Michigan State University men’s basketball coaches allegedly contacted a witness in a 2017 criminal sexual misconduct case against a basketball player.
ESPN obtained records that reportedly show Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and assistants Dwayne Stephens and Mike Garland contacted a witness during an investigation against then-freshman Brock Washington.
The coaches’ actions were improper, according to W. Scott Lewis, co-founder of the Association of Title IX Administrators and a partner with TNG, a consulting firm that works with schools on Title IX compliance.
“You just don’t do that,” Lewis said, noting that it would have been acceptable for the coaches to check in on the player and encourage them to tell the truth, but contacting witnesses could open the school up to a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights or a lawsuit. “Once you’re calling in other people, it starts to reek of either you investigating this yourself or trying to intimidate a witness.”
Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman issued a Thursday statement, saying "Tom Izzo has been a beacon of integrity in his profession for nearly four decades, including a quarter century as head coach. ... There's nothing to support any claims that any member of the men's basketball staff conducted their own investigation, or interfered with any ongoing investigation. Any insinuation to the contrary is nothing more than an attempt to smear a coach, a program and an entire university."
Washington, who was charged with misdemeanor assault in 2017, is once again under investigation for a new sexual assault case in which the victim asked the Michigan attorney general’s office to pick up the case after prosecutors declined to file charges.
Related content: Michigan AG Looking into Case Against MSU Athlete
While that investigation is ongoing, ESPN’s latest records show that Izzo got involved in the first case. According to ESPN, the Michigan State University police report from 2017 shows that Rebecca Lambert, who was anonymous at the time, told police that she had gone to her dorm room on Aug. 28, 2017 to get her phone charger. Washington came with and closed the door. Lambert said she briefly consented to kissing, but then he grabbed her butt, tried to pull her to the floor and touch her without consent until two friends knocked on the door.
Washington told police that she said he could kiss her and he thought it was OK when he touched her butt, but he never tried to do anything else, saying he “wasn’t sure I had consent to do anything else.” When talking to a university Office of Institutional Equity investigator three days later, he said he never grabbed Lambert’s butt. Lambert’s roommate, who was in the room, told police that she believes Lambert wanted Washington to stop and leave the room, saying she heard Lambert say, “No, my roommate is right there,” and “Are you done?”
Washington was with Michigan State student Brayden Smith, who was not a basketball player but is familiar with the program because his father, Steve Smith, played for the Spartans when Izzo was an assistant coach from 1987 to 1991.
When interviewed about the incident in 2017, Smith told police officers that he wasn’t present for most of the interactions between Washington and the woman, but thought that what he saw was consensual. He also told officers and a Michigan State Title IX investigator that he wasn’t aware of the allegations against Washington until he was contacted by Izzo, Stephens and Garland, saying the coaches check in on him from time to time.
The police report said that the coaches asked Smith what he’d seen, but Brayden’s “perception of this conversation with them was not to get information out of him, but rather to ensure that he was OK and remind him to be responsible.”
Michigan State spokeswoman Emily Guerrant emailed ESPN to say that the Office of Institutional Equity doesn’t feel the coaches violated the school’s policies against interfering with an investigation or conducting an investigation.