There appeared "real hope" that Daquein McNeil had turned the corner on the tragedies that marked his childhood, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Wednesday. And so Freeman was noticeably glum as he announced that McNeil, a sophomore guard with the Gophers basketball team, had been charged with two felony counts of assault stemming from an attack Monday on his girlfriend.
"It's sad. It's disappointing and it's sad," Freeman said in detailing charges that put McNeil's future as a Gophers player — and a university student — in doubt after he strangled the woman and whipped her with a leather belt that left bruises and marks on her body.
McNeil, 20, was charged with third degree assault (substantial bodily harm), punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $3,000-to-$10,000 fine; and domestic assault by strangulation, punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
Bail was set at $75,000, and his first court date is set for Monday. He has been ordered to stay a reasonable distance from the 28-year-old woman's residence and have no contact with her.
University Athletic Director Norwood Teague said in a statement after Wednesday's charges that McNeil "will remain suspended from all team-related activities" during the legal process. University President Eric Kaler, also in a statement, said he supported the suspension, then raised the possibility of additional sanctions by saying the university "will review the facts of the case in relation to the student code of conduct."
The conduct code affords the university the right to suspend or expel a student without having the legal system reach a conclusion. McNeil's case will likely be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity for evaluation, according to a person with knowledge of the university's disciplinary process.
McNeil grew up in the rough neighborhood of East Baltimore, and when he was 13 his father was shot and killed. Two months later McNeil's mother died after a long battle with lupus. He was raised by an aunt, and attended two high schools before receiving a scholarship offer from Florida International, where Richard Pitino was coaching. After Pitino took the job at Minnesota, he brought McNeil with him.
"This is a young man who obviously has been through some very difficult times in his life … has come to our university playing basketball and seems to have shaken some of the tragedies and the difficulties in his life," Freeman said. "Having said that, the police report, the witnesses, the photographs of the wounds that his girlfriend has suffered are just not acceptable."
Pitino commented on the situation after the Gophers' loss Wednesday to St. John's at New York's Madison Square Garden.
"It's a difficult situation obviously," he said. "We all know that. It's much bigger than basketball."
According to the Statement of Probable Cause, McNeil and the woman had been dating for about 10 months. McNeil came to her apartment on Monday to retrieve his Gophers backpack that he needed for the team's trip to New York City.
The woman was sleeping when McNeil entered her room carrying a cooking pan, according to the report. He smashed a mirror with the pan and began pulling out dresser drawers before dumping a bottle of alcohol over the woman's clothes and other items.
The woman has a male roommate who heard the commotion and ushered McNeil out of the apartment. But McNeil returned and dragged the woman off the bed by her ankles, stripping off her pants and then repeatedly dumped cold water on her.
At one point he pushed her up against the wall and used both of his hands to strangle her, the report said. As he strangled her, he yelled, "You ruined my life, now I'm going to ruin your life."
After McNeil released his grip, the woman entered the shower. McNeil ripped off the shower curtain and whipped her with a leather belt repeatedly, the report said.
The woman was able to get away and leave the apartment and run to a neighbor's for help. Photographs of her injuries the following day depicted "multiple large and prominent bruises on her arms, back, buttocks, chest and legs. Her legs are covered with large, dark bruises. Her right knee and shin also have several long lash marks."
Freeman said he does not know what prompted McNeil's actions. He said there is no indication that McNeil had any similar violent incidents with the woman previously.