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Prosecutor decides no charges in Minnesota football team sex assault case

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Friday that his office will not file any criminal charges in connection to a Gophers football sexual assault investigation, CBS Minnesota reports

Freeman had previously declined to charge the players in connection with the September incident that triggered suspensions, possible expulsions, talk of a bowl game boycott and questions of whether head coach Tracy Claeys should continue with the Gopher football program. 

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But the school’s own investigation, which resulted in an 80-page report, unearthed the troubling details of the female victim’s sexual assault by 10 to 20 men on the team after their season-opening victory. The school investigation resulted in the suspensions of ten University of Minnesota football players, and a brief boycott of all team activities by their teammates. 

When the university’s report was leaked to the press, Freeman’s office decided to review it because some accounts that players gave to Minneapolis police differed from their accounts to school investigators.

After reviewing that report, Freeman stood by his November decision, saying the school’s investigation didn’t add sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges. In his statement, Freeman said the report “shined a light on what can only be described as deplorable behavior,” but added that his office’s investigation did not yield much more than Minneapolis police’s initial investigation.

Drew Wolitarsky, a University of Minnesota wide receiver, speaks to reporters on Dec. 15, 2016.
Drew Wolitarsky, a University of Minnesota wide receiver, speaks to reporters on Dec. 15, 2016. CBS Minnesota

“Reviewing the full report and comparing it to the criminal investigation file shows no new significant evidence that would enable prosecutors to bring charges against any individuals that could be sustained under our much higher standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Freeman said. “As a result, our decision not to bring charges remains unchanged.”   

Lee Hutton, the players’ attorney, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message or email from the Associated Press seeking comment. The university said in a statement it respects Freeman’s decision, but noted their own suspensions of the players stem from different standards and policies than the criminal process Freeman worked through. 

The school suspended the 10 players after completing its own investigation, the results of which it kept private, citing federal privacy laws. But a local TV station published a redacted copy of the 82-page report which quoted the woman as saying she believed 10 to 20 men had sex with her, though she was not certain. She told university investigators she was too traumatized to clearly remember events.

The report concluded that the victim’s account of that night was more credible than the players it interviewed, and said some players tried to impede the university’s investigation into the incident.

Soon after the report was leaked, remaining members of the football roster - who had vowed to boycott Tuesday’s Holiday Bowl unless their teammates were reinstated - relented , going on to beat Washington State 17-12.

The case dates to the start of the season. Five players - Carlton Djam, Dior Johnson, KiAnte Hardin, Ray Buford Jr. and Tamarion Johnson - told police they had consensual sex with the woman at an off-campus dorm. Four of them were suspended for three games early in the season, but later reinstated in October.

After the school’s investigation, which has a lower standard of proof than criminal charges, the school announced on Dec. 13 that those five players were suspended and Antoine Winfield Jr., Seth Green, Mark Williams, Kobe McCrary and Antonio Shenault were out for the bowl game as well.

All 10 players are awaiting a university hearing to appeal their suspensions. Several players face permanent expulsion from the university, while others could be suspended for a year.

Meanwhile, a decision regarding Claeys’ future is up in the air. Claeys has two years remaining on his contract, shorter than the norm for coaches to sell program stability to potential recruits. Claeys became the target of an online petition to have him fired. The petition had more than 3,100 signatures as of Friday afternoon.  

Amid calls for his firing, athletic director Mark Coyle has said he plans to meet with the football coach in the near future.

The charging decision on Friday is just the latest twist for an athletics program that’s no stranger to turmoil. A cheating scandal involving the Gophers’ basketball team enveloped the university in 1999, leading to hefty punishment from the NCAA after it concluded an office manager had completed hundreds of assignments for players. More recently, a former athletic director resigned in disgrace last year after admitting to groping several female employees and sending lewd texts during a university function. Just this year, heralded Gopher wrestling coach J. Robinson was fired amid an investigation into the team’s alleged sale and use of illicit drugs, which university officials said Robinson failed to disclose. 

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