With charges dropped, Utah’s Hatfield could be reinstated

Utes corner Dominique Hatfield (15) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown against Colorado last season.

Ron Chenoy/Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has raised the possibility of Dominique Hatfield returning to the football team now that charges against the cornerback have been dropped.

The junior was dismissed after he was charged last week with aggravated robbery and theft. Prosecutors dropped criminal charges Thursday but say they could refile altered charges.

Whittingham said in a statement Friday he is "relieved" Hatfield has been exonerated, but that "does not necessarily impact" the disciplinary actions taken for his violation of team rules. The coach adds there is the "possibility of future reinstatement" if he meets "certain expectations."

Hatfield started 10 games last season and finished with 38 tackles, one interception and nine pass breakups.

New evidence suggested Hatfield was not the person who robbed a man at knifepoint who planned to buy an Xbox game console, Salt Lake District Attorney chief deputy Blake Nakamura said Thursday. But Nakamura said they still suspect Hatfield may have been aware of or involved in the scheme. Surveillance footage shows him in the area of the robbery, he said.

Nakamura said they also still believe Hatfield tried to sell stolen cellphones to the same victim in a second interaction at the same car wash on June 30. The 20-year-old Hatfield was arrested that day and charged with aggravated robbery and theft.

Hatfield’s attorney Greg Skordas said Thursday it was clear from surveillance footage that Hatfield wasn’t involved in the robbery. He commended prosecutors for taking a step back to reassess the case. Asked about the prosecution’s belief that Hatfield is still guilty of theft, Skordas said if they had the evidence, they could have kept that charge.

Charging documents filed previously indicated that Hatfield denied involvement in the robbery but acknowledged to police he grabbed cellphones left around at parties by people who had been drinking and tried to sell them by posting ads online.

Hatfield was originally identified as the suspect in the robbery by the victim, but it turns out he and the actual suspect just had similar body types and physiques, Nakamura said. He said the video footage from a nearby business does not show the actual robbery.

But Skordas said the actual suspect was several inches taller, making it clear they were different people.

Prosecutors also felt good about filing charges against Hatfield because they thought he answered the same phone to respond to both inquiries by the victim, Nakamura said. But, they now believe a phone spoofing app may have been used, which makes it unclear whose phone number was being used, he said.