Ex-MSU staffer alleges school 'manufactured' report to clear Mark Dantonio of wrongdoing

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio

The scope of Curtis Blackwell's wrongful termination lawsuit against Michigan State University continues to expand at a rapid pace, with the former football staff member now accusing the Jones Day Report of being a "manufactured attempt" by the university to clear head coach Mark Dantonio of any wrongdoing in the handling of sexual assault allegations against three players in January 2017.

Blackwell's allegation came in a court filing late Tuesday, which was met with a swift rebuke from the Jones Day law firm.

A Michigan State spokesperson wasn't immediately available late Tuesday night, but has repeatedly declined comment citing pending litigation.

Three players — receiver Donnie Corley, defensive back Demetric Vance and defensive end Josh King — were accused of having  inappropriate sexual conduct with a woman during a large party on campus, were ultimately dismissed from the team, and each ended up pleading down and landing three years' probation.

While the investigation into that was ongoing, another player, defensive lineman Auston Robertson, was accused of sexual assault and now is serving up to 10 years in prison.

Each instance was detailed in the report by the Jones Day law firm, hired by the school to assess if the football program and school officials handled the reporting and investigation responsibily.

Jones Day lawyers James R. Wooley and Louis P. Gabel, after dozens of interviews and months of investigation, released its 13-page findings in June 2017 and declared Dantonio and his staff did nothing wrong, but did suggest Blackwell didn't handle the situation by way of proper protocol when he learned about the party. The report suggests Blackwell launched his own investigation, which he denied.

Blackwell declined to be interviewed by Jones Day.

More:MSU's Mark Dantonio: Depose me on firing, but not on irrelevant criminal recruit

Michigan State has insisted Jones Day was an independent hire, and has said both lawyers on the case had no direct ties to the university.

Both sexual misconduct incidents took place under the dark shadow of the Larry Nassar scandal, and Blackwell has alleged in his lawsuit against Dantonio, then-president Lou Anna K. Simon and then-athletic director Mark Hollis that he was made the scapegoat following the incidents.

Curtis Blackwell

Blackwell, who earned $129,000 in a role that he considered to be heavy on student mentorship and recruiting, was suspended shortly after his arrest on campus in February 2017, and while he never was charged, he was suspended with pay for multiple months before Dantonio eventually let him go in March 2017, shortly before Jones Day released its findings.

Dantonio said the decision to part ways with Blackwell was based solely on "philosophical differences," but Blackwell and his attorneys haven't bought that.

The result was two lawsuits filed by Blackwell in November, one against Dantonio, Simon and Hollis, and the other against two MSU Police officers, alleging unlawful arrest. Blackwell, it was learned in court filings last week, is seeking as much as $5.5 million from the police officers, whom he is suing individually.

It's not clear how much Blackwell seeks in the other suit. He hasn't said, and attempts to settle via mediation were fruitless. Blackwell said he's as concerned about his reputation as he is money. Blackwell, who co-founded the Sound Mind Sound Body football camps, hasn't been able to land another college coaching job.

Blackwell, 41, has made explosive allegations during the course of the court proceedings, the allegation that the Jones Day report was essentially a sham — coming in court filings in federal court in Grand Rapids on Tuesday — just the latest. In a 6.5-hour deposition in August, he alleged Dantonio brought Robertson to campus despite knowing of his checkered past in high school, and over strong objections from multiple members of his coaching staff. Robertson was accused of sexual misconduct and vandalism in high school, and was booted off his team and out of school as a senior.

Dantonio, 63, who has yet to be deposed — Blackwell's lawyers are suggesting between the upcoming Ohio State game and the following Wisconsin game — is trying to limit the scope of any deposition he gives, arguing the Robertson situation has nothing to do with why Blackwell was let go. Dantonio, who recently became the football program's all-time winningest coach also argues he shouldn't have to answer any questions about Nassar, and that his deposition should be limited to 3.5 hours. 

Simon and Hollis also have yet to be deposed; the police officers, Sam Miller and Chad Davis, were supposed to be deposed last week. It's unclear if those took place. Blackwell's lawyer hasn't returned recent calls from The News, including one Tuesday.

Now comes claims against Jones Day, which in a 22-page court response of its own is arguing that the turning over of "thousands" of documents Blackwell's lawyers have subpoenaed would violate attorney-client privilege and are mostly irrelevant to the case, and that turning them over would be an unfair financial burden on a law firm that is not a party to either of Blackwell's lawsuits.

Among the documents Blackwell is seeking from Jones Day, which in its report determined Dantonio properly handled the actions at the January 2017 party and the alleged sexual assault by immediately informing the Title IX office and then letting investigators do their job without interference: All documents related to the Jones Day investigation; all documents related to Blackwell; all cell-phone records, personnel files, expense reports, emails and interview records of the 35 witnesses Jones Day talked to; and preliminary reports or "drafts" of the Jones Day Report before the final one was released; correspondence and documents from MSU Police; the contract between Michigan State and Jones Day; as well as any documents pertaining to the recruitment of Robertson, including high school transcripts and test scores.

The documents were requested in late August in what has become a ping-pong match of subpoena requests between both parties' counsel. 

In Tuesday's filing in the Western District of Michigan Southern Division, Blackwell's attorneys say he "prays" the court orders Jones Day to turn over the requested records.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984