Ten Gophers football players were suspended indefinitely by the University of Minnesota on Tuesday, the latest fallout from an incident that happened a few hours after the season began.
The suspended players are Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, Seth Green, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr.
Lee Hutton, an attorney representing several of the players, said the suspensions stem from an internal university investigation into the same Sept. 2 incident in a Dinkytown apartment that happened in the early morning hours after the team’s season-opening victory over Oregon State.
The next week, the Gophers suspended four players — Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — for an unspecified violation of team rules. Those players missed three games while police investigated, and they were reinstated when Hennepin County declined to press charges. No arrests were made in the alleged incident.
The university statement says: “Due to privacy restrictions relating to student educational data, there is nothing further the University can share.”
An alleged victim from the Sept. 2 incident, who is part of the Gophers gameday operations, filed restraining orders against those four players, along with Djam, that kept the five players out of TCF Bank Stadium for the Oct. 29 Rutgers game.
The restraining orders were dismissed in a Nov. 2 settlement, which still required the players to stay 20 feet away from the alleged victim.
That day, after a morning of testimony at the Hennepin County Courthouse before Judge Mel Dickstein, the alleged victim gave a statement that said, “I’m glad this is over. This has never been about punishing anyone, I just wanted to feel safe. Because of this resolution that we came to, now I do.”
But the university’s office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) conducted its own investigation, which led to these latest suspensions.
According to a person familiar with the case and police documents obtained by the Star Tribune, the five newly suspended players — Green, McCrary, Shenault, Williams and Winfield — were in the apartment on Sept. 2.
Hutton was still gathering details Tuesday night but said some of his clients could be facing expulsion, with others facing a one-year team suspension or probation.
The university did not make athletic director Mark Coyle available for comment late Tuesday. Head coach Tracy Claeys will be in San Diego on Wednesday for a news conference previewing the team’s Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl game against Washington State. Last month, Coyle said Claeys had his “full support,” after an 8-4 regular season.
The EOAA makes punishment recommendations to the university, and individuals are allowed to appeal. Hutton said all of his clients will appeal, but it’s unclear if they’ll receive a hearing before the Holiday Bowl.
“I’m ticked, and I plan on exposing the office of EOAA for these unfounded conclusions,” Hutton said. “I was going to wait until after the new year to bring lawsuits on behalf of my clients against [the alleged victim]; we just decided to accelerate the process.”
Buford’s father, Ray Buford Sr., works in law enforcement in Detroit.
“It’s just been a total shock,” he said. “It’s almost like I’m in the movies or the ‘Twilight Zone.’ Ray’s a strong kid, but obviously you’re frustrated. You feel like you’ve put this behind you.
“The police have cleared you and found that you were telling the truth. The prosecutor’s office has cleared you and found you were telling the truth. And the judge has cleared you, and this group [the EOAA] comes in and says they were all wrong.”
The 10 suspended players include several key contributors. Hardin and Winfield are both starting defensive backs, and Buford and Shenault are key reserves in the secondary. Green and Williams are quarterbacks who are redshirting this year and were expected to compete for the starting job next year.