Dantonio cleared in MSU sexual assault case probe; arrest of 3 players expected soon

EAST LANSING, MICH. - On a day in which he learned three more of his Michigan State football players will face charges for sexual assault, coach Mark Dantonio got support from the university’s Board of Trustees and learned an external investigation cleared him of any potential wrongdoing.

Dantonio and athletic director Mark Hollis attended a board work session Monday afternoon for an update on the progression of the university’s investigations into the football program. A report by Jones Day law firm, released by MSU after the conclusion of the meeting, said Dantonio followed university policy for relationship violence and sexual misconduct by promptly reporting two incidents to MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity. 

Then 37 minutes later, Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon announced she will issue charges against three Spartans for their role in an alleged rape that took place Jan. 16. Those allegations are expected to be presented in 54B District Court today, which will lead to arrest warrants for the three men who have not yet been named. 

In a separate case, Siemon charged former MSU player Auston Robertson with third-degree criminal sexual conduct April 21 for his role in an incident that took place off campus earlier that month. 

It was a busy day that helped shed some light onto some of some of the problems Dantonio’s program has experienced in the past five-plus months.

Jan. 16 incident

Siemon’s decision to issue charges in the Jan. 16 incident means police can now obtain arrest warrants from a judge or magistrate. 

“I have decided to authorize sexual assault charges against the three persons whose warrants were requested by the MSU Police,” Siemon said. “We are alleging that on the night of January 16, those three persons sexually assaulted a woman in an East Lansing apartment on campus.”

Siemon’s decision came nearly four months after the university announced that its police department was investigating three players for a reported sexual assault. 

“(We) wanted to make sure were took the time to make the right decision,” Siemon told the Lansing State Journal, adding that her office wanted to review all the evidence available.

Siemon said there was no coordination between her office and MSU regarding the timing of her decision. 

MSU has not released the players’ names.

Jason Cody, a university spokesman, declined to comment on the authorization of charges, but said the university and the athletics department will address the situation once charges are issued. 

An attorney for the alleged victim and three attorneys representing players declined to comment.

MSU announced Feb. 9 that three football players and a staffer “associated with the football program” had been suspended while the university’s police department investigated sexual assault allegations. A university spokesman confirmed the staff member involved was Curtis Blackwell, whose contract was not renewed when it expired May 31 after twice being extended a month at a time.

On Feb. 10, Ingham County Probate Judge Richard Garcia granted a woman’s request for personal protection orders against the three players.

Protective orders use a standard form, and on all three orders a box is checked that reads: “The petitioner has a reasonable apprehension of sexual assault because the respondent has sexually assaulted the petitioner or threatened the petitioner with sexual assault.”

The orders remain in effect for one year and prevent the players from following or approaching the woman or communicating with her, among other restrictions.

The woman’s petitions for the protection orders, which likely detail her reasons for seeking them, were sealed by Garcia “given the high-profile nature of the respondents.”

Blackwell, the director of college advancement and performance, was suspended Feb. 9, the same day as the players.

Siemon said no charges were warranted against the staff member, whom the university identified as Blackwell.

“Our office also reviewed charges against an individual who previously worked for the Michigan State University football program,” Siemon said. “This did not concern any allegation of criminal sexual conduct. After review, I have declined to issue charges and no warrant will be issued. It is our practice not to release names of suspects in denied cases.”

A Title IX investigation determined three players accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student were found to have violated university policy on relationship violence and sexual misconduct, according to an attorney who represents the alleged victim. The case is progressing through MSU’s student conduct system. 

External probe

An external investigation into MSU’s handling of two allegations of sexual assault involving four total football players found no evidence that Dantonio violated the school’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy.

“We also found no evidence that senior leaders within the football program or Athletic Department attempted to impede, cover up, or obstruct the Office of Institutional Equity’s (OIE’s) investigation into the underlying incidents,” the 14-page report reads.

However, Jones Day, in its findings, determined that Blackwell violated MSU’s policy. The investigation was unable to gauge the severity of any such violation, and Blackwell declined to be interviewed by investigators.

