Three Gophers football players win appeals in UMN sexual assault case

Provost Karen Hanson overturned a one-year suspension for Mark Williams and upheld a panel’s February decision to not sanction Kobe McCrary and Antoine Winfield Jr.

Gophers football players sit on the sidelines during a game at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 3, 2015.

Image by Joe Sulik, Daily File Photo

Gophers football players sit on the sidelines during a game at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 3, 2015.

by Kevin Beckman

Three Gophers football players won appeals Monday over University of Minnesota sanctions for their alleged involvement in a September sexual assault case.

University Provost Karen Hanson — who oversees the appeal process in campus sexual misconduct adjudications — ruled that Antoine Winfield Jr., Mark Williams and Kobe McCrary won’t be punished in connection to a sexual assault, Ryan Pacyga, Winfield’s attorney, said Wednesday.

Hanson’s ruling overturned a disciplinary panel’s one year suspension for Mark Williams. Her decision upheld the panel’s decision, which was issued in February, to not sanction McCrary and Winfield.

“We’re happy with the outcome … [and] we’re happy some of these guys have been vindicated,” Pacyga, who also assisted with other players’ cases, said. “It’s been a long road … [Winfield] has learned some things from this and he’s looking forward to now putting this thing behind him.”

While Winfield and McCrary were cleared by the panel last month, the reporting party appealed that decision, he said.

All parties involved in sexual misconduct cases at the University can appeal final decisions.

“These couple of months have been nothing short of a nightmare for me and I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me and shown nothing but love,” Winfield said in a tweet Monday. “…I have been cleared and I am excited to tear up the field for my brothers and my Gopher fans.”

KiAnte Hardin and Carlton Djam — who appealed their punishments — had their sanctions upheld by Hanson, Pacyga said.

Any further appeals of the University’s case would be handled by the federal court system.

In February, the school panel expelled Hardin and suspended Djam from the University for one year.

Three other players who were expelled — Ray Buford, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — transferred to Arizona Western Community College.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has twice declined to press charges in the case, but a federally-required University investigation — using a lower standard of proof — determined that it was “more likely than not” that the ten players involved were responsible for sexual misconduct.

The case stems from a September report of an alleged sexual assault of a University game-day employee at a post-football game party.

Following the case, which roiled campus in December, the University announced several changes to help prevent sexual assault.

The University’s investigation of the players prompted a threatened boycott of a bowl game by teammates who said the accused players were treated unfairly. The players’ attorneys have said the University’s investigation was flawed.

The boycott also sparked counter-protests by victims and sexual assault prevention advocates.

The University said Monday that Winfield, Williams and McCrary along with Antonio Shenault and Seth Green, who were cleared last month, have been reinstated to team activities.