A member of Michigan State’s No. 2-ranked basketball team has been under investigation for criminal sexual conduct since the start of the fall semester, sources close to the case confirmed to Outside the Lines on Thursday.
Ingham County, Michigan, prosecutors are in the process of determining whether formal charges should be filed against the player, freshman guard Brock Washington. Washington, a walk-on from Southfield, Michigan, is named as the lone suspect in an alleged assault that Michigan State campus police have classified as fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, the sources told Outside the Lines.
In August, a female student reported to campus police that Washington forcibly groped her without her permission, the sources told Outside the Lines. After an investigation, police on Dec. 13 forwarded their findings to the county prosecutor’s office.
Details of the allegations and circumstances remain unknown; a police report has not been released publicly. Outside the Lines requested a copy of the police report through the university’s public records office on Feb. 6, and the university responded Wednesday with a request for a 10-day extension to answer the request.
Outside the Lines reached out Thursday afternoon to multiple university officials and Washington for comment. None responded to calls, voicemails or emails. Outside the Lines also reached out to John Truscott, who was hired recently to lead the university’s crisis communications efforts. Truscott, in response to a series of questions about the alleged incident and a request to release the police report, wrote in an email that he was not in a position to know anything about the case; when asked whether he would provide someone at the university who could answer questions or provide a statement, he responded that “I’m just saying we don’t have any information at this time but will certainly look into it. We don’t have access to police reports, nor does the police department inform anyone of actions such as this.”
As part of a 2015 resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Michigan State police officials are required to inform university officials of such reports “promptly.” According to the resolution: “the university will develop a written protocol between the university police and the university’s Title IX coordinator that outlines how the parties will promptly notify each other when either receives a complaint of sexual or gender-based harassment, assault or violence, and to what extent they will coordinate efforts on behalf of the university to promptly and equitably respond; and how they will document those efforts, including all investigatory steps taken.”
An Outside the Lines investigation has found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of sexual assault and violence allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartans’ athletic department.
The campus police department reports up through the university president’s office, which is being led on an interim basis by former Michigan Gov. John Engler. Truscott is Engler’s former communications director.
Fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct is considered a “high-court misdemeanor” in Michigan, meaning the maximum penalty for someone found guilty of the offense is two years of incarceration compared to the typical maximum sentence of one year for a regular misdemeanor.
Washington has suited up for coach Tom Izzo’s team every game this season, but as a younger member of an elite team has not received any playing time. In October, Izzo said Washington and another walk-on “are capable of playing someplace” but were, at the time, shining as scout team players, according to a tweet from a Detroit Free Press reporter.
Izzo, Michigan State’s athletic department and the university as a whole have been under scrutiny in recent weeks in part because of an Outside the Lines investigation published on Jan. 26. The investigation found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of sexual assault, violence and gender discrimination complaints by officials ranging from campus police to the MSU athletic department.
The report publicized not-previously-known police reports of sexual or violent incidents involving members of the MSU football team and Izzo’s storied basketball program, including one report made against a former undergraduate student-assistant coach who continued coaching after he had been criminally charged for punching a female MSU student in the face at a bar in 2010. A few months later, after the Spartans qualified for the 2010 Final Four, the same assistant coach was accused of sexually assaulting a different female student.
MSU athletic director Mark Hollis resigned from the university just hours ahead of the Outside the Lines report, and two days after Outside the Lines had asked MSU officials for comment on its findings.
Since the Outside the Lines reports published and aired late last month, Izzo has repeatedly declined to address specific issues raised in the report. On Tuesday, interim president Engler called the Outside the Lines stories “a sensationalized package of reporting” and said Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio had been asked to refrain from comment while the report was being reviewed. Engler said: “I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches.” ESPN said in a statement Tuesday, “We stand by our reporting.”
Among the key findings of the Outside the Lines report was that over the past three years, MSU had three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school also had deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators had commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials had been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work.
