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Tennessee football players allegedly beat up a teammate who helped a sexual assault victim

(AP Photo/University of Tennessee/File)
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Six women have filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Tennessee, alleging that the school violated Title IX and other laws because of its “deliberate indifference” toward sexual assaults committed by student-athletes, most of them football players.

The lawsuit also claims that Tennessee’s adjudication process for on- and off-campus sexual assaults is biased against victims who step forward.

Five Tennessee athletes — former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola, former football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams and Riyahd Jones, and a current football player named as a “John Doe” — are accused of sexual assaults in the lawsuit. A sixth male Tennessee student — not an athlete — also is accused of sexually assaulting a woman after a football team party at a campus dorm at which she was served alcohol by former Tennessee football player Treyvon Paulk.

Williams and Johnson were suspended from the football team after they were accused in December 2014 and have been charged with rape. They face separate trials in June and July, respectively. Makanjuola transferred to UNC Wilmington shortly after the February 2013 alleged assault was reported to Tennessee officials, and an administrative law judge at the school later found that Makanuola more likely than not had violated school rules by sexually assaulting a woman. No criminal charges were pressed against him, however.

Jones was named as a suspect in a sexual-assault case after an incident at an off-campus apartment in February 2015. His accuser decided not to pursue charges and police closed the case. Jones already had parted ways with the Tennessee football team when the incident occurred and played last season at Georgia Southern, starting two games.

Included in the lawsuit is a claim that Tennessee football players assaulted Volunteers wide receiver Drae Bowles after he assisted the woman who accused Johnson and Williams of rape in November 2014. According to the lawsuit, Bowles took the victim to the hospital on the night of the assault and supported her decision to report the incident. The next day, the lawsuit claims, the fifth complainant in the case says she saw several football players jump Bowles and that “athletic coaches were present” during the attack. The woman whom Bowles helped — named “Jane Doe IV” in the lawsuit — says he was assaulted a second time by the same players in a team facility.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has more on this aspect of the lawsuit, particularly that the suit, which claims former linebacker Curt Maggitt “admitted” to the second assault, does not specify if Maggitt actually participated in it. It also notes that Williams told police on Nov. 26 that former teammate Geraldo Orta informed Williams that the team had “a hit” out on Drae Bowles, who Orta said had “betrayed the team and that where he (Orta) came from, people got shot for doing what Bowles did.” Orta and Maggitt both engaged with Bowles in other incidents, according to the News Sentinel.

Bowles transferred to Chattanooga after the 2014 season. In a 2015 interview with the News Sentinel, he said “that he had given the alleged victim a ride home from the party at which the rape allegedly occurred, but that she did not mention that she had been raped. He also denied rumors that he had been assaulted.” Bowles missed several practices the week after the alleged sexual assault, which both he and a Tennessee athletic department spokesman chalked up to academic reasons.

In a statement released through its legal counsel, Tennessee stood by its sexual-assault procedures:

In the situations identified in the lawsuit filed today; the University acted lawfully and in good faith, and we expect a court to agree. Any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true. To claim that we have allowed a culture to exist contrary to our institutional commitment to providing a safe environment for our students or that we do not support those who report sexual assault is just false. The University will provide a detailed response to the lawsuit and looks forward to doing so at the appropriate time, and in the proper manner.

Tennessee also is the subject of two Title IX investigations by the federal government, which were initiated in June and July of last year.