Jones charged in rape case

Hennepin County officials charged University football player Dominic Jones, 20, with third-degree sexual assault Monday. Police arrested Jones, a junior, Sunday night in connection with the April arrests of three fellow football players....
By
  • Karlee Weinmann
July 18, 2007

>DNA evidence from the victim's clothing and a cell phone video led to the arrest of Gopher football player Dominic Jones.

Hennepin County officials charged University football player Dominic Jones, 20, with third-degree sexual assault Monday. Police arrested Jones, a junior, Sunday night in connection with the April arrests of three fellow football players.

After being arraigned, Jones posted his $25,000 bail Tuesday afternoon.

Jones was charged with the felony after police recovered a cell phone video of Jones performing a sex act on a woman who was "physically helpless," according to the criminal complaint.

Jones did not enter a plea Tuesday, but his attorney, Earl Gray, said Jones will plead not guilty.

'The charge is a serious one'

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the 18-year-old woman had an estimated blood alcohol content of at least .30 percent - more than three times the legal limit for of-age drivers - at the time of the alleged incident.

The woman is not a University student.

"Today's charge represents a significant next step in this case," Freeman said at a press conference. "The charge is a serious one."

Jones faces up to 15 years in prison and $30,000 in fines if convicted.

Alex Daniels and Keith Massey, both 20, and E.J. Jones, 19, were arrested April 6 in connection with the alleged rape. Authorities released the players three days later without charges, pending further investigation.

Upon their release, all three players denied the rape
allegations.

Dominic Jones and E.J. Jones are not related, but Dominic Jones is Massey's half brother. Dominic Jones, Daniels and Massey played high school football together in Columbus, Ohio.

Daniels, Massey and E.J. Jones are still suspects in the case and charges against them could be filed later, Freeman said.

According to court documents, an individual listed only as "R.M." brought the woman to his University Village apartment where the rape allegedly took place.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness confirmed this individual's identity as Robert McField, a former Gopher football player.

McField, who shared the apartment with Daniels, Massey and E.J. Jones, was suspended from the football team and ultimately dismissed from the University when felony charges against him came to light.

He pled guilty to two reduced counts of second-degree robbery and one count of armed criminal action in St. Louis.

He is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence, but Hestness said McField is not a suspect in the alleged rape.

"There's no evidence that he forced anybody to take part in any sexual activity and we don't think he did. He brought the young woman there, but that's not a crime in itself," Hestness said.

In the apartment

At the apartment, the report states, McField challenged the woman to a drinking contest.

According to the criminal complaint, the woman drank heavily and Daniels, Massey and E.J. Jones "took turns having sex with her" before she later passed out on the living room couch.

The report also stated Daniels, Massey and E.J. Jones consumed no alcohol.

University junior Emma Jo Howitz, who is a friend of the three initially arrested players, was at the apartment the night of the alleged rape. She said her friends wouldn't have forced a woman to have sex with them.

"If a girl wants to do something with them, oh yeah, they're going to be all for it, but if a girl says no, they'll leave her alone," she said. "They don't need to sit here and have to try to push a girl against her will to do that. They have enough other girls who want to do something with them."

Howitz said she was in and out of the apartment throughout the night, but did not return after 11:45 p.m. April 3, which would have been before the rape.

Freeman said Dominic Jones arrived at the apartment later and performed a sex act on the woman, which Daniels recorded on his cell phone.

"The sex act was recorded on the cell phone video, which was later deleted," Freeman said. "A short portion of the deleted video was recovered as a result of some fine police work and painstaking forensic evidence."

Forensic evidence

The Bureau of Investigations and the Secret Service examined the cell phone at the request of the police, according to court documents.

Detectives determined the video was recorded during the early morning hours of April 4, when the woman said she was assaulted.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," Freeman said, "and that cell phone video really reflects what happened at that point in time."

Dominic Jones became a suspect about one or two weeks after the original arrests were made, following the cell phone video's recovery, Freeman said.

"We didn't know about the cell phone video at the time the other three were originally arrested. We learned of that much later," he said.

Investigators also matched DNA evidence from the victim's clothing to Dominic Jones.

Massey's attorney, Joe Tamburino, said he was stunned when officials filed charges against Dominic Jones.

"I just find it surprising that after four months they wind up charging this fourth person. It's all news to me. I don't know what (Dominic Jones) did or did not do," Tamburino said. "I don't think a crime was committed, at least on my client's part."

Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond oversees the prosecutors trying the case. He gave reasons, such as the amount of physical data requiring examination, for the lengthy investigation.

He listed cell phone analysis and DNA testing as meticulous and time-consuming aspects of the investigation.

"We aren't going to make a knee-jerk reaction and we want to make a very careful, considered decision," he said. "We're going to take the opportunity to use the time that is available to make that decision."

Special Agent Randy Stricker of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's Cold Case Homicide Unit, now retired, spent 18 years as an investigator dealing with forensic evidence.

He said the evidence against Dominic Jones appears to be substantial.

"That's about the best evidence you can get," he said. "They have it videotaped and the DNA. That's fairly conclusive."

Stricker said although there is strength in the case against Dominic Jones, the outcome will still depend on the prosecution's ability to prove a lack of consent.

"If they have DNA, that's 99 percent of the case," he said. "Then you have to determine whether or not it was consensual or forced, and that all depends on what the victim had to say."

Genetics and cell biology senior Wilfried Zehourou, president of the Black Student Union, which in April held a rally supporting fairness for the three original accused players, said patience is key as information about the case becomes available.

"The video clip was reconstructed after being deleted; it's a partial clip. We don't know how long it is; we don't know what it shows," he said. "If you portray certain individuals in a certain manner, people will start believing they're guilty without caring for the case. They may even start believing they're innocent without a case."

