Prosecutor: Still no charges for 10 suspended Minnesota players after review

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Friday, December 30, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ten suspended Minnesota football players will not face charges in connection with an alleged sexual assault near campus, prosecutors announced Friday after taking a second look at the case.

It's the second time the Hennepin County Attorney's office has weighed in on the September incident that triggered suspensions, possible expulsions, talk of a bowl game boycott and questions of whether coach Tracy Claeys should continue with the Gophers football program.

County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to press charges in October, citing a lack of evidence.

After reviewing the troubling details of the school's own investigation, Freeman said it didn't add enough information to warrant criminal charges.

"That report shined a light on what can only be described as deplorable behavior," Freeman said in a statement. He said he would have no further comment because the university's appeal process was continuing.

Lee Hutton, the players' attorney, didn't immediately respond to a phone message or email seeking comment.

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 a 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.

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 were 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. Amid calls for Claeys' 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.