Friday, April 10, 2020

Ex-football staffer: Dantonio was warned before recruit's sexual assault arrest

September 20, 2019
<p>Coach Mark Dantonio speaks to the press during Michigan State’s Football Media Day at Spartan Stadium on Aug. 5, 2019. </p>

Coach Mark Dantonio speaks to the press during Michigan State’s Football Media Day at Spartan Stadium on Aug. 5, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Former Michigan State football staffer Curtis Blackwell said under oath that head coach Mark Dantonio ignored multiple warnings about former defensive end Auston Robertson during the recruiting stages.

In a six and a half hour deposition, Blackwell said that he, Defensive Line Coach Ron Burton and Quarterbacks Coach Dave Warner all warned Dantonio about Robertson, according to a report by ESPN.

Blackwell said Burton went as far to say that he wouldn't want his daughter on the same campus as Robertson.

Police reports and court documents showed Robertson was accused of sexual violence and two forceful rape attempts in high school, however he wasn't charged for a crime in those cases.

A university spokeswoman told ESPN in 2018 the school wasn't aware of those incidents when Robertson was admitted to Michigan State.

Robertson was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct for a different case in 2017. He eventually pleaded guilty to assault with intent commit criminal sexual penetration and is currently serving a maximum 10 year sentence in state prison.

"The fact that Mr. Blackwell's contract was not renewed has nothing to do with Auston Robertson," Dantonio said in a statement. "Two years ago, I spoke at length about Auston Robertson when he was dismissed from the team in 2017. Rather than engage in a public argument with a former staffer, I refer you to those previous statements."

Dantonio also cited the 2017 Jones Day investigation and the 2018 NCAA investigation, which concluded the program committed no violations.

"Mr. Blackwell's lawsuit concerns his allegations that his contract was not renewed because he refused to co-operate with investigations being conducted by the MSUPD and a law firm hired to evaluate the MSU football program's compliance with sexual assault reporting policies," said Tom Kienbaum, Dantonio's counsel. "The lawsuit has nothing to do with the recruitment or actions of any student athletes, including Auston Robertson."

Blackwell said Dantonio wanted Robertson as a "pet project" and had meetings with the 4-star defensive end every Monday.

One of these meetings led Robertson telling Dantonio about the party former Michigan State players Donnie Corley, Josh King and Demetric Vance were kicked off the team and later charged with sexual assault, according to ESPN.

Robertson was charged with misdemeanor battery during his senior year of high school and kicked off the football team and campus.

Police said he "rubbed and grabbed" a female classmate's groin in the high school lobby, for which he was charged with sexual battery. She told police Robertson had harassed or touched her inappropriately on two other occasions, according to the report.

Following reports that Michigan State mishandled sexual assault allegations, the university hired the Jones Day law firm to investigate how the institution and athletic department leaders handled the sexual assault allegation.

The firm reported Blackwell broke school policy by not properly reporting what he knew about the Carley, King and Vance incident. Dantonio and all other Michigan State employees were cleared of wrongdoing by the report.

Blackwell's deposition came as part of a lawsuit against the university. Police said Blackwell interfered with the investigation into the case against Corley, King and Vance, according to ESPN.

Blackwell was arrested, but not charged with a crime for the interference. His contract was not renewed after the incident. He said he was used as a scapegoat for the decision to bring Robertson to campus.

Editor's note — This story has been updated to reflect comments from Dantonio and his attorney.

Football beat reporter Justin Frommer contributed to this report.

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