UT, Vols the subject of federal sexual violence investigation

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You can add Tennessee to the growing number of universities who are the focus of a federal investigation connected to allegations of improper responses to reports of on- and off-campus sexual assaults.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), The Tennessean is reporting, has launched an investigation into sexual violence at UT. The investigation, the paper stated, commenced on June 29.

In an email sent to faculty, staff and students, chancellor Jimmy Cheek vowed that the university “will cooperate fully with [the] OCR as it investigates the complaint.”

Over the past several months, it’s been reported across multiple media platforms that three Vols football players have been connected to sexual assault allegations while they were still members of the football team.

Following an investigation by local law enforcement that began in November of last year, then-current UT cornerback Michael Wil liams and former UT linebacker A.J. Johnson were indicted in mid-February by a Knox County grand jury on two counts each of aggravated rape.  Both pleaded not guilty a month later, although Johnson had already seen his invitation to the NFL combine rescinded while it was reported in June that the Vols had “moved on” from Williams.

According to reports that surfaced in mid-November, a 19-year-old UT student claimed that Johnson and Williams raped her at the former’s residence in a Knoxville apartment complex. The unnamed woman claimed that the assault lasted 45 minutes, and occurred during the course of a party being held following UT’s win over Kentucky.

Another 19-year-old woman claimed she was sexually assaulted at the same location around the same time by Williams.

The first woman was treated at the UT Medical Center. The second alleged victim declined treatment and headed back to her home in Florida. She also initially declined to pursue charges despite claims of being sexually assaulted, but did cooperate with the grand jury.

Then, in late April of this year, reports surfaced that wide receiver Von Pearson was a suspect in the investigation of an alleged rape.  Pearson has been indefinitely suspended by head coach Butch Jones, although no charges have been filed and no arrests made in connection to the alleged sexual assault.

Those are the three that have been well-publicized and chronicled; according to The Tennessean, however, there are three other Vols football players who were on the roster in 2014 who have been accused of sexual assault.

In April of 2013, running back Marlin Lane, whose eligibility expired after the 2014 season, was on the receiving end of what turned out to be a two-month suspension that was attributed to “disciplinary reasons.” The paper writes that “Lane… was named as a suspect in the rape of an 18-year-old high school student in Lane’s dorm room on April 9, 2013,” four days before his suspension. No charges were filed after the alleged victim declined to pursue the case.

In February of this year, Riyahd Jones, who was on the team in 2014 but is no longer a part of the team, was named as a suspect in a sexual assault that was reported to the Knoxville police. The Tennessean writes that “[n]o charges have been filed, and police have declined to provide a copy of the full police report, saying that the district attorney’s office could still decide to pursue charges.”

The last of the sixth is explained by the paper thusly:

In September a football player was named in a sexual assault complaint made to university officials by a freshman woman, according to an internal university investigation and emails from university officials obtained by The Tennessean. University officials investigated the case and issued a finding that no assault occurred and the incident was instead consensual sex. The player remains in good standing on the team. The Tennessean is not naming the football player because he has not been publicly accused and no police report was filed.

In addition to UT, Florida State and Vanderbilt are the subject of federal investigations into how they handled reports of sexual assault. Both of those probes are in part connected to the football programs at the respective universities.