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Prosecutors: Tennessee staffer sat in on police interviews of ex-players accused of rape

KNOXVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 25: Tennessee Volunteers helmets on the sidelines during a game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and Tennessee Volunteers on November 25, 2017, at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire)

According to Knox County prosecutors, an assistant athletic director for the University of Tennessee was present as detectives questioned two players accused of rape.

The allegation was made Monday, the opening day of A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams’ rape trial. The two former players are accused of raping a female Tennessee athlete in 2014. Prosecutors say that Mike Ward, a Tennessee senior associate athletic director at the time, sat in as police questioned Williams and Johnson.

From the Knoxville News-Sentinel

Even prosecutors criticized the tactic in opening statements to the jury.
Under ordinary police procedure, “you would never have a third-party civilian in that room with you,” Kyle Hixson, an assistant Knox County prosecutor, told jurors.

Knoxville police ended ‘courtesy notifications’ to Tennessee in 2016

The allegation is part of a previously revealed pattern of coziness between police and the university’s athletic department.

In 2016, Knoxville police chief David Rausch announced he was ending a practice of the department giving Jones a “courtesy notification” when a player was a suspect in a criminal case. According to prosecutors, Rausch had agreed to a UT request that Ward sit in on the interviews.

Jones and Rausch were revealed to have exchanged four phone calls on Nov. 16, 2014, the day Johnson and Williams were accused of rape. The calls also happened before a search warrant had been obtained for Johnson’s apartment.

Johnson and Jones were also in phone contact that day. Jones’ phone records had been obtained in 2016 by The Tennessean. Both players were suspended from the team at the time of the accusations and Williams was dismissed while Johnson was a senior at the time of his suspension.

Jones was fired from his post as Tennessee’s coach near the end of the 2017 season. Ward currently works in Elon University’s athletic department.

Civil suit settled in July of 2016

The alleged victim was one of eight women who had collaborated to file a civil suit against the school for the way it handled accusations of sexual assault. The complaint was settled in July of 2016 for approximately $2.5 million. As part of the settlement, Tennessee agreed to appoint an independent commission to examine its sexual assault reporting practices.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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