Zehourou said a second rally is not in the works, but he plans to monitor the case's developments.

Jeff DeGree, attorney for E.J. Jones, said his client never felt he would be charged and was optimistic on his chances for a return to the football team.

"The reality of it is they've been investigating this for a while," he said. "E.J. certainly understands that his behavior wasn't appropriate and didn't reflect well, but at some point he wants to put it behind him, swallow his medicine and start playing football again."

Daniels' attorney, Mike Colich, could not be reached for comment.

Legal proceedings

Dominic Jones' bail, set by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, came with conditions.

The charged is not allowed to establish contact with the victim or any witnesses in the case. He also must check in with a parole officer twice a week until his trial concludes.

The next hearing is set for Aug. 6.

Gray, Dominic Jones' attorney, is no stranger to high-profile cases involving athletes.

Gray represented former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper after a sex scandal aboard a yacht on Lake Minnetonka tainted the team's image.

Culpepper was cleared in 2006 of misdemeanor charges relating to the incident. Gray is optimistic his client will see the same result this time around.

"We're going to defend the case and go to trial on it," Gray said. "I believe it is a defensible case."

On-campus reaction

The University has cooperated with officials throughout the investigation and will continue to do so, Athletics Director Joel Maturi said in a statement.

"The conduct alleged in this case does not reflect the expectations and aspirations that the University has for its student-athletes or any of its students," he said.

Dominic Jones is suspended and cannot participate in team activities, head football coach Tim Brewster said in the same statement.

Daniels, Massey and E.J. Jones have been suspended since their April arrests and will remain so "until more information becomes available," Brewster said.

-Jake Grovum contributed to this report.

An inquiry into Athletic codes of conduct reveals a lack of attention to sexual issues.

The third-degree criminal sexual conduct charges against Dominic Jones raise questions about how athletics department officials deal with the conduct - and misconduct - of student-athletes.

Dominic Jones' charges came days after administrators touted the new $288.5 million football stadium at an official logo-unveiling ceremony.

Athletics department officials shelled out an additional $2.2 million for the buyout of previous coach Glen Mason to secure Tim Brewster, a hefty price tag aimed at directing the program into an era of prosperity on the field.

But off the field, the program's integrity has taken a beating since the April rape allegations against football players Alex Daniels, Keith Massey and E.J. Jones.

Players' conduct - and consequently, the athletics department's management of such conduct - has come under fire.

Student-athletes sign an NCAA conduct contract outlining certain behavioral and academic obligations.

General policies are set by the athletics department, but each team can supplement departmentwide policies with its own additional regulations, provided they remain consistent with the overarching policies, senior associate athletics director Regina Sullivan said in an e-mail.

In cases of conduct violations, the athletics director has jurisdiction over ultimate punishments, though some violations carry set penalties.

"Being charged with a felony merits immediate suspension from the team. The case is then reviewed by the coach, athletics directors and other University representatives as needed to determine a further course of action," Sullivan said.

The department reviews policies annually and amends them as deemed necessary.

Colleen Powers, a psychology senior who played for the varsity softball team for three years, said her team has a handful of pages of rules and regulations that team members must agree to follow before each season.

She said athletes in Division I programs are automatically put in the spotlight, and, wherever they go, they must act as representatives of their teams and schools.

"Everybody knows who you are and everybody is watching your every move," she said. "I don't think it's unfair … it's something you should have to accept and deal with."

History junior Tim Soliday, a former member of the Gopher football team, said he and his teammates had to participate in a semester-long personal development program focused on orienting the athletes to University life.

"It was kind of a dumb class," he said. "Just do's and don'ts."

University graduate Joe Ainslie was on the Gopher football team for five years.

In that time, he said, coaches and personal development program speakers reminded athletes they were in the spotlight.

"The coaches did a really good job of … keeping track of us and taking care of us," Ainslie said. "As a teacher or as a coach, you can only go so far. The student has to take the extra step."

Ainslie said coaches or athletics department representatives never specifically discussed sexual conduct with athletes, but did tell them "to stay out of trouble."

Once, Ainslie recalled, a program speaker addressed the issue of rape.

Online conduct

Ainslie said coaches addressed student-athlete use of social networking sites, but stopped short of imposing firm restrictions on players' use of such sites.

"They can't tell you to take (profiles) down, but it would be best if you did, which makes sense," he said. "Athletes are held to a higher standard. People see you, (and) they just automatically think 'football' and they play the stereotypes and judge you."

A Facebook.com search of two of the arrested football players yielded pictures of the players holding or sitting near alcoholic beverages. Both players are underage.

The pictures, some posted days before the April 6 arrests, could be viewed by anyone in the University network as of Tuesday afternoon.

The pictures were posted months after Maturi cautioned representatives from various University teams about student-athlete online conduct, specifically in reference to social network profiles.

The issue of student-athletes - especially in high-profile Division I programs - posting pictures on social networking sites has been a divisive one.

Last fall, the University of Minnesota-Duluth athletics department enacted a policy banning all student-athletes from using such sites.

But with online expression, First Amendment issues abound.

Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Daily who specializes in First Amendment law, said universities preventing athletes from online expression is condescending and paternalistic.

"They're adults," he said. "I think if you don't accept that as a reality, then you engage in some of the double standard."

For their part, officials in the University athletics department have warned athletes about what they put on their profiles.

They have not, however, enacted an official policy.

"Athletes are perceived as representing the University," Anfinson said. "It's kind of preposterous, but that's the flip side of the coin of their celebrity."

-Jake Grovum and Karlee Weinmann contributed to this report.

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