Iowa RB played while facing assault probe
Star Iowa running back Marcus Coker played the final five games of the regular season while police were investigating an allegation that he sexually assaulted a woman, authorities acknowledged Wednesday.
Weeks after authorities decided not to pursue the case, the 19-year-old sophomore was suspended. And this week, he abruptly left the program.
Iowa athletic officials had no immediate comment Wednesday on the case, which comes as universities around the country review their handling of assault allegations following scandals at Penn State and Syracuse.
In Coker's case, no charges were filed and the case was dropped after the woman decided not to pursue the matter criminally. The prosecutor in the case said police investigative reports were shared with Iowa officials so they could conduct an internal disciplinary investigation into Coker.
Iowa City Police Lt. Doug Hart said Iowa's athletic department was informed of the investigation on Oct. 28, the morning police were sent to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to meet with an alleged victim. A police incident report first obtained by the Iowa City Press-Citizen says the woman told police Coker assaulted her at his residence at about 1:15 a.m.
Police met with her about three hours later and referred her for medical treatment and counseling and collected unspecified evidence, the report shows.
The day after the report, Coker ran for 252 yards in Iowa's 22-21 loss at Minnesota. It was the best game for Coker during a season in which he rushed for 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns and the university held him up as a model student-athlete majoring in astronomy and physics.
Coker played through the end of the regular season, Nov. 27 at Nebraska, and was the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten Conference behind Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball of Wisconsin.
On Dec. 20, the university announced that Coker had been suspended for the Dec. 30 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., saying only: ''The issue involves University of Iowa policies and has resulted in Coker being in violation of the UI Student-Athlete Code of Conduct.''
Coach Kirk Ferentz said before the game that the suspension was unfortunate but he expected Coker to return to the team. Oklahoma won the game 31-14 while Iowa struggled to run the ball in Coker's absence.
The school said Tuesday that Coker, who is from Beltsville, Md., had asked for and been granted a release from his scholarship. He became the fifth talented running back to leave Iowa in the last 18 months.
Coker's attorney, Leon Spies, declined to lay out Coker's side of what happened, noting that no criminal charges were filed and ''that is the end of it.''
''Marcus' decision (to transfer) was based on his goal of being the best student and teammate and citizen that he could be,'' Spies said. ''Obviously as an advocate for Marcus and as a Hawkeyes fan myself, my wishes are that he prevails in doing what's best for him and his family in the days ahead. He's a top drawer young man.''
Authorities said they decided to drop their investigation into Coker sometime in late November or early December. While they can bring charges even if victims do not cooperate, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said it is her office's policy to defer to alleged victims and the woman ''did not wish to pursue charges.''
Lyness said she approved a request to allow police investigative reports to be reviewed by the university as part of its disciplinary investigation.
Asked whether Coker's decision to leave was linked to the public release of the incident report, Coker's attorney paused.
''Any decision like this is bound to be complicated and thoughtfully considered,'' Spies said.
At a trial one year ago, Spies represented former Iowa football player Cedric Everson, who was accused along with former teammate Abe Satterfield of assaulting a female athlete after a night of drinking in 2007. A jury convicted Everson of misdemeanor and he was sentenced to one week in jail. Satterfield pleaded guilty to assault and received a suspended sentence.
The victim's family in that case accused university officials of seeking to keep the case quiet. The university's top lawyer and dean of students were fired for their handling of the case, and the university says it has implemented reforms to help victims and raise awareness about sexual assault.