Gopher athletes cleared in probe consider legal outcomes

After his client was cleared of sexual assault by the University of Minnesota, attorney Ryan Pacyga shared his pleasure at the outcome, but said the next stop for the case may be federal court.

A panel of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Committee heard from the players’ attorneys and the alleged victim during two days of marathon hearings. The hearings were held for 10 Gophers football players accused of violating University policies during last year’s football season.

Pacyga called the process of the misconduct hearings unfair to the players, and believed that the “deck was stacked against them.”

Last September, a woman reported a sexual assault inside an apartment. Police investigated but prosecutors did not file charges.

According to Pacyga, a 90-second video that was part of the police investigation was not allowed inside the hearing.

“Importantly, the University’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Department did not view that video,” said Pacyga. “That video did not come into play when the University wrote its 84-page report.”

Pacyga confirmed that the panel cleared Winfield, Jr. of all three charges against him. Players Seth Green, Kobe McCrary, and Antonio Shenault were also cleared.

The panel also recommended the punishment of Carlton Djam should be reduced from a university expulsion to a one year suspension. Mark Williams still faces a one year suspension as well.

Four expulsions were upheld, for Ray Buford, Kiante Harden, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson.

The players that were cleared could file Tile IX claims in federal court, said Pacyga.

“And then what would happen for some players is seeking relief in the federal courts for Title IX violations and seeking a change of the process,” said Pacyga. “And get more due process into these hearings and perhaps some monetary damages.”

Pacyga said he believed that all of the players should have been cleared, not just four. He also said that there are lessons for everyone involved.

“There are lessons for the reporting student, there are lessons for the accused players and there are lessons for all students, if they find themselves in a situation to get out of there quickly.”

Winfield, Jr. faced taunts and messages online accusing him of being a sexual predator, and according to Pacyca. Winfield and his family are eager to clear his name.

The players, as well as the accuser, can still appeal these rulings to the University’s provost’s office within five days.

The University would not comment on the proceedings, citing confidentiality laws.