New documents shed light on party, fight that led to charges for UK football players

Members of a student conduct hearing board agreed that alcohol and racial slurs played a “significant role.”
Members of a student conduct hearing board agreed that alcohol and racial slurs played a “significant role.”
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - One University of Kentucky football player allegedly involved in an altercation at an off-campus party says he is the victim of a hate crime, leaving he and a teammate “fearing for our lives,” a joint investigation by news partners WKYT and Fox 56 found.

The statement comes from a letter dated April 20 and sent to UK’s Office of Student Conduct, which looked into the matter for potential violations of the university’s code of conduct.

The letter is one of more than a dozen documents from the university’s administrative investigation that were obtained Wednesday in an open records request filed by Fox 56′s Kristen Pflum.

Six UK football players were criminally charged in August, more than five months after the March 6 incident.

Lexington Police said that on that night three individuals entered a home uninvited during a private party, became upset when asked to leave, and threatened to return. When they came back later with additional individuals, they allegedly forced their way into the residence, with one suspect pointing a gun at someone, police said.

Offensive lineman R.J. Adams, running back JuTahn McClain, defensive back Andru Phillips, wide receiver Earnest Sanders IV, safety Vito Tisdale and defensive back Joel Williams were charged with first-degree burglary.

Tisdale is also charged with wanton endangerment. He was “identified as the suspect pointing a handgun at one of the victims,” Lexington Police said in a news release announcing the charges.

Some accounts from people at the party seem to dispute that, as administrative records from UK’s student conduct investigation shed more light on what may have played a role in the events that night.

An official records custodian denied a request for audio, video and written transcripts of the conduct hearings themselves, citing federal privacy laws for universities, but UK did provide its investigation report, which includes accounts from interviews the Office of Student Conduct held with witnesses and suspects.

[MORE | WKYT Investigates]

The documents have been redacted of any personally-identifying information such as names, in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Football players told UK officials as part of the investigation that they had hung out several times before at the home, located in a popular off-campus student housing area, where they decided to attend a fraternity party going on while “party hopping.”

Yet accounts included in UK’s student conduct investigation report state that when the group showed up after midnight they were greeted with racial slurs.

“An unidentified girl in a blue jersey asked who they...are and was using racial slurs when telling them they are not welcome,” the report states. Another individual, whose name was redacted, “also stated that a girl called [them] the n-word as soon as they walked in the house.”

“[Redacted] believes that this incident was racially motivated due to the girl calling them a racial slur as soon as they walked in,” the report says, as multiple “guys, and the girl in the blue jersey were saying the n-word during the altercation.”

One of the football players “said they would come back after being asked to leave initially,” according to accounts given to administrators.

Later, when the group returned, more people (“15-20 guys,” according to an account in the report) arrived who were “pacing and acting antsy,” the report says, prompting someone to send a group message telling people inside the house to lock the front door.

As a partygoer helped women out the back of the house to get to their ride, a group “swarmed the house,” while a group inside tried to barricade the front door to keep others from pushing in, witnesses told administrators.

One witness saw “an unidentified person (the ‘main guy’) pulled out a gun from his waistband,” according to a description the witness provided.

Several people were reportedly injured in the altercation that followed, including “multiple women saying they got punched.” One person “had two swollen eyes from the incident,” the report states. One said she was pushed against the wall by her neck. One woman “wasn’t sure if the hits were intentional or just because she was trying to help get people out of the wall.”

A student conduct hearing board found at least eight students responsible for either harm and threat of harm or failure to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Notes from the hearing show that members of the board agreed “that alcohol and the use of racial slurs played a significant role in the events on the evening of March 6 and caused the escalation of those events.”

“I completely and undoubtedly deny any allegations that I threatened, harmed or caused any harm to anyone at this party that night,” a football player whose name was redacted wrote in a letter dated April 20 and sent to UK’s student responsibility coordinator. “I was the victim of a ‘hate crime’ that I will be following up and filing charges with the city of Lexington soon.”

In the letter, the person describes a young lady screaming “get these fu[redacted] N[redacted] out of here,” with more than a dozen other guys coming up to them, pushing them and calling them “black a[redacted] N[redacted]”, “P[redacted] a[redacted] N[redacted]” and more.

“This was a very traumatic experience for me, something I never had to endure in my lifetime,” the letter reads. “All I could think about is my life and getting out of that house.”

The person goes on to describe feeling “blessed and honored” to be at UK on a full athletic scholarship and states goals to “continue my education, become the best football player and student that I can be while planning for my future endeavors after graduation.”

All six athletes have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Their attorneys waived a preliminary hearing, sending the case to the grand jury.

[MORE | WKYT Investigates]

The UK football players involved were pulled out of practice for weeks until administrators resolved their cases. They were then allowed back on the field, but were then pulled out again when charges were filed as Coach Mark Stoops waited to learn more.

“I have to respect the system, and I do,” Stoops told reporters August 30 during his weekly news conference before UK’s first game of the season. “I completely trust our prosecutors, I completely trust our Chief. They’re not responsible for the investigation. This went on March 3 (sic), it’s hard; again, I’ve got to bite my tongue. I just know what’s been done to our players. I’m not sure what’s been done to others.”

Tisdale was ruled responsible for a student code of conduct violation for “harm and threat of harm,” according to copies of the student conduct hearings Tisdale’s family members shared with the Louisville Courier-Journal. The board determined, however, “there was not a preponderance of evidence to say with certainty (Tisdale) had a gun.”

Phillips was cleared of any violation, the Courier-Journal reports.

The fraternity that threw the party - Alpha Sigma Phi - was given one year of disciplinary probation for various violations, a UK spokesperson told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

A GoFundMe account to pay legal fees for the six UK football players facing criminal charges has raised more than $21,000 of its $250,000 goal. The account was started by Denny Butler of Cornerstone Consulting, the Courier-Journal reports.

Stoops said that over the summer the football team brought in Butler, a former police officer and state lawmaker now working with people who believe they are wrongfully convicted of crimes, and Edwin Chandler, who spent time on death row, to speak to the team.

“It was very powerful,” Stoops said of the talk. “There’s flaws in the system at times and we have to trust that system, and we will, but I also stand by our players until I have the evidence that tells me otherwise. So, I hope to have all the players out there but I don’t know, that’s out of my hands. We’ll see what happens but we’ll go from there.”

Despite the reports of people at the party using racial slurs, UK administrators say that falls outside of the purview of the Office of Student Conduct and the code of conduct. The concerns were shared with the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity, the report states.

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