Court: Ohio rape convict can play football in Saturday game

FILE – In this March 17, 2013, file photo, Ma'Lik Richmond walks toward the victim and her family to apologize after he and co-defendant Trent Mays were found delinquent on rape and other charges during their trial in juvenile court in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, Pool, File)

YOUNGSTOWN, OH (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday declined a university’s request to stop one of its football players convicted of rape as a teenager from playing on the team.

The ruling means Ma’lik Richmond, 21, will be allowed to play for Youngstown State University in a game against Central Connecticut State University on Saturday.

Youngstown State had asked the appeals court to throw out a Thursday night decision by U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson to temporarily allow Richmond to play football for Youngstown State for at least the next 14 days, including in the 2 p.m. game Saturday. Pearson scheduled a hearing Sept. 28 on whether to make the decision permanent.

Youngstown State appealed the decision Friday morning to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the appeals court dismissed it Friday afternoon.

Richmond, of Steubenville, sued Youngstown State this week after the school allowed him to join the football team as a walk-on and then told him he couldn’t play this season. Richmond is seeking reinstatement to the team’s active roster along with attorney fees and an unspecified amount of damages.

The university argued in its appeal that the school has a right to stop Richmond from playing to prevent campus protests and disruptions to the team.

“It is beyond harm to the University to have this temporary restraining order enforced,” the university said.

The appeals court, however, said Youngstown State failed to show that a temporary order allowing Richmond back on the team “has serious or irreparable consequences.”

No further appeal by the university is planned for now, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which represents the university.

Richmond is pleased with the ruling, said Susan Stone, one of his attorneys.

“We’re very excited about Ma’lik going to the game tomorrow,” she said Friday afternoon.

During Thursday’s hearing, Stone argued the university was contractually obliged to allow Richmond to play so long as he followed university rules. She said the university hurt Richmond’s football career prospects by curtailing his exposure to professional scouts at the peak of his abilities, and that the order was necessary to prevent Richmond from losing any more playing time.

An attorney representing the university, Christina Corl, said the university didn’t violate any contractual obligations to Richmond because he didn’t take advantage of a school grievance procedure before filing his lawsuit.

Richmond served about 10 months in a juvenile prison after he and a Steubenville High School teammate were convicted in 2013 of raping a 16-year-old girl during an alcohol-fueled party. The case brought international attention and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect Steubenville’s storied football team.

He was released in January 2014. He attended colleges in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before transferring to Youngstown State in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore.

Richmond and his legal guardians spoke with Youngstown State President Jim Tressel and football Coach Bo Pelini about him joining the team, and both were supportive, the lawsuit says. Richmond made the team as walk-on defensive end in January.

After Pelini made his decision public, a female student at Youngstown State began circulating a petition calling for the school to not allow Richmond to play football.

Youngstown State subsequently issued a statement in a universitywide email saying the school takes sexual assault very seriously, and that Richmond would be allowed to continue practicing with the team but would lose a year of eligibility.

Richmond quit the team after learning of the email.

Richmond’s father, 51-year-old Nathaniel Richmond, was shot and killed Aug. 21 in Steubenville by a probation officer. Authorities said Richmond shot at a judge who returned fire before the probation officer killed Richmond.

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