Friday, September 24, 2021

Former MSU football staffer files lawsuit against Dantonio, MSU officials

November 13, 2018
Head coach Mark Dantonio answers questions from the media on Aug. 14 at Duffy Daugherty Football Building.
Head coach Mark Dantonio answers questions from the media on Aug. 14 at Duffy Daugherty Football Building. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

A former MSU football staffer is suing head football coach Mark Dantonio and other university officials, alleging they unjustly fired him after he spoke with athletes accused of a January 2017 sexual assault, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Monday.

The lawsuit also names former President Lou Anna K. Simon, former Athletic Director Mark Hollis and two MSU Police Department detectives as defendants.

The suit claims former football staff member Curtis Blackwell confronted players about whether "they got into any trouble" the night of the assault after a father of one of the accused — Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance — contacted Blackwell to inform him that the father "heard of a wild off-campus party" and asked Blackwell to find out if "anyone was in trouble."

Blackwell's suit claims he limited his questioning of the players to "whether they got into any trouble at the party," but the suit is unclear as to whether Blackwell was aware of any alleged sexual contact occurring at the party.

The lawsuit claims the players all responded "no" to Blackwell's inquiry into whether anyone had gotten into trouble, and that "no player acknowledged committing a crime or any sort of sexual contact."

The suit also says when Blackwell asked former football player Auston Robertson about what happened at the party, Robertson told Blackwell "he had already spoken with defendant Dantonio, who had directed him to contact the Title IX Office to report a potential sexual assault incident."

King, Corley and Vance accepted a plea deal in the sexual assault case and were sentenced to probation in June. Robertson, who last week accepted a plea deal on unrelated charges of sexual assault, is not accused of participating in the assault relating to Blackwell's case.

Blackwell was suspended with pay in connection to the case and his contract was allowed to expire, though he was not charged with a crime. The suit portrays the expiration of Blackwell's contract as a firing — one that only took place because the university was "eager to prove they were tough on cover-ups" in the wake of ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar's crimes.

An email from May 2017 sent from former MSU deputy general counsel Kristine Zayko to Blackwell’s counsel reads, "Over the last several months, a staffing review has been conducted within the football program. Based on feedback received during that review, as well as concerns regarding a potential conflict of interest with your outside activities, Coach Dantonio has determined that his program will move in a different direction and your contract will not be extended."

According to the lawsuit, after an interview with MSUPD in which he was cooperative, Blackwell was placed under arrest without having his Miranda rights read to him and had his personal and professional phones confiscated. Blackwell claims his Miranda rights were not read to him until he was in an interrogation room.

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