Roethlisberger accused of sexual assault
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student at a dance club, marking the second such allegation in nine months against the superstar.
This time there is one key difference: The alleged victim went to the police.
Mr. Roethlisberger, 28, was not arrested or charged and, according to his agent, is cooperating with police. He already stood accused of raping a Nevada resort hostess in his hotel room during a July 2008 golf tournament at Lake Tahoe.
But the woman never went to the authorities. Instead she sued Mr. Roethlisberger in July in the absence of any police report or physical evidence.
In the latest incident, a 20-year-old woman attending Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, near Mr. Roethlisberger's off-season home, is the alleged victim, according to Milledgeville police Deputy Chief Richard Malone.
"We had a sexual assault report," Deputy Chief Malone said during a news conference Friday night. "It is alleged that he was the perpetrator."
Mr. Roethlisberger and his legal team have emphatically denied the accusations in the Nevada case but have not come out as strongly in the latest incident.
Late Friday afternoon, the quarterback's agent, Ryan Tollner, issued a statement:
"Last night, Ben and his friends met a group of women and everyone mingled together throughout the evening. We have spoken to law enforcement.
"Based on information currently available, an allegation was made against Ben, which appeared to be dismissed after a preliminary investigation last night.
"Obviously, given the prior accusation against Ben, we are skeptical of motive, but we will continue to cooperate with everyone involved."
Contrary to Mr. Tollner's depiction of a dismissal of the allegation, Deputy Chief Malone indicated that the case is very much active, with additional evidence being collected and more than a dozen investigators involved throughout the course of the day.
Milledgeville is being assisted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Tom Davis, the special agent in charge of the Milledgeville field office, said investigators were in contact at least three times Friday with lawyers for Mr. Roethlisberger.
The incident was reported between 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Friday to a Milledgeville police officer working in the college town's downtown area.
It allegedly occurred inside Capital City, a club in a bustling business strip populated by students, between 11 p.m. Thursday and 2:30 a.m. Friday, according to a police incident report.
The deputy chief would not say what allegedly occurred or exactly where.
Responding to reports that an incident might have taken place in a women's restroom, Deputy Chief Malone confirmed that there is a bathroom near the area where Mr. Roethlisberger, the woman and other people were socializing inside the club.
In a brief interview after the news conference, he said the entire area -- including the bathroom and other spots inside the club -- are considered possible parts of a crime scene.
"There were other areas beyond the restroom that were given to us as areas where they were together," he said. "We look at all the areas that our witnesses identify."
Members of the woman's party identified Mr. Roethlisberger as her assailant. The deputy chief did not say whether the woman herself identified Mr. Roethlisberger as the person who allegedly assaulted her.
"She approached the officer. The officer spoke with all members of her party, and then she was given the opportunity to go to the hospital, and that was our main concern at that point," Deputy Chief Malone said.
The alleged victim was treated and released at the Oconee Regional Medical Center in Milledgeville.
Investigators conducted initial interviews with the woman, Mr. Roethlisberger and everyone in their parties -- a total of seven to nine people -- between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m.
The incident report indicates that the victim was with two female friends, ages 19 and 20. Mr. Roethlisberger's name is obscured, but the "offender" is listed as 6-feet-5 and 241 pounds with brown hair and eyes.
A section of the report indicating whether the incident was "stranger to stranger" is checked "No."
"They had all been together earlier that evening in other establishments just as a group," the deputy chief said. "We've tried to identify as many people as possible, but Mr. Roethlisberger had a party with him. There was, I believe, himself and three other people, and there were other people in the party."
The deputy chief would not speculate on possible criminal charges that might apply based on the woman's allegations. He also declined to say whether drinking was a factor.
Investigators are in contact with the quarterback's lawyers to arrange another interview.
"He was initially interviewed by our officers. We had a situation where we weren't able to get hold of everybody at the same time. He was released with his party, and then we took care of our victim, who was at the hospital," Deputy Chief Malone said.
Proprietors at other establishments on the strip near Capital City said Mr. Roethlisberger had visited earlier in the evening.
Among his stops were The Brick and The Velvet Elvis. He also was believed to have visited Amici Italian Cafe, but the owner later said Mr. Roethlisberger was not there Thursday evening.
Deputy Chief Malone said he would confer with the Baldwin County district attorney, Frederic D. Bright, who could not be reached Friday night for comment.
Mr. Roethlisberger was "friendly, courteous, didn't cause any trouble here," said Phillip Joiner, marketing promotions director at the Amici cafe in Milledgeville and a city councilman.
Mr. Joiner said the quarterback's house is on nearby Lake Oconee. He is known as a low-key resident who poses for pictures -- as he did Thursday night -- and mingles with the locals both on land and water.
"He's thrown the football from boat to boat," Mr. Joiner said.
Mr. Joiner, who was not in the cafe Thursday night, described Mr. Roethlisberger as "affable and charming. We were happy to have a celebrity in our restaurant."
News of the allegation took the college town by surprise.
"We were all a little shocked," Mr. Joiner said. "That shook us a bit to see."
Frank Pendergast, owner of The Brick, said Mr. Roethlisberger came in about 11:30 p.m. Thursday and stayed for roughly two hours, which would put the timing right before a visit to Capital City.
He was with about eight "large" guys.
"I talked to him a little bit. I told him I appreciated him coming down and bringing the business. He said, 'Nice place,' and he went off to hang out with his friends. He was a typical customer. He was surrounded by people all the time taking pictures and asking for autographs," Mr. Pendergast said.
"He was polite. His buddies were kind of giving him his space and he was talking with my customers. They were talking about how they were golfing today. They looked like a bunch of college buddies hanging out. They just happened to be 250 pounds."
The Steelers said only that they were aware of the investigation.
"We're gathering information on the report and we will have no other comment at this time," a team spokesman said.
In the Nevada case, a 31-year-old woman accused Mr. Roethlisberger in a lawsuit of raping her in his hotel room at Harrah's Lake Tahoe in July 2008 while she worked as a VIP hostess during a celebrity golf tournament.
The woman also has sued several current or former Harrah's employees, alleging that they tried to cover up the incident.
Mr. Roethlisberger denied the charges, and his defense team has said the fact that she never filed a police report undermines her credibility. The lawsuit has been halted pending the outcome of an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court seeking a change of venue by the Steelers quarterback and one of his co-defendants.
Calvin R.X. Dunlap, the attorney representing the Nevada woman, said, "We are aware of the incident in Georgia and we are aggressively looking into it."
First Published March 6, 2010 12:00 am