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University of Montana quarterback charged with rape
(Reuters) - University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson was charged with rape on Tuesday, becoming the second member of the team to face such charges amid investigations by U.S. authorities into the handling of sexual assault reports by school and local officials.
Jordan Johnson, 20, was formally charged with sexual intercourse without consent, Missoula County District Attorney Fred Van Valkenberg said in a written statement.
According to an affidavit filed by prosecutors, the charges stem from accusations by a fellow student, identified only as Jane Doe, that Johnson raped her in her bedroom on February 4.
"Jordan strongly maintains his innocence and looks forward to the opportunity to prove his innocence at trial, clear his name and return to pursuing his education," Johnson's attorney, David Paoli, said in a statement.
Paoli said Johnson and his family were "surprised and saddened" by the charges "given that the encounter between Jordan and the complainant occurred in early February and the police have been aware of the allegation since she filed a report six weeks later."
Johnson was suspended from the football team on Tuesday and prohibited from engaging in team activities pending the outcome of criminal proceedings, said Jean Gee, the university's interim athletic director.
Speaking for the university, Kevin McRae, Montana's associate commissioner of higher education, said the school has no basis for expelling Johnson, who has not yet been convicted of a crime and is registered to attend classes in fall.
"The university will be a very interested observer of the district court proceeding to see how the due process plays out," McRae wrote in an email to Reuters.
'DISAPPOINTMENT, SORROW AND FEAR'
Johnson is one of two members of the Montana Grizzlies charged with rape this year amid renewed scrutiny of the university by the U.S. Department of Education and its football program by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Running back Beau Donaldson was charged in January with raping a woman at his residence while she slept. He has pleaded not guilty and has been suspended from the team.
U.S. Justice Department officials on May 1 announced that an investigation of the handling by the university, police and the county attorney of more than 80 reported rapes in Missoula during the past three years would include a review of sexual assault and harassment claims on campus.
At least 11 student-related sexual assaults have been reported there since 2010.
The university, the city and the Missoula police department pledged cooperation with the investigation even as Van Valkenburg defended his office and other local authorities and called the probe an "overreach" by the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Education on May 23 said it was also investigating whether the university had responded promptly and appropriately to the 11 reported rapes and sexual assaults on campus since 2010.
Like the Justice Department, the Education Department's inquiry seeks to determine if gender discrimination was at issue in the 11 cases. At least three of those involved rape accusations, including an alleged gang rape, against Grizzly players, including Johnson and Donaldson.
The NCAA in January notified the university it was conducting an investigation of the football program.
The sexual assault allegations and investigations have shaken Missoula, a city of 86,000 whose identity and economy are tied to the university and its football team.
"There is confusion and disappointment, sorrow and fear," Missoula Mayor John Engen told Reuters in a recent interview.
(Reporting By Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Stacey Joyce)
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