Three MSU football players face sexual assault charges

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – Three Michigan State football players are facing sexual assault charges, the Ingham County Prosecutor announced on Monday.

The decision to authorize charges came in a statement from Prosecutor Carol A. Siemon. The authorization means police can obtain arrest warrants, which will likely happen early Tuesday. At that point, the names of the three players – all who have been suspended from the football team since the incident – will become public.

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

The statement comes more than four months after the alleged incident that resulted in the immediate suspension of those players.

The incident was investigated by the Michigan State University Police, which requested four warrants — three for sexual assault and a fourth for a non-sexual crime. The statement from Siemon on Monday said that fourth warrant was for a former employee but that no charges would be issued.

“Our office also reviewed charges against an individual who previously worked for the Michigan State University football program,” the statement read. “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.”

Curtis Blackwell, who was in charge of recruiting at Michigan State, had been suspended with pay until last week, and MSU confirmed on Monday the suspension was related to the sexual assault case. The university also confirmed last week that coach Mark Dantonio decided not to renew Blackwell’s contract.

The announcement of charges came just minutes after the Michigan State Board of Trustees offered their “full support” of Dantonio, athletic director Mark Hollis and university president Lou Anna K. Simon.

Following a scheduled work session that included briefings from both Dantonio and Hollis, Board chairman Brian Breslin read a prepared statement.

“At today’s work session, the Board was briefed on several topics,” Breslin said. “Among them we received a briefing on football and athletic activities from Athletic Director Hollis and Coach Dantonio. Work sessions like this are a normal part of the Board’s general supervision over the university and its funds. 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.”

Neither Hollis nor Dantonio were available after the work session. However, Simon announced the third-party investigation into the football staff’s handling of both cases from the Jones Day law firm had been completed and it concluded the staff’s handling of the matter was “above reproach.”

“It will indicate Coach Dantonio and his team, particularly Coach Dantonio, handled this in the utmost manner with integrity and with swiftness and consistent with the policy,” Simon said. “So that takes all those issues off the board with respect to coach Dantonio and the team that is currently there.”

The report stated none of the three players involved in the first case chose to be interviewed by Jones Day, nor did the staff member. The university confirmed on Monday the staff member in the Jones Day report was Blackwell.

The release of the Jones Day report came a little less than 40 minutes before the prosecutor announced it had authorized charges.

Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody said there was no coordination between the university and the prosecutor in the timing of the two announcements, adding that the Board’s work session had been on the schedule for weeks.

In addition to the criminal case and the Jones Day report, the university conducted a Title IX investigation that was completed in late May and found that three football players were in violation of university policy. Those players will go through the student conduct system where a board can establish punishment ranging from suspension to expulsion, if it determines punishment is warranted.

The football program has been dealing with several off-field issues since the end of last season, including two separate sexual assault cases involving players. In addition to the incident that occurred in January, a second sexual assault case surrounding an incident in April led to the dismissal of Auston Robertson, who is currently out on bond facing criminal sexual conduct charges.

But things were starting to go poorly even before the season ended. In late October, defensive end Demetrius Cooper was accused of spitting in the face of an East Lansing code enforcement officer. He reached a plea deal in March. In late November, two days before the season finale at Penn State, senior captain Demetrious Cox was accused of assaulting a cab driver and left home for the trip to Pennsylvania. He reached a plea deal in January.

The Spartans have also seen an exodus of players, the most notable being linebacker Jon Reschke, who announced in late February he was leaving the team after making an insensitive comment to a former teammate. That came a few weeks after freshman Thiyo Lukusa announced he was leaving school and giving up football.

Last week, two players – defensive backs Kaleel Gaines and Kenney Lyke – announced they were transferring from the program.