Georgia sent reports, photos to Bama ahead of Taylor's addition to team

ByNicole Noren ESPN logo
Sunday, September 20, 2015

ATHENS, Ga. -- A few weeks before fall classes began in 2014, University of Georgia deputy athletic director Dr. Carla Williams was summoned to campus police chief Jimmy Williamson's office.

About three hours earlier, one of the most promising young players on the Bulldog football team -- defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor -- had been arrested for allegedly beating up his 20-year-old girlfriend in a campus dormitory. Taylor had choked the woman and "struck her several times with a closed fist," according to the incident report the chief showed Williams. Then he showed her photos of the alleged victim's injuries.

Williams had seen enough. And when athletic director Greg McGarity later read the police report, he had, too: Taylor, who still faces criminal proceedings over the incident, was immediately suspended and permanently kicked off of the team the next day.

Taylor's path to the University of Alabama and Nick Saban's team is well-known: Saban recruited him and put him on the team but dismissed him after another domestic violence police report was made. Under national media scrutiny for signing Taylor in the first place, Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said officials had "thoroughly investigated numerous sources regarding the young man" in addition to talking with Taylor before he enrolled.

Outside the Lines has learned that McGarity was among those Battle had spoken with -- in a phone call in which McGarity confirmed details found in the police report. The call occurred just four days after Georgia had taken extraordinary measures to inform Alabama about the case, Outside the Lines has learned. Georgia officials sent photos of the woman's injuries to University of Alabama police nearly three weeks before Taylor enrolled and also sent copies of two police incident reports involving Taylor. One report contained information not available to the public -- contact information for the alleged domestic violence victim and the person who reported the incident to police. Alabama did not reach out to either person, a source told Outside the Lines, nor did it ever reach out to the district attorney presiding over the case.

The photographs sent to Alabama campus police have not been made public because they are part of Taylor's pending court case. Outside the Lines did not review them, and Georgia officials say that deputy athletic director Williams is the only non-law enforcement official at the school who has seen them.

They were, however, "shared with [Alabama campus police] in order for all involved at the decision-making level to see the severity of the injuries involved, and for the nature of the incident to be understood in the hopes of preventing other students from being victimized," Georgia spokesman Bob Taylor told Outside the Lines.

An Alabama spokesman on Friday said neither Saban nor Battle ever saw the photos. That same day, university spokeswoman Deborah Lane released a statement about the photos, which read in part: "UAPD followed protocol, and made an assessment of confidential information that was part of an ongoing investigation by Georgia law enforcement authorities. Relevant information was then provided to the Admissions Committee."

McGarity told Outside the Lines the police report was enough for him to make a decision: "The police report was very descriptive, there probably wasn't much of a question that what happened, did happen."

Taylor, who has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of aggravated assault charges, declined comment and has a status hearing for his pending case next month.

The alleged domestic violence incident was not Taylor's first involvement with police at Georgia: He had been arrested for a minor theft charge in April 2014 and was placed in a pretrial diversionary program. That report had also been sent to Alabama.

Soon after he was cut from the Bulldogs in July 2014, he enrolled at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi, and played football that fall. His attorney, Kim Stephens, told Outside the Lines that numerous schools recruited him, including Louisville, Mississippi, LSU, Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State.

Saban and Alabama won out, and Taylor agreed to play for Alabama. He was admitted on Jan. 5, two days before classes started.

The day Taylor enrolled, athletic director Bill Battle acknowledged the signing's controversy when he released a statement which read in part: "In this particular situation, we thoroughly investigated numerous sources regarding the young man. I had extensive discussions with several people who have been very close to him, including a lengthy visit with this young man."

"As one of our state's most high-profile entities, we are acutely aware of our responsibility to the university, our student-athletes, our community and our state."

Alabama put in place a number of goals and programs for Taylor to reach to remain a member of the team, including undergoing psychological counseling.

