Lawyers for University of Wisconsin receiver Quintez Cephus were working on two legal fronts Thursday — asking a federal judge to order UW-Madison to stop its investigation of sexual assault charges against Cephus and asking a Dane County judge to delay scheduling a trial on those charges.
Dane County Circuit Judge William Hanrahan granted attorney Stephen Meyer’s request to delay scheduling a trial on the charges after Cephus, 20, pleaded not guilty to the charges of second- and third-degree sexual assault of an intoxicated person at a short hearing Thursday morning. Meyer told Hanrahan he was requesting the delay because he needs more time to look at evidence that is continuing to come in.
A criminal complaint filed in August says two women told police that Cephus, a native of Macon, Georgia, had sex with them at his apartment on April 22 even though they were too intoxicated to consent to it. According to the criminal complaint, one of the women described the other woman as so drunk that her eyes had rolled back in her head and that she looked “possessed.”
Cephus has said the sex was consensual. He has been suspended from playing and practicing with the Badgers since the charges were filed.
Outside the courtroom moments after the hearing, Meyer said he has seen more surveillance videos taken at Cephus’ apartment building that shows interaction between Cephus and the women “and their functioning capabilities” following the alleged assaults that took place on April 22 at his apartment.
“I can tell you that (the video) I have reviewed to date gives me no reason to change the content of the affidavit that I filed in support of the motion to dismiss” one of the charges, Meyer said.
Last month, Meyer and co-counsel Kathleen Stilling filed a motion asking Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky to dismiss the charge of second-degree sexual assault of an intoxicated person because they said the statements of one of the women were unreliable.
They said the woman did not appear to be intoxicated in one of the surveillance videos and could walk and talk normally.
Karofsky denied the motion because she said the motion asked her to create inferences about the case that conflict with evidence collected by the prosecution. At that point in the case, any judgment involving competing inferences are weighted toward the prosecution, she said at the September hearing.
Bishop Tavis Grant, the Presiding Bishop of the Antioch Network, which represents churches and faith leaders across the United States, was at the hearing in the Dane County courtroom acting as the family’s minister and spokesman. He is one of two nationally prominent individuals who have been added to the Cephus team in recent weeks.
The former director of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition said Cephus is anxious for his day in court.
“He believes in the justice system,” Grant said. “What’s first and foremost is that this matter is settled and that he’s given his day in court to clear his name. He’s a phenomenal athlete, has a great earning potential, and the only way that he can get to the field and be clear of all of these charges is for this process to complete itself.
“The university should abide by common sense and common decency and afford him to have his day in court without their intervention,” he said.
A lawsuit requesting a stay in the school’s investigation was filed Thursday in federal court on Cephus’ behalf by attorney Andrew Miltenberg, who said in a statement that the intersection of investigations by the school and state “is a dangerous place for the accused.”
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Cephus is “feeling the weight of false allegations and the full might of the state of Wisconsin bearing down on him. This is not the message that educators should be delivering to African American young men,” Miltenberg said.
Miltenberg is a high-profile New York lawyer who frequently represents male students who claim they have been wrongfully accused of campus assault. The New York Times Magazine profiled Miltenberg in an article titled “The Takedown of Title IX” last year and said the attorney feels compelled to address what he sees as a crisis in campus Title IX processes. He argues universities are “overcorrecting” after decades of failing to take student sexual violence seriously.
Miltenberg, the article said, has developed “a fearsome reputation among college administrators and the adulation of men’s rights activists, who believe feminism and politically correct campus culture prop up accusations from women who regret consensual sex. But he is also the focus of enmity from victims’ advocates, who see his efforts as feeding a backlash.”
A statement from UW–Madison said its investigation is consistent with federal law, which it said requires universities “to conduct prompt and equitable resolution of allegations of sexual misconduct.”
But Miltenberg accused the university of abusing its role to deprive Cephus of his right to remain silent and working “behind the scenes” with District Attorney Ismael Ozanne to ensure that Cephus was “arrested and tried.”
He said Cephus should not have been suspended because he is exercising his constitutional rights and that the school is entrapping him “under the guise of Title IX.”
“It is despicable behavior, turning on the fine young man, treating him as a commodity to be used on the football field and then discarded on unfounded allegations,” Miltenberg said. “University officials know that there is exculpatory evidence to which they are turning a blind eye, and this pressure has come from inside the university.”
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified money for emotional and psychological damage, damage to Cephus’ reputation and future career prospects, and past and future economic losses, among other damages.
In an email, Ozanne responded to Miltenberg’s statement by saying that, prior to his office’s decision to charge Cephus, representatives from the DA’s office met with an attorney for Cephus and a representative from UW-Madison requested information on the case from the office because it was required to do so by Title IX guidelines, Ozanne said. He also said that his office conferred with the alleged victims in the case because it is best practice and also required by Wisconsin law.
Those are not uncommon practices for his office, Ozanne said.
“A copy of the criminal complaint was provided to the attorney for the defendant, the University of Wisconsin, and the victims in this case once the complaint was filed with the Office of the Dane County Clerk of Courts,” Ozanne said. “As this is an open case I am ethically bound to not speak about specific facts of the case.”
Grant said the case is not a matter of race. “This is about right and wrong. This is about fact and fiction. And the fact of the matter is Quintez is innocent regardless of his race,” Grant said.
In its statement, UW-Madison said guidance from the federal Department of Education makes clear that “pending criminal investigations and court proceedings to do not excuse universities from their independent obligation to promptly and effectively respond to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
“It is standard practice at UW and at many universities across the country to handle student misconduct allegations independent of the criminal justice process. This applies not just to sexual misconduct but to all types of misconduct,” the UW-Madison statement said.