August 12, 2016

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) A Florida athletics booster serving as a hearing officer for the university has cleared standout receiver Antonio Callaway of sexual assault.

Jake Schickel delivered his decision in writing Friday, saying his impression from last week's code of conduct hearing was that Callaway ''was honest, sincere, and presented himself well.'' The accuser, her attorney and witnesses boycotted the hearing, saying Schickel was biased because of his financial contributions to the Gators.

''From the totality of the evidence, I find that the burden of proof was not met and I find Mr. Callaway not responsible,'' Schickel wrote.

Schickel addressed the perception of bias, saying he declined to recuse himself because ''I did not believe that I would be biased in any way in favor of or against any of the parties. I have prosecuted rape cases. I have sat in judgment of lawyers. My family has dealt with rape issues.''

The accuser has 10 business days to appeal the ruling.

Callaway was the only witness at the hearing. Schickel said Callaway testified that the sexual encounter was consensual, at least on the accuser's part, and admitted that he was high on marijuana.

''I was so stoned I had no interest in having sex with anyone,'' Callaway testified, saying the accuser was the aggressor.

Schickel said he found no evidence suggesting that the accuser was intoxicated ''to the extent she could not consent.'' The accuser had previously told investigators she did not consent because of intoxication and/or force. Schickel found that she was not detained at any point nor did she ask for help from any of the others present, including another woman.

The woman's attorney said Friday that the ruling was expected since they didn't show for the hearing and that his client is so ''disheartened'' that she's considering not returning to school.

''Our client and the whole university community deserve a lot better than this,'' Colorado-based attorney John Clune said.

Callaway's Gainesville-based attorney, Huntley Johnson, said Clune has ''gone out of his way to distort Mr. Callaway's action. Please allow us to level the playing field.''

''The decision by the hearing officer reflects only a fraction of the evidence which is not favorable to the complainant,'' Johnson added. ''The women's adviser has said, `They will take their witnesses and go elsewhere.' They need to be careful what they wish for.''

Callaway was suspended in January for violating the university's code of conduct policy and forced to take classes online. The suspension came nearly two months after the alleged incident in early December.

Callaway was partially reinstated in June, allowed to return to campus and work out with teammates. Callaway caught 35 passes for 678 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman last season. He also returned 28 punts for 435 yards and two scores.

Schickel's decision could clear the way for Callaway's full return and allow him to play in the Sept. 3 season opener against UMass.

The athletic department deferred calls seeking comment to the university, which has handled the case from the start.

''The University of Florida will not tolerate sexual misconduct and thoroughly investigates every allegation it receives through the student conduct and Title IX processes,'' the school said in a statement. ''While we want to be as transparent as possible, we cannot address rumors, media reports or misleading statements from attorneys on this subject.

''We cannot confirm whether or not any allegation or student conduct investigation exists; and the university is barred from discussing specific student disciplinary cases. Federal and state law are very clear on this front and require strict confidentiality of this kind of information.''

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AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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