But on March 28, Taylor made national news again after another girlfriend, a 24-year-old Alabama student, accused him of assaulting her in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was charged with third-degree assault and domestic violence third-degree criminal mischief and immediately dismissed from the team.

Saban and Alabama again faced tough questions.

"I'm not sorry for giving him an opportunity. I'm sorry for the way things worked out," Saban told reporters in Tuscaloosa. "I'm not apologizing for the opportunity that we gave him. I wanted to try to help the guy make it work. It didn't work. So we're sorry that it didn't work and we're sorry there was an incident and we're sorry for the people that were involved in the incident. But we're not apologizing for what we did, and we're going to continue to create opportunities for people in the future and we'll very, very closely evaluate anyone's character that we allow in the program."

Three days after Taylor's arrest, however, the girlfriend recanted her story and told police her wounds were self-inflicted. She was arrested on a charge of filing a false police report but, according to court records, on July 7, Taylor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief as a result of the incident, and her charge was dismissed the same day.

Lt. Kip Hart, assistant commander of the Tuscaloosa Homicide Unit, told Outside the Lines that the woman's charge was dismissed because she later came back to police and told them her original report was true. "There was evidence to believe the initial story was accurate" Hart said. Court records confirm she ended up cooperating in the case against Taylor, and that's why the prosecution of Taylor moved forward.

Taylor is now on the football team at Southeastern Louisiana University. An athletic department spokesman for SLU, a Football Championship Subdivision school, verified that Taylor is enrolled and said that he is not eligible to play until 2016, his final season of eligibility.

Taylor's criminal case stemming from his July 2014 arrest in is pending in Athens, Georgia.

The entire saga prompted Georgia officials to reconsider how it should treat potential transfer athletes who have been dismissed from other athletic programs due to criminal behavior. Soon after Taylor landed at Alabama, Georgia officials began drafting a proposal that would prevent athletes who have been punished for certain types of serious misconduct to transfer to a Southeastern Conference school. One of the driving forces for the proposal was Carla Williams, who declined comment for this story.

"We basically just moved on [from Taylor-to-Alabama,] but we did want to make sure that others didn't go through the situation that we did," McGarity said. "One thing that we felt that was really, really important to the league was to take a stand, to make sure that situations like this don't happen again, especially with violence against women."

Georgia introduced the proposal during the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in late May. It passed unanimously.

The rule is not a catch-all, though, and excludes such serious criminal charges such as home invasions, armed robbery and murder even as it affects those accused of domestic violence and sexual assault.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the policy is important even if it doesn't cover every serious crime: "This was a first step to say, 'Let's put something in place that sets a standard, an initial standard and let's continue the conversation.'"

Taylor's attorney, Kim Stephens, said there is the potential for people to be treated unfairly under the new SEC rule if a case has not been adjudicated yet: "If a person commits domestic violence, if a person commits sexual misconduct, certainly they don't need to be playing at any SEC school or any other school for that matter, they need to be punished in the courts and, if appropriate, incarcerated. But there needs to be due process, there needs to be fundamental fairness."

Taylor's second chance is not the only one that has drawn recent controversy. Boise State and Baylor have battled publicly over why Sam Ukwuachu was dismissed from Boise State's team -- and what Baylor officials knew about his past before accepting him as a transfer in 2013. The programs came under intense scrutiny after Ukwuachu was convicted last month of sexually assaulting a Baylor soccer player in October 2013.

Since the SEC passed the new rule, other conferences have taken notice. Big 12 athletic directors unanimously supported the creation of their own transfer rule in late August, and a spokesman said the rule will eventually be put up for a vote before its board of directors. Pac-12 spokesman Dave Hirsch told Outside the Lines this week that it is also considering a similar rule. The ACC and Big 10 said that they have yet to have conference-level discussions on the rule.

Nicole Noren is a producer for ESPN's Enterprise and Investigative Unit and can be reached atNicole.K.Noren@espn.comand on Twitter at@nicole_noren.Reporters Tom Farrey and Alex Scarboroughcontributed to this report.

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