Knoxville police may have broken state laws when contacting Tennessee coach Butch Jones before arresting football players, reports The Tennesseean.
Football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, who will both face trial for rape and have both been named in a Title IX lawsuit against the school, first heard from coaches as opposed to police they were under investigation for rape, according to the report. Knoxville police chief David Rausch and a detective made a phone call to Jones alerting him of the investigation, allowing Jones to contact his players before the police.
Such calls are typically not made in the early stages on an investigation, and could affect the integrity of the case, according to the report. Knoxville Assistant District Attorney Sean McDermott told The Tennesseean in a statement that “a pre-arrest disclosure of sensitive information that is not made for the purpose of advancing the criminal investigation potentially could violate state law.”
Sources told The Tennessean that in the four-hour gap between contact from coaches and police, Johnson and Williams called each other and friends, presumably to discuss details about the allegations. A retired Nashville police officer told The Tennessean that the four-hour gap could create “a chance for evidence to be disposed of, or cleaned, or for the whole scene to be changed.”
Earlier this year, eight women joined a federal lawsuit alleging the University of Tennessee enabled sexual assaults by student athletes due its student culture and a legal process biased against victims.
The plaintiffs claim Tennessee violated Title IX laws—which are meant to protect students from gender discrimination—in its handling of sex assault cases. The lawsuit alleged Tennessee showed “deliberate indifference and a clearly unreasonable response after a sexual assault that causes a student to endure additional harassment.”
Johnson and Williams have been charged with two counts of aggravated rape and will each stand trial separately this summer.