Barnett declines comment on closed-door testimony

Updated: August 1, 2004, 8:09 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Colorado football coach Gary Barnett testified for four hours before a statewide grand jury Friday as part of an investigation into the program's recruiting practices.

Barnett, who was suspended for almost four months this year for comments he made about two women accusing football players of rape, declined comment to reporters before his testimony began behind closed doors.

"I'm not going to make any comments today. A picture is about the most anybody is going to get," he said. He also declined comment as he left the building.

Also called to testify were senior associate athletic director Jon Burianek, sports medicine director Steve Willard and Bob Maust, head of the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse at Colorado.

"It was a new experience," Burianek said on his way out.

The grand jury investigation is the first indication criminal charges could be filed in a scandal that led to sweeping changes in the football recruiting program and a scathing review of university leadership.

At the governor's request, Attorney General Ken Salazar's office has been investigating the scandal, which includes allegations of rape by nine women involving football players since 1997. Salazar has decided against filing assault charges, citing evidentiary concerns and the reluctance of the women to go forward with the cases.

The grand jury already has heard from a parade of players, director of football operations David Hansburg, campus police and others since it began meeting in May. Legal experts have said they think investigators are trying to figure out whether university funds were misused, among other things. Salazar's office has declined comment.

Barnett was suspended Feb. 18 for comments he made about two alleged assaults involving football players.

He called former Colorado kicker Katie Hnida an "awful" player as he answered questions about her claim that she was raped by a teammate in 2000. He also suggested to police he would "back" a player accused of assaulting an athletics department employee the following year.

Barnett has said his comments about Hnida's football performance were "insensitive" and that he was trying to convey a message of support. Hnida later transferred to New Mexico.

Willard, the supervisor of a co-worker who told him she was sexually assaulted by a Colorado football player in 2001, also was called to testify.

That woman didn't pursue charges in part because of what she said was intimated by Barnett in declaring he would back his player "100 percent," according to a police report. Willard has said Barnett only pledged to back the player if it became a "he said, she said" situation.

According to police, the woman met Oct. 1, 2001, with Barnett and two other department officials, Willard and Brian Winkelbauer.

The woman's attorney, Allison Lee, said Barnett promised the player would undergo treatment, and later Willard asked if a letter of apology from the player would help. She said yes.

"I am so sorry for what I have done to you," according to the letter released by Lee. "I am so sorry that I have caused you pain. I would have never thought, not in a million years, that I would hurt someone like this. ... This is not who I am."

The letter ends with, "P.S. I am so sorry!!!

University president Betsy Hoffman reinstated Barnett in May, saying she believed he and other officials, including athletics director Dick Tharp, were committed to changing the culture in Colorado athletics.

An investigative commission appointed by the university Board of Regents and a special liaison chosen by Hoffman recommended more oversight of the athletic department. The commission concluded sex, drugs and alcohol were used by player-hosts in recruiting but there was no evidence Colorado officials "knowingly sanctioned" the activities.

Still pending are federal lawsuits filed by three women who say they were raped by recruits or players at or just after an off-campus party in December 2001.

The lawsuits accuse Colorado of failing to protect the women under federal Title IX law, which guarantees equal access to an education. They seek unspecified damages.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE