this was right after USA Today launched its series of investigative articles regarding on-campus rape complaints against former LSU running back Derrius Guice.

While LSU’s Student Advocacy and Accountability Center investigated KC’s complaint, the LSU Title IX office was dealing with other complaints against d’Espalungue. On November 6, 2020, IB, who had been groped, inappropriately texted, and threatened by the man during the spring of 2019, filed an official complaint. By November 16, 2020, four other undergrad students had added their own complaints to the Title IX investigation against d’Espalungue.

On November 9, 2020, the Student Advocacy and Accountability Center issued a ruling suspending d’Espalungue from November 9, 2020 through December 31, 2021, for “sexual misconduct, endangerment, and disorderly conduct.” d’Espalungue appealed the decision.

A hearing on the matter, conducted via Zoom, took place on November 20, 2020. During that hearing, KC was questioned and cross-examined by her rapist. The decision to suspend d’Espalungue was, however, upheld, and on December 11, 2020, his appeal to LSU’s Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences was denied.

On December 14, 2020 – one year ago today – Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros flew home to France, purportedly to spend the holidays with his parents and siblings. He has not returned, and remains a fugitive from justice,

How was this sexual predator and serial rapist able to continue preying on Louisiana’s young women – impacting the lives of at least a dozen high school and college students during his time here?

He had lots of help – intended and unintended.

We’ll examine that aiding and abetting in the next part of this series.

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Sue Lincoln
Sue Lincoln is a veteran and widely-respected reporter who has been covering Louisiana politics for nearly three decades. Originally from Long Beach, California, Sue’s career in journalism began on the radio in Los Angeles. After moving to Louisiana, Sue earned her bachelor’s degree. For ten years, from 2000-2010, she was the Assistant News Director at Louisiana Network. Sue also worked as the education reporter for Louisiana Public Broadcasting and has contributed to various state publications as a freelance journalist. But she is perhaps best known as the voice of the popular politics Capitol Access.