Kent State not ready to take stance on incoming freshman’s speculated involvement with Steubenville rape case

Jess White

Kent State officials are “closely monitoring” the Steubenville rape case, paying special attention to the status of a high school student signed to wrestle on scholarship at the university in Fall 2013.

The student was a member of the Steubenville high school football team, of which two players are going to trial in February on charges of raping a 16-year-old girl in August 2012. University officials are watching whether the case expands to charges against other members of the team, as the incoming freshman has not been charged.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” said Kent State spokesman Eric Mansfield. “But we’re not going to take action one way or the other until we have all the facts.”

Kent State officials posted a statement on the university’s Facebook page on Jan. 5 after allegations against the student were made on several other websites. Eight people posted on Kent State’s Facebook page before the university posted its response:

“University leaders are aware of the developing investigation in Steubenville, and we are gathering information from the proper authorities.”

The post has more than 100 comments, and more than 60 people have posted separately about the investigation on the page — most urging Kent State to revoke the high school senior’s acceptance, scholarship or both. Several students and alumni have posted on the page threatening to transfer and withhold donations respectively if the student were admitted.

“Some people are so fired up over this that they don’t even want to wait for the investigation,” Mansfield said. “We felt we owed it to the community to at least respond and let them know that we’re aware of what’s happening … and once we have all the information we think we need, then, if action is warranted, we’ll do that at that time.”

The Ohio State University announced last week via Twitter that a different uncharged student involved in the case “is no longer a student at The Ohio State University.” The teenager seen joking about the rape in a widely circulated video dropped out of school at the end of the fall semester.

A Facebook campaign urged for the student’s expulsion from OSU, and many have called for him to face legal action, but a Steubenville Police Department website says that is not likely.

“Nothing in Ohio’s criminal statutes makes it a crime for someone to ridicule a rape victim on a video or otherwise say horrible things about another person,” according to the website.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla addressed about 1,000 protesters outside the Jefferson County Courthouse on Jan. 5 and said no one else would be charged in the case. The “Occupy Steubenville” rally, organized by online-activist group Anonymous, accused Abdalla and Steubenville police of protecting the football program from deeper investigation.

Another rally on Saturday, called “Stand Up For Steubenville”, sought to support community members who had nothing to do with the alleged rape. About 200 people gathered at Jim Wood Park to stand up for innocent students and families being harassed and threatened, the Associated Press reported. Last week, Steubenville Police Chief Bill McCafferty’s computer was shut down by an email he received and Abdalla reported a family member had been threatened. Police increased patrols around city schools after a threat of violence triggered a lockdown.

Mansfield said a student doesn’t have to be charged with a crime to lose a scholarship or enrollment, but “there still has to be proof of something.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Jess White is the investigative reporter for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact Jess White at [email protected].