James pleads innocent todomestic assault charges

Michelle Kibiger

Gophers forward Courtney James brought his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame to a different court on Monday morning.
The sophomore starter for the Gophers men’s basketball team pleaded not guilty to charges of fifth-degree domestic assault, stemming from an incident that occurred about 4 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Police responded on Saturday to the south Minneapolis duplex of Melony Olsen, James’ girlfriend, after a neighbor heard screaming and crying. James was booked at Hennepin County Jail, but posted $1,200 bail later that morning.
James, 20, remained silent as he stood stiffly in front of Hennepin County Judge Marilyn Justman on Monday while his attorney, Mark Berris, entered his plea. Berris said he would not comment on his client’s case. James has a pre-trial conference scheduled for May 14.
Prosecutors said they were not requesting that the judge prohibit James from having any contact with Olsen. In fact, Olsen told police investigators that she did not want him barred from seeing her.
The Star Tribune reported that police said James slapped Olsen across the face with a telephone book and covered her nose so she had trouble breathing. Because of the nature of the case, however, the county attorney’s office does not have to file a charge against James to bring it to trial. As a result, specific information about the case is not being released to the public.
Olsen was unavailable for comment on Monday. She told the Star Tribune, however, that she wanted James to get help and that she loved him.
Mark Dienhart, director of men’s athletics, immediately suspended James indefinitely from all team activities after the incident. In a statement on Monday, Dienhart said James would be evaluated and placed in a counseling program immediately.
“The complaint against Courtney is a very serious matter and one that has us all concerned and disappointed,” Dienhart said. “We will seek an immediate evaluation and appropriate counseling for Courtney, but his suspension from participation in any and all team activities will stay in place until the legal proceedings surrounding the situation have come to a final resolution. Courtney’s future in the program will be decided at that time.”
Jeff Schemmel, Gophers associate men’s athletic director, said the department hasn’t made arrangements yet for a counseling program for James. The matter will most likely be handled by an outside agency.
“We have not set up anything with a specific agency yet,” Schemmel said. “We are investigating where the best placement would be and (will) make a decision on that.”
Men’s Basketball Coach Clem Haskins, though out of town at the time of the incident, agreed with Dienhart’s decision. The coach suspended James last season for violating team rules.
Although stories conflict, James was expelled twice in high school for disciplinary problems.
“Courtney has made progress in many ways since being at the University of Minnesota,” Haskins said. “I’m upset and embarrassed that he should be in this type of a situation. People know what I stand for and what I expect of our team. Courtney has put his status on the team in jeopardy.”
— Staff Reporter Todd Zolecki contributed to this report.