Police investigating 'brutal' case

Updated: February 20, 2004, 12:08 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

DENVER -- Police said Thursday they are investigating whether a woman was raped by a University of Colorado football player after leaving a bar in 2002 -- the sixth allegation of its kind to surface targeting coach Gary Barnett's program.

"This was a particularly brutal case," Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said. The alleged victim said she was sodomized.

The university football program is at the center of a scandal that may end up costing Barnett his job. However, CU president Elizabeth Hoffman left open the possibility that Barnett "could be on the sidelines this fall," if he proves the football program is not hostile to women and pending the results of an independent committee's investigation, the Denver Post reported Friday.

Hoffman placed Barnett on paid administrative leave Wednesday pending the outcome of the investigation into CU's recruiting practices and the rape allegations.

The committee, appointed by the board of regents, is to hold its first meeting March 2 and its report is due April 30.

Three women have sued the school in federal court, saying they were raped by football athletes in 2001.

In the past few weeks, three more cases have been disclosed. Former Colorado player Katie Hnida says she was raped by a teammate in 2000 and a one-time athletic department worker says she was assaulted by a player in 2001.

In the latest case, the woman told police she met two men at a bar the night of Aug. 23, 2002, but had trouble remembering what happened after leaving for her apartment. She told police "she may have been drugged."

The woman reported a bump on her forehead and bleeding from what she told police was a sexual assault.

One of the witnesses interviewed by police, a bartender, refused to disclose the names of two men in the bar that night.

"He said he would not risk getting them into trouble because, 'They're on scholarships, I can't do that to them,' " police said.

Beckner said the alleged victim had difficulty identifying a suspect, but authorities eventually focused on two football players. DNA tests ruled out one as a suspect.

"The DNA didn't match," Beckner said in a telephone interview. "We are going to resubmit the DNA of the second player."

He said tests had been delayed because of a backlog at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which has suffered major budget cuts, and because a court order was required to get the evidence.

The case has not yet been presented to the district attorney's office for review. Beckner said the woman wants the case prosecuted.

Responding to the latest report, Hoffman told KUSA-TV in Denver, "The good news is that the police tell me that's all they have right now, which means we can digest that one more report."

She has said she is distressed by Barnett's remarks about Hnida and a report on the alleged rape in 2001 in which the woman said the coach made clear he would back the football player if criminal charges were pursued.

However, Hoffman told the Post on Thursday that Barnett could retain his job as coach if he can prove to her "that the culture in his football program is supportive of women and does not encourage or sanction sexual assault, rape by his players and then backing his players and not listening to the young women. That's what he has to prove."

While Hoffman has chastised Barnett for his statements on the Hnida allegations, Hoffman has defended the coach as a strict disciplinarian and the recruiting program as having possibly the strictest rules in the nation, the Post reported.

"He disciplines his players, but he may be overly protective of them at the same time," Hoffman told the Post. "We might need to help him learn to be more sensitive, learn to draw that line more carefully, not to always take the player's side in a situation like this."

The police chief said he was not surprised that more women have been coming forward to report sexual assaults since the federal lawsuits were filed against the university. Rape counselors say publicizing reports gives victims the courage to come forward.

"It does tend to snowball," Beckner said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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