The first alleged sexual assault, involving three players, occurred in the early morning of Jan. 16 at University Village apartments on MSU’s campus.

The Jones Day report says Dantonio was made aware of the situation around 2 p.m. Jan. 16 during a regularly scheduled weekly meeting with a player who was not involved in the alleged incident.

The player reportedly helped the woman, telling Dantonio, “I had to get her out of there. She is my friend.” The player who told Dantonio did not provide details of what occurred and did not inform the 11th-year head coach that the situation involved sexual misconduct or an assault.

The Jones Day report says the coach “stopped the player so Dantonio could immediately contact OIE.” Here is what happened next, which the report corroborated with phone records:

  • 2:01 p.m.: Dantonio first called Brad Lunsford, director of executive football operations.
  • 2:03 p.m.: Lunsford texted Dantonio the number for Ande Durojaiye, who is MSU’s director of the Office of Institutional Equity.
  • 2:05 p.m.: Dantonio called Durojaiye’s office, but the director was not in.
  • 2:12 p.m.: Durojaiye contacted Dantonio, and Dantonio reported what the player told him.

A series of phone calls then were made, first by Dantonio to inform the reporting player that the OIE would interview him, and then more exchanges with Durojaiye, Hollis and senior associate athletic director Alan Haller.

After those calls, which concluded at 3:32 p.m., Dantonio “did not have additional discussions about the matter with the reporting player and did not investigate further by asking questions of his players or discussing the incident with his staff.”

The report says Blackwell also learned Jan. 16 about the incident after Dantonio spoke with the player who reported the incident. Blackwell reportedly then had contact with the three players who were involved in the alleged assault “to determine what had occurred, communicated with the parent of one of those players regarding the incident, and failed to report any information he learned to OIE or MSU.”

Blackwell was suspended with pay Feb. 9 and had two one-month contract renewals in April and May.

The same day MSU suspended Blackwell, it also announced three players were prohibited from football activities and removed from on-campus housing but remained as students. None of the three players were interviewed, according to Jones Day’s report.

A second incident involving Robertson occurred April 8, and Dantonio dismissed him from the team when Siemon’s office filed charges for third-degree criminal sexual conduct on April 21.

Jones Day determined Dantonio “took prompt and appropriate action upon learning from one of his players that another football player may have committed a sexual assault. …

“Dantonio’s prompt reports to University authorities … demonstrated his commitment to comply with the University’s policies regarding sexual misconduct.”

Vote of confidence

The MSU Board of Trustees made a brief statement Monday and said it has full confidence in Dantonio and Hollis following an afternoon meeting with them behind closed doors. Neither Dantonio nor Hollis addressed the media.

After the meeting, board chairman Brian Breslin read the brief statement with most of the board and MSU President Lou Anna Simon standing next to him.

“At today’s work session, the board was briefed on several topics,” Breslin said. “We received a briefing on football and athletic activities from athletic director Hollis and Coach Dantonio.

“While it is not the practice of the board to make a statement after a work session, given the rumors that have been swirling in the media over the weekend, we, the Board, state that president Simon, athletic director Hollis and Coach Dantonio have the full support of this Board.”

MSU’s board has close ties to the athletic department. Breslin played basketball at MSU; trustees Mitch Lyons and Brian Mosallam played football and trustee George Perles is the former head football coach and former athletic director.

Multiple board members declined comment when approached as they left MSU’s administration building.

Several students walking around a mostly empty campus said they still were supportive of the football program, but admitted to being worried about the culture of the program.

“I think he (Dantonio) did the right thing by getting rid of players,” said MSU junior Mike Washington, 22, of Grand Rapids. “I think he’ll get things straightened out, but they can’t have any more problems. When you have this many players doing this, you’ve got a problem.”

Others weren’t as pleased with the board.

“I think they should get rid of him (Dantonio),” said MSU sophomore Katie Mills, 20, of Novi. “He obviously doesn’t have control of the players. That team is out of control.”

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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