Prosecutor decries police handling of Winston rape probe

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William Meggs, the Florida state’s attorney charged with handling the investigation into the allegations of rape made against Jameis Winston last year, did not hide the fact that, in his opinion, the initial investigation was not handled properly by the Tallahassee Police Department.

In a New York Times “expose” published Wednesday morning, Meggs was on the offensive yet again.  Meggs assailed the TPD probe on multiple fronts, from failing to readily identify a witness — who also happened to be one of Winston’s teammates — to apparent nonchalance when it came to a crucial tip involving a taxi cab to its handling of Winston in the early stages of the investigation.

On the night in question, in December of 2012, Winston and at least two of his teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, were at a Tallahassee bar named Potbelly’s.  It was there that the three met up with the alleged victim, had a few drinks and then took off in a taxi with the woman.  At some point a few hours, a 911 call was made, alleging she was raped.

It was the investigation — or lack thereof — that has Meggs speaking out more than four months after his office decided against filing charges against Winston.  And, in somewhat of an unexpected turn, Meggs made his strongest comments to date on the case:

— On the TPD failing to find Casher, who allegedly videotaped a portion of the encounter, in a timely manner, possibly leading to the loss of key evidence:

In the recent interview, Mr. Meggs said he was surprised that the police had not quickly found Mr. Casher. “How long does it take to identify a freshman football player — about 10, 15, 16 seconds?” he asked, adding, “Anybody that looked at this case would say you get a report at 2 in the morning, by noon you could have had the defendant identified and talked to.”

Casher allegedly deleted the video “a couple of days” after Winston’s encounter with the alleged victim, well before he was ever contacted and interviewed by police.

— One of the three football players used an FSU ID to get a discounted fare for the taxi.  TPD investigators failed to find the driver of the cab, as well as failed to secure videotape from myriad security cameras positioned in and around the Tallahassee bar that could have shed some light on the incident:

“I am convinced that we would have identified the cabdriver that night and had an interview with him,” Mr. Meggs said. “Don’t know what we would have learned, but we would have learned the truth. I am also convinced that had it been done properly, we would have had the video from Potbelly’s.

By the time the prosecutor [Meggs] asked for that video, the tape had long since been recycled.

— The TPD’s initial encounter with Winston regarding the allegations came via the telephone, which allowed the player the opportunity to “lawyer up” before he could be questioned:

Mr. Meggs said he was shocked that the police investigator’s first attempt to contact Mr. Winston was by telephone. “He says, ‘I have baseball practice, I’ll get with you later,’” Mr. Meggs said. That call allowed Mr. Winston to hire a lawyer who told him not to talk.

“It’s insane to call a suspect on the phone,” Mr. Meggs said. “First off, you don’t know who you are talking to.” He said he would have gone straight to the baseball field. “If you walked up to Jameis Winston in the middle of baseball practice and said, ‘Come here, son, I need to talk to you,’ he would have said, ‘Yes, sir.’”

In summation, Meggs stated that the TPD “just missed all the basic stuff that you are supposed to do” during the course of an investigation of this type, although he stopped well short of accusing the department in general and the investigating officer specifically of willful misconduct because of Winston’s status as a Seminoles football player. Meggs was also quick to caution, as the Times wrote, that “a better investigation might have yielded the same result,” which was no charges being filed against Winston.

In mid-November, after reports of the probe had surfaced publicly, Meggs vowed that his office would get to the bottom of the allegations, a report of which had only recently been forwarded to him by the TPD — 11 months after the alleged rape and only after an open records request from news organizations seemingly forced the department’s hand.  Three weeks later in a press conference announcing no charges would be filed against Winston, Meggs said his investigation didn’t find enough evidence to prove that the sexual encounter between the player and the alleged victim was not consensual.

A short time later, the attorney for Winston’s accuser called for an investigation into the TPD’s handling of the case.  The feds have also reportedly gotten involved on the university side of the situation, with reports coming to light earlier this month that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has launched its own investigation into FSU’s handling of the case.

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

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Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.