10 suspended Minnesota players won't play in Holiday Bowl

Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys
Head football coach Tracy Claeys
Nati Harnik | AP file

Updated: Dec. 14, 6:35 p.m. | Posted: Dec. 13, 8:10 p.m.

The 10 Minnesota football players who were suspended this week following a fresh investigation into an alleged sexual assault at an off-campus apartment in September will not play in the Holiday Bowl against Washington State.

The same incident led to three-game suspensions of four of the players earlier this season and now they are benched again along with six of their teammates.

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Ray Buford Sr., the father of defensive back Ray Buford Jr., said the new suspensions resulted from an investigation by the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action that was separate from earlier investigations into the alleged assault in the early hours of Sept. 3. He confirmed that an attorney for his son and other players planned to appeal.

Buford Jr., KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson were suspended for three games when their names came up in the police investigation. A restraining order filed by a woman who made the allegations prevented the players from being at TCF Bank Stadium on game days because she was involved in game-day operations.

But the players were not arrested, prosecutors decided not to press charges and the players returned to the team. The restraining order was lifted after a settlement on Nov. 2.

The university announced the new suspensions Tuesday night without disclosing why and officials remained silent on the reason Wednesday. The other six players are defensive backs Antonio Shenault and Antoine Winfield Jr., running backs Carlton Djam and Kobe McCrary, and quarterbacks Seth Green and Mark Williams.

Hardin and Winfield are starters and Buford and Shenault are key reserves.

"Due to privacy restrictions relating to student educational data, there is nothing further the university can share," the school said.

In an email to school supporters, university President Eric Kaler said the players will miss the Dec. 27 bowl game in San Diego. His message did not give the reason for the suspensions, citing the students' privacy rights.

"The need to take actions like this is incredibly disappointing," Kaler wrote.

Kaler said the decision was made by coach Tracy Claeys in consultation with athletic director Mark Coyle. He said he supported the decision, and that it was based on facts and the university's values.

"Our leaders make these decisions with the interests of our entire community in mind, regardless of timing or competitive considerations," he said.

According to police records released Wednesday, the woman told police she was drunk when she was sexually assaulted in Djam's apartment by several men, including some of the suspended players. She said her sexual contact with two men may have been consensual, but her contact with four of them was not. Several players told police it was consensual.

One investigator watched a video Djam took of the incident.

"She appears lucid, alert, somewhat playful, and fully conscious; she does not appear to be objecting to anything at this time. ... (She) sounds as though she is somewhat intoxicated, but is not slurring her words and is certainly conscious and aware of what is going on," he wrote. "She does not appear to be upset by the sexual activity and does not indicate that she wants it to stop ... and the sexual contact appears entirely consensual."

Buford Sr., a Detroit police officer who serves as security director to the city's mayor, said he has seen the EOAA report and that it appeared the office concluded the players were guilty, in contrast with police and prosecutors who found insufficient evidence to press charges and the judge who lifted the restraining order. He said the players who were not suspended earlier were accused of being in the apartment that night.

"Somehow this EEOA has come up with something different. ... It's beyond me. It just reeks to the high heavens," Buford Sr. said.

While prosecutors need to be able to prove a criminal case "beyond a reasonable doubt" to get a conviction, the university uses a lower standard of proof for alleged violations of its student code, requiring only that it is more likely than not that a violation occurred.

Lee Hutton, an attorney for several of the players including Buford Jr., did not return messages from the AP. He told the Star Tribune that the suspensions stemmed from the same incident that led to the earlier suspensions, and he told KMSP-TV that he planned to file an appeal on behalf of all the players involved and that he may ask a court to stay the suspensions.

Buford Sr. confirmed the accuracy of a letter obtained by KSTP-TV that was sent to his son that said the EOAA had found him responsible for several violations of the university's Student Conduct Code, including harm to a person, sexual misconduct, violation of university rules relating to sexual harassment and persistent violations of the code. The letter offered him the choice of accepting expulsion "to resolve this matter informally."