When he was hired to help the university, Truscott told MLive media that “A priority is to change the culture. … In crisis management, you need to admit it, own it and fix it. We’re owning it.”
One of the cases Izzo has been repeatedly asked about was that of Travis Walton, the undergraduate student assistant coach in 2010 who faced charges of misdemeanor assault and battery for punching a woman at an East Lansing bar but remained on Izzo’s bench. Walton also had a sexual assault allegation made against him and two other players — allegations that were reported to the athletic department, according to a copy of an internal Michigan State document written by a former university sexual assault counselor and obtained by Outside the Lines.
Izzo has said in recent weeks he cannot specifically recall why Walton, who stayed at his house briefly in 2010, left the program: “He graduated. … To be honest with you, I don’t know why he left. I know he went to Europe to play.”
Walton never faced charges in the alleged sexual assault, and he pleaded down to a civil infraction of littering and paid a $500 fine in the battery case.
David Meyers, the former assistant city attorney who handled the case, told Outside the Lines in January that he agreed to a plea deal with Walton after his defense attorney provided witness statements that contradicted two other witnesses to the alleged incident. Meyers has been highly critical of Outside the Lines’ reporting, telling Michigan media outlets in recent weeks that he did nothing out of the ordinary in Walton’s case and the arrangement was approved by his former boss and current City Attorney Tom Yeadon. Yeadon was quoted in a recent Detroit Free Press article as saying, “Oftentimes in assault cases, there are differing versions of who did what to whom. But that’s still a fairly common plea agreement.”
But in a Jan. 4 interview with Outside the Lines about Walton’s case, Yeadon told an Outside the Lines reporter more than once that the conclusion to such an assault case was not common: “It is unusual that we would, for an assault, give that specific type of a plea arrangement especially if there [are] medical bills and that kind of thing unless we had some other problems with the case.” Such “problems,” he said then, could have been uncooperative victims, missing witnesses or procedural problems, but none of those were listed as factors in the 2010 case.
When contacted by Outside the Lines on Tuesday to address his conflicting statements, Yeadon confirmed his Jan. 4 comments and added, “When we have conflicting statements, it is not unusual. Perhaps I did not convey that clearly … I didn’t mean to mislead you, and I’m sorry if I did.”
He said it indeed was common practice to plead assault cases to civil infractions because the end result would typically be the same as if the city had invested resources in a criminal prosecution; there would be a fine along with an informal probationary period, yet the alleged perpetrator would not have a criminal record. “[Walton] wasn’t proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Did he admit responsibility to an offense and pay a fine? Yes,” Yeadon said, noting that Walton’s $500 was the highest the city could impose.
Walton has denied striking anyone in the bar. Walton also denied sexually assaulting the woman, according to a statement he issued Jan. 30: “I have never been charged with sexual assault and, to my knowledge, the alleged sexual assault was never reported to Michigan State University or the police. My encounters with this woman were more than just a single occasion, and my actions with her were always consensual.”
Walton’s statement also notes that he was never “hired or fired” by Michigan State University and that he left that summer to play basketball in Europe.
In its late-January reports, Outside the Lines reported that former MSU sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede left the university in 2015 over frustrations about how administrators handled sexual assault cases. She told Outside the Lines that MSU administrators’ entire approach to such cases had been misguided for years, especially when it came to cases involving athletes.
“Whatever protocol or policy was in place, whatever frontline staff might normally be involved in response or investigation, it all got kind of swept away and it was handled more by administration [and] athletic department officials,” said Allswede, who worked at MSU for seven years. “It was all happening behind closed doors. … None of it was transparent or included people who would normally be involved in certain decisions.”
On Thursday, MLive reported that Hollis sent a letter to athletic department staffers this week reiterating his plan to cooperate with any investigations of MSU. He also criticized ESPN’s reporting: “I can state with certainty that there were inaccurate, incomplete and misleading statements made and then reported by ESPN.”
Hollis did not return a message from Outside the Lines seeking comment.