Student sues college to play football this season

Was convicted of rape at an alcohol-fueled party in 2013

By Mark Gillispie
Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — A man convicted of rape as a teen who served nearly a year in a juvenile prison in a highly publicized Ohio case has sued Youngstown State University in federal court after the school allowed him to join the football team and then told him he couldn’t play this season after a female student circulated a petition asking that he be kept off the team.

Ma’lik Richmond, of Steuben­ville, filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday. The lawsuit asks that the 21-year-old Richmond be reinstated to the team’s active roster along with attorney fees and an unspecified amount of damages.
A university spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson considered Richmond’s arguments for reinstatement during a hearing Thursday afternoon in Youngstown.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office submitted a scathing reply on behalf of the university arguing why Richmond’s petition for relief shouldn’t be granted. The reply says “proving no deed goes unpunished,” the school has been “hauled into court by a student that YSU has bent over backward to assist, support and provide a second chance when no one else would.”

“The rest of the world had written Plaintiff off as an unrepentant rapist, but YSU encouraged him and integrated him as ‘part of the student community,’” the reply said.

One of Richmond’s attorneys said Thursday morning she had just begun reading the reply.

“I am frankly shocked at what I’m starting to read,” Susan Stone told The Associated Press. “They don’t understand how they threw someone under the bus.”

Richmond served about 10 months in a juvenile lockup 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 to the eastern Ohio city of 18,000 and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the Steubenville’s storied football team.

He was released in January 2014 and subsequently 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 YSU President Jim Tressel and football coach Bo Pelini about him joining the team and both were supportive, the lawsuit said. Richmond made the team as walk-on defensive end in January.

According to the lawsuit, Richmond excelled during Youngstown State’s spring game and was told by Pelini he would play this season and would be a big help to the team. Pelini told the Youngstown Vindicator newspaper that he alone decided to allow Richmond to join the team after conducting his own investigation.

The day after the Aug. 4 article, a female student at Youngs­town State began circulating a petition calling for the school to not allow Richmond to play football.

The lawsuit said that Pelini called Greg Agresta, one of Richmond’s guardians, on Aug. 9 and said there was pressure being exerted on the university’s Board of Trustees. Pelini told Agresta that Tressel, a famed football coach at Youngstown State and Ohio State, had proposed that Richmond become a practice player and wait until next season to play.

Agresta and his wife, Jen, “spoke with Coach Pelini later that day and he informed them that Ma’lik was practicing and performing better than ever and probably would be a starter at some point,” the lawsuit said.

Youngstown State subsequently issued a statement in a university-wide email that said the school “takes the matter of sexual assault very seriously” and that Richmond would be allowed to continue practicing with the team but would lose a year of eligibility.

Richmond became “despondent” after learning of the email and quit the team, prompting Pelini to travel to Steubenville. The lawsuit said Pelini apologized to Richmond.