Ex-Montana Quarterback Acquitted of Rape

By Beacon Staff

A former University of Montana quarterback was acquitted Friday in a rape trial that has played out amid NCAA and federal investigations into how the city and school respond to rape allegations on campus.

The accusations against Jordan Johnson, 20, have drawn much attention in Montana, where UM football is the top sports attraction. Jurors deliberated for less than two hours.

Johnson led the University of Montana to a successful 2011 season as starting quarterback before being accused of assaulting a woman as they watched a movie together at her home last February.

His case has played out against a backdrop of NCAA and federal investigations of the university’s athletic department and the manner in which rape allegations are handled on campus, investigated by police and prosecuted by the Missoula County attorney’s office.

The situation left some worried that the highly successful football team was out of control off the field.

Early in Johnson’s trial, the woman testified that she and Johnson were kissing when his demeanor changed and he held her down and raped her, despite her protests. Johnson told jurors the sex was consensual and that the woman never said “no,” or he would have stopped.

He was briefly suspended from the football team when the allegations surfaced, then kicked off after charges were filed in July.

His trial began with jury selection Feb. 8. District Judge Karen Townsend initially called 400 potential jurors for the high-profile case, eventually seating 12 with five alternates.

Both the woman and Johnson testified that they had agreed to watch a movie at her house on Feb. 4, 2012, and that they were kissing and had taken off some of their clothes.

The woman told jurors that despite her protests, Johnson held her down and forced her to have sex with him.

She texted her roommate: “Omg … I think I might have just gotten raped … he kept pushing and pushing and I said no but he wouldn’t listen … I just wanna cry … Omg what do I do!”

Johnson testified the sex was consensual and that the woman was enjoying. He said she asked if he had a condom and said it was OK that he didn’t.

Concerns about the handling of sexual assault cases peaked in December 2011, when UM President Royce Engstrom ordered an outside investigation after two students reported being drugged and raped.

Former Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz later said her investigation found nine alleged rapes or sexual assaults involving students had occurred between September 2010 and December 2011, including at least two that hadn’t been reported. One led to former Montana football player Beau Donaldson pleading guilty to rape and being sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Engstrom said in January the investigation “indicated an association with patterns of behavior from a small number of student-athletes.”

“We will not tolerate the tarnishing of the proud tradition of Grizzly athletics,” he said at the time.

Barz suggested training faculty and staff on how to handle and report sexual assault allegations and rewriting student and student-athlete conduct codes.

Just weeks later, the university came under more criticism after the dean of students notified a Saudi national about sexual assault and rape allegations made against him. The student fled the country before the alleged victims could file a police report.

Johnson’s case surfaced March 9, when the female student obtained a temporary restraining order against him. He was briefly suspended from the football team then reinstated when a civil no-contact order replaced the restraining order.

Three days after coach Robin Pflugrad welcomed Johnson back, and touted his “character and tremendous moral fiber,” Engstrom announced he was not renewing the contracts of the coach and athletic director Jim O’Day. Both were immediately relieved of their duties, without an explanation from Engstrom.

The move came after a season when Montana advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game. The Grizzlies have advanced to the national title game seven times since 1995, winning twice. The team’s success came even as players and former players were arrested for drunken driving, assault and other charges.

Last April, the federal Department of Education announced it was investigating a complaint alleging the university discriminated against female students, faculty and staff by failing to address a sexually hostile environmental caused by its failure to appropriately respond to reports of sexual assault.

Soon after, the U.S. Justice Department announced its investigation into the handling of rape investigations and prosecutions, and the school announced in May the NCAA had been investigating its athletic programs since January 2012 for undisclosed reasons. That investigation continues.

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