Former Michigan State recruiting director Curtis Blackwell said under oath that three Michigan State football staff members, including defensive tackles coach and former defensive line coach Ron Burton, and current quarterbacks coach and former offensive coordinator Dave Warner, warned head coach Mark Dantonio about a recruit with a history of troubling behavior and sexual assault before he was charged with sexual assault while on the team, according to a deposition by Blackwell that was recently made public.
Dantonio signed the recruit, Auston Robertson, in 2015 despite his staffers' warnings. The Spartans eventually dismissed the defensive end in 2017 after he allegedly raped the girlfriend of one of his teammates. Robertson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Before he signed with Michigan State, Robertson had previous sexual misconduct claims against him in his home state of Indiana and had been arrested on charges of vandalism. He was also charged with misdemeanor battery during his senior year of high school after police said he "rubbed and grabbed" a female classmate's groin against her will in the school's lobby. The female student told police Robertson had also harassed or touched her inappropriately on two other occasions. He had been kicked off his high school football team and was banned from his high school's campus during his senior year while Michigan State was recruiting him. According to Blackwell, multiple staff members at Robertson's high school, including his principal and his former football coach, warned the program about Roberston's history.
Police reports and court documents show that Robertson was involved in a string of incidents in which he was accused of sexual violence and two forceful rape attempts during his high school years but he was not charged with crimes in any of those cases. Blackwell said Dantonio "overrode" other staff members who wanted to steer clear of signing Robertson after vetting him.
"We've never intentionally brought a guy in here where I say, 'Hey, that guy is going to be a bad guy,'" Dantonio told reporters at a news conference in June 2017. "Obviously, we took a risk as we said earlier, and vetted the young man."
During Blackwell's deposition, however, the former staffer said he witnessed Burton tell Dantonio that he didn't want Robertson to be on the same campus as his daughter due to his high school track record and noted that multiple staffers raised "red flags" regarding the then-four-star recruit.
"For Ron Burton to say it was that bad that he didn't want his daughter around him, I knew he had some real serious sexual issues," Blackwell said.
Blackwell also accused Dantonio of working with the academic office to get Robertson admitted, despite a substandard academic record. The former recruiting director was arrested in February 2017—but not charged with a crime—on suspicion of interfering with or obstructing a police investigation surrounding the sexual assault allegations involving three Michigan State football players, Donnie Corley, Demetric Vance and Josh King. The University hired the Jones Day law firm to review how the institution and athletic department leaders responded to the sexual assault allegations. It was during the course of the Jones Day investigation that Robertson sexually assaulted the girlfriend of a teammate.
Blackwell's deposition was part of a lawsuit he filed against Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis, former university president Lou Anna Simon and two university police officers for wrongful termination and unlawful arrest. Blackwell claimed in court records filed Thursday that he was unfairly blamed during the sexual misconduct allegations against the Spartan players. Blackwell was suspended shortly after the first incident, for which the three players were later sentenced to three years of probation, and his contract with the football program was not renewed later that year. Dantonio cited "philosophical differences" shortly after they parted ways when asked why Blackwell's contract was not renewed.