A University of Minnesota disciplinary panel has cleared four of the 10 Gophers football players who had been accused of sexual misconduct in the alleged assault on a female student in September.
The panel ruled in favor of Seth Green, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault and Antoine Winfield Jr., their attorneys said Friday.
But the panel upheld the recommended expulsion of four other players, Ray Buford, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson, and a one-year suspension for Mark Williams. It also reduced the recommended punishment for Carlton Djam from expulsion to a one-year suspension, according to attorney Ryan Pacyga.
McCrary, a Gophers running back, tweeted in celebration: “Blessed man!!!! Ready to get back at it with my boys!”
The disciplinary panel notified the individual students of its findings Friday afternoon. Last week, the panel held two days of closed-door hearings on the case, which has shaken the university and its football team for months.
The woman reported that she was sexually assaulted by a series of men Sept. 2 at a postgame party at an off-campus apartment, while others watched from the bedroom doorway. The accused men said the sexual contact was consensual, but the university recommended that all 10 should be disciplined for violating the student code of conduct.
The university would not comment on the panel’s ruling, citing student privacy laws.
All 10 players were suspended from the Gophers football team in December after the university conducted an internal investigation into the allegations.
Lee Hutton III, the attorney for nine of the players, issued a statement saying that the four cleared by the panel “were very pleased to be vindicated,” adding that they “look forward to putting this incident behind them.” But the other six, he said, “are very disappointed by the panel’s rulings and are exploring their options in consultation with their families.”
Under university rules, the students have the right to appeal to the university provost, Karen Hanson. Their attorneys also raised the possibility of challenging the university’s action in federal court.
Winfield’s father, Antoine Sr., a former defensive back with the Vikings, said he was excited for his son, “but disappointed in the system.”
“It should have never got to this,” he said. “This is an eye opener for everyone, really. The process needs to change.”
Although his son had threatened to transfer when the case started, Winfield said he would be returning to the Gophers.
No criminal charges were filed against any of the students. But the athletes have been fighting for the right to stay in school and to clear their names.
Uproar at the U
The allegations, and the university’s handling of the case, triggered protests for and against the football players, and indirectly cost their coach, Tracy Claeys, his job.
In December, members of the Gophers football team briefly threatened to boycott a bowl game in protest after the 10 accused players were suspended from the team. Claeys was fired after he expressed support for the protesters. The boycott was called off after a confidential university report detailing the sexual assault allegations was posted online by KSTP-TV.
County prosecutors reviewed the case twice and declined to file criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence. Yet Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, denounced the behavior described in the university report as “deplorable.” He noted that prosecutors must meet a higher standard of proof than the university’s internal disciplinary process.
A range of reactions
As word of the panel’s decisions spread Friday, former Gophers center Tyler Moore tweeted: “I’m overjoyed for my brothers being successful in the appeals process, but there are still … more that need justice.”
Sarah Super, a U graduate and advocate for sexual assault survivors, welcomed the decision to discipline six of the players. “These suspensions, these expulsions, it means something, but it certainly won’t take away the pain of the survivor,” she said. “For the survivor it isn’t over today, and she doesn’t need to be happy with the result.”
Trish Palermo, chairwoman of the university’s Student Senate, said the case reaffirms the need for more education about sexual assault.
“I think that this entire situation reflects the need for a larger conversation,” she said. “We need to talk about sexual violence on college campuses and the need to provide consent.”
Haley Hansen, a student intern from the University of Minnesota, contributed to this report.