EAST LANSING, MICH. - More than three weeks lapsed between an alleged sexual assault involving three Michigan State football players and the university’s announcement that the players and a staff member had been suspended.
In that three weeks, the university hired a consultant to conduct the internal Title IX investigation, suspended three football players and football staff member Curtis Blackwell and had a contract prepared to hire an outside law firm to investigate the football program, missing only signatures.
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the clearest picture yet of how the university responded to the incident.
In its statement Feb. 9 announcing the suspensions and the outside hires, the university said the incident was reported to police in “late January.”
However, the incident occurred around 2 a.m. Jan. 16, the early-morning hours of Martin Luther King Day, on campus at University Village Apartments, the woman’s attorney confirmed Monday. The woman reported to police about 2 p.m. the next day that she had been sexually assaulted, according to the university’s Clery Crime and Fire Log.
University spokesman Jason Cody said the university stands by its Feb. 9 statement and declined to comment on specifics due to the ongoing investigations.
By Feb. 2, the university had signed a contract with Rebecca Veidlinger to conduct the university’s internal Title IX investigation for potential violations of the university’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy. That contract calls for her to investigate an incident that occurred “on or about Jan. 15.” Veidlinger previously worked for MSU in its Title IX office at the time the university was under investigation by the federal government for its handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints.
She said in an email last month that she can neither comment on the Title IX investigation nor offer a timeline for its conclusion.
A week later, on Feb. 9, a football team staff member was suspended, Cody said. He also later confirmed that Curtis Blackwell, the football program’s director of college advancement and performance, is suspended with pay, but said he could not release any other details or if Blackwell’s suspension was related to the sexual assault investigation.
Later that day, the university announced the suspensions of the three unnamed football players and the staff member associated with the football team. The Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press are not naming the players because they have not been charged with a crime.
And on Feb. 10, the university signed a contract with the law firm Jones Day to conduct an investigation of the football program staff members’ compliance with university policy in connection with the sexual assault allegations.
MSU has not said when the football players were suspended.
The sexual assault investigation in connection with the football program is one of two high-profile sexual assault investigations underway at MSU. Since September, the university's police department has been investigating dozens of sexual assault claims against former university doctor Larry Nassar. The university also is conducting at least 10 Title IX investigations and several internal investigations related to Nassar. Those investigations are being conducted by university staff with some assistance from outside law firms.
MSU has not explained in detail why it turned to outside investigators for the football matter and not the Nassar case, only that the circumstances of the case made it the "prudent thing to do" in regard to the football investigations.
MSU Police sent their initial findings in the criminal investigation in connection with the football team to Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon on Feb. 16, requesting four arrest warrants – three for the players, plus another for a university employee for obstructing an investigation, which would be a two-year felony. Siemon returned the case to MSU Police later that day for “additional information and evidence.”
The criminal investigation remains ongoing, no warrants or charges have been issued and there has been no status change since the case was returned to MSU Police by Siemon.
The university statement announcing the suspensions came eight days after coach Mark Dantonio addressed the media on national signing day. Blackwell was present at the signing day press conference at Spartan Stadium on Feb. 1.
The Spartans opened spring football practice on Feb. 25, but they have not released a roster or depth chart. An MSU athletic department spokesman also would not confirm the status of any individual players. Dantonio has closed practice to the media, and the program’s official football Twitter account has not had any videos from practice or interviews with players or coaches as they typically have released during Dantonio’s first 10 seasons.
Dantonio issued his first statement on the incident through the university Feb. 28.
“Regarding the ongoing investigations taking place within our program, the allegations are something we’re extremely concerned about and taking very seriously,” Dantonio said in the statement. “We took immediate action by suspending those involved as soon as we were notified of the situation. Our action is separate from the ongoing criminal and administrative investigations. Those processes will determine if a crime has been committed and also if any university policy has been violated.”
USA Today Network, Michigan