Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and two assistant coaches contacted a witness during a 2017 sexual assault investigation involving then freshman guard Brock Washington, according to Paula Lavigne and Nicole Noren of ESPN.
Michigan State student Brayden Smith was with Washington on the night of Aug. 28, 2017, when a woman, Rebecca Lambert, says the basketball player groped her without her consent. Smith told police that Izzo and assistant coaches Dwayne Stephens and Mike Garland reached out to him about the incident before his interview with the authorities.
According to a police report obtained by ESPN, the coaches "asked [Smith] if he was OK and if there was anything that he had seen during the evening." ESPN reports Smith also told a Michigan State Title IX investigator about the coaches contacting him.
Smith did not play basketball for the Spartans, but his father, Steve Smith, was on the team from 1987–91, the same time Izzo was an assistant coach. ESPN reports Brayden Smith told a Title IX investigator that he was unaware of the accounts about Washington before the coaches' inquiry about the incident. Smith also called the coaches his "godfathers" and said they check in on him sometimes. The police report indicated Smith didn't think the coaches were talking to him to get information about Washington "but rather to ensure that he was OK and remind him to be responsible," per ESPN.
Michigan State spokesperson Emily Guerrant told ESPN that the university has policies prohibiting employees from interfering with an investigation or conducting their own. Guerrant said the university's Office of Institutional Equity did not think those policies "were violated" considering Smith's relationship with the coaches.
Bill Beekman, MSU's athletic director, issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon to reiterate that point.
"Tom Izzo has been a beacon of integrity in his profession for nearly four decades, including a quarter century as head coach. Michigan State's Office of Institutional Equity has gone on record to say that no policies were violated in regards to any actions taken by the men's basketball staff during a Title IX investigation into a student," Beekman said, per The Detroit News' Matt Charboneau. "There's nothing to support any claims that any member of the men's basketball staff conducted their own investigation, or interfered with any ongoing investigation. Any insinuation to the contrary is nothing more than an attempt to smear a coach, a program and an entire university."
Lambert told police that on the night of Aug. 28, 2017, she and Washington were hanging out with a group of people in a friend's dorm room. Washington followed her to her dorm room when she went to get her phone charger. Lambert said she briefly consented to him kissing her but then he groped her without her consent. She tried to pull away from him and told him no when he began groping her and later when he tried to pull her to the floor. Lambert's roommate, who was asleep in their room, woke up and heard her tell Washington to stop. Lambert said Washington stopped when two of her friends knocked on her door.
After they left Lambert's room, she and Washington kissed in the hallway. However, Washington and Lambert reportedly gave different accounts on whether the kiss was consensual.
In 2018, Washington pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. During the 2017 investigation, he dressed for every game of the 2017–18 basketball season but never played.
Washington, a walk-on, played in seven games last season and eight this season. On Jan. 23, Izzo said Washington was suspended indefinitely from the team. ESPN confirmed that Washington remains enrolled at the university.
Last week, ESPN reported about a second sexual assault investigation involving Washington. A woman asked the Michigan attorney general's office to investigate her case after local prosecutors declined to file charges. The woman said Washington raped her in January while she was too intoxicated to consent.