Policy set on University of Tennessee athlete investigations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Officials in a Tennessee city have instituted a policy to assure that University of Tennessee personnel don’t sit in on any police interviews involving investigations of that school’s student-athletes.
The move comes after Knoxville police testified during the rape trial of former Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams that an athletic official was present for interviews with student-athlete witnesses. A jury acquitted Johnson and Williams last month , and Johnson has since signed with the Denver Broncos .
Knoxville spokesman Eric Vreeland said Wednesday that neither Mayor Madeline Rogero nor Police Chief Eve Thomas knew about this before the trial. Thomas just took over as police chief in June.
Vreeland said Rogero and Thomas made University of Tennessee officials aware of the new policy at a meeting last week. Vreeland added that student-athletes would be treated the same as any other student under investigation.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel first reported the news.
During the trial of Johnson and Williams, Knoxville police investigator Tim Riddle said Mike Ward sat in on at least nine interviews with football players during the November 2014 investigation. Ward was a Tennessee associate athletic director at the time.
Riddle said those interviews occurred at Tennessee athletic facilities rather than at the police station as is customary. Riddle said Ward mentioned to him at one point how much money Tennessee football brings in to the Knoxville area each year.
Ward didn’t testify at the trial but said in a phone interview that he recalled sitting in on portions of three to four interviews with football players. Ward said his presence was at the invitation of police.
Ward also said he’s certain he never told Riddle anything about the economic impact of Tennessee football and noted that it wouldn’t have been relevant to the investigation.
Butch Jones, Tennessee’s football coach at the time, was notified by police about the situation facing his two players in the early stages of the investigation. Jones called Johnson a few minutes later, setting up a chain of phone calls among Tennessee players and coaches as police were trying to investigate the case.
Two years ago, Knoxville police discontinued the practice of placing “courtesy calls” to Tennessee coaches to let them know when one of their players was under investigation.
Vreeland said Wednesday that when Knoxville police are investigating anyone from the Tennessee campus community, they will notify University of Tennessee police only at a time when it could no longer potentially interfere with the investigation.
At the time of the investigation, David Rausch was Knoxville’s police chief. Rausch is now director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.