Former University of Iowa running back Marcus Coker played in as many as five games after UI officials became aware he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation, an investigation that concluded last week.
Iowa City Police Lt. Doug Hart said Wednesday that UI officials were notified about the investigation either Friday, Oct. 28 — the day the unnamed victim reported the assault — or the following Monday. However, UI officials refused to disclose Wednesday when they learned about the investigation or who was first notified.
“University of Iowa sophomore and running back Marcus Coker was suspended from participation in the 2011 Insight Bowl for violating the UI Student-Athlete Code of Conduct and subsequently withdrew his application to enroll in spring semester classes,” UI spokesman Tom Moore said in an email to the Press-Citizen. “The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits the university from providing further details.”
Iowa City Police say that Coker was under investigation for a sexual assault alleged to have occurred Oct. 28. On Dec. 20, UI football coach Kirk Ferentz suspended Coker for the 2011 Insight Bowl, which was played Dec. 30. Iowa City Police say that the investigation into Coker closed without charges being filed Jan. 3. The University of Iowa has acknowledged that it was aware of the investigation into Coker.
The university’s silence leaves it unclear as to who at UI knew about the investigation and when they knew it, and why Coker was suspended for the bowl game. If his suspension was related to the assault investigation, why was he allowed to play in the team’s five remaining regular season games?
Coker, a sophomore running back, requested and was given his release from his football scholarship Tuesday, three weeks after Ferentz suspended him and 10 weeks after the opening of the sexual assault investigation.
According to an Iowa City Police Oct. 28, 2011, Incident Report obtained by the Press-Citizen in an open records request, an unnamed woman reported to police at 4:53 a.m. that she was assaulted by Coker. The assault allegedly occurred between 1:15 and 1:30 a.m. at Coker’s residence at 618 Iowa Ave. An incident synopsis notes the responding officer was called to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for a sexual assault.
Iowa City Police Lt. Doug Hart, head of the department’s investigations unit, told the Press-Citizen on Friday that Coker was investigated for an assault, but the Johnson County Attorney’s Office ultimately decided not to prosecute. Hart said the alleged victim did not wish to go forward with the case.
On Wednesday, Iowa City Police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said the department conducted a “thorough investigation” that concluded Jan. 3. The case could be reopened within five years, Brotherton said, but noted that without the alleged victim’s involvement, there was little the police department could do.
“There’s nothing more for us to do until something else changes,” she said. “Everything just kind of stopped. We can’t have a sexual assault investigation without the victim.”
Brotherton said the case was submitted to the county attorney’s office at the end of November. She said that typically, the county attorney’s office takes a week to review the case before discussing it further with police.
Janet Lyness said Wednesday she was not asked to make the determination about whether to pursue prosecution because the victim did not want to go forward with the case. While the county attorney’s office could prosecute without the alleged victim’s approval, Lyness said her office defers to the victim when appropriate.
“We will try to honor the victim’s wishes in sex abuse cases,” Lyness said.
Lyness did say she approved the Iowa City Police Department’s request to allow UI officials an opportunity to review their investigative reports. Lyness said when an agency such as the University of Iowa is conducting its own internal investigation into a matter that could involve criminal charges, it will sometimes ask to review investigative reports. At that point, the investigating department will request permission to allow that agency to review those documents.
Lyness said the request from the university to review the police department’s documents related to the Coker investigation came sometime in late November. Lyness said she doesn’t remember what UI office asked to see the investigative reports nor did she keep any record of that request.
“To be honest, I don’t remember which office,” Lyness said. “I just don’t know.”
Lyness speculated the office was either the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity or a university office that works with EOD. She said she doesn’t know if it was the athletic department that requested to see the documents.
Coker has not publicly commented on his suspension or his reason for leaving the university. His attorney, Leon Spies, said Wednesday that Coker will continue not to discuss his departure.
“I think his wishes are to focus on his family and the big changes that are coming up in his academic and personal life,” Spies said. “I think he’d prefer to be with himself and his family.”
Spies — who represented former UI football players Cedric Everson and Abe Satterfield in past sexual assault cases — declined to comment on remarks that Coker made on his Facebook page indicating he was punished for something he didn’t do. Spies also said he was “honor-bound” to not discuss Coker’s suspension.
“There’s not a lot I can tell you,” he said. “(Coker’s) mission is to continue to strive to be the best student and teammate and citizen he can be. He’ll strive for those goals somewhere other than Iowa City.”
The university has been under close scrutiny before for how it has handled alleged sexual assault cases, particularly in the athletic department. The handling of the case of Everson and Satterfield ultimately led to the firing of two University of Iowa vice presidents and an overhaul of university policy surrounding such cases.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football