UK footballers sue a police officer who investigated a fraternity party brawl


RJ Adams, JuTahn McClain, Andru Phillips, Vito Tisdale and Joel Williams are suing several Lexington police officers.

Provided by Lovey & Loevy Attorneys at Law

Five of the six Kentucky football players accused of burglary last year sued a Lexington police officer who led the investigation into a brawl at an off-campus fraternity party.

RJ Adams, Gotan MacLean, Andrew Phillips, Ernest Sanders, Vito Tisdale and Joel Williams were charged with first-degree burglary in August 2021. Tisdale was also charged with first-degree brutal endangerment. The charges stemmed from a brawl at an off-campus fraternity party in March 2021.

A grand jury dismissed charges against the players in September 2021. On Wednesday, Adams, McClain, Phillips, Tisdale and Williams filed suits against Lexington Police Officer Corey Venlove alleging that he “made false charges to manipulate and defame them,” according to a press release. Player’s lawyer.

The Lexington County Fayette metropolitan government, Police Officer Donnell Gordon and Police Chief Lawrence Withers are also listed as defendants in the lawsuits.

“This lawsuit is another tragic example of the harm caused by corrupt police practices in America,” Elliot Slusar, an attorney at Chicago-based human rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, said in the statement. “It is shocking how, despite objective evidence and a thorough investigation by the University of Kentucky, Officer Corey Venlove has harmed the lives of so many people. As the lawsuits show, these five black men were targeted by a white officer with a grinding axe and decided to make a name for himself.

“False initiation of accusations stripped these players of their innocence and prevented them from enjoying college and playing football at the University of Kentucky, a program they love. RJ, JuTahn, Andru, Devito, and Joel are bringing this lawsuit to seek justice for the harm he caused and to hold defendant Venlove and others responsible for their egregious misconduct.

Student behavior records obtained by the Herald-Leader showed that racial and alcohol slurs “played an important role” in escalating the altercation at the party near the UK campus. The players were allegedly told they were not welcome at the party, according to court records and student behavior. The racial insults were allegedly directed at some players who left but later returned with more people. They reportedly stormed their way home and got into a fight that ended with several people injured.

Some people who attended the ceremony said that several women were beaten during the fight, according to student behavior records. Tisdale was charged with endangerment because he was accused of bringing a gun and pointing it at people, but no gun was found, according to available police reports.

A Student Behavior Review was conducted to find out who has violated UK Student Policies. Ten individuals were charged with at least one student committing a conduct violation. Six people were found not responsible for any of their university fees.

Each player was suspended from team activities when the UK learned of their reported involvement in the incident. The players returned to team activities in June 2021 after being acquitted by the university’s investigation but were again suspended after criminal charges were brought in August. The players were acquitted for returning to the team when the grand jury refused to indict.

Lawsuits filed on Wednesday allege that despite the players being allowed to return to the squad, “the false allegations and the nationwide publicity that followed have had a devastating impact on their football and educational careers, their mental health and well-being, and their name, image and example,” according to the press release. They identified Venlove as a graduate of the University of Louisville, claiming that he “embarked on a journey to frame Mr. Adams and five other black men for a crime they did not commit.”

Three of the six accused players have since moved from the UK. Phillips, McClain and Tisdale remain with the squad, but Tisdale is expected to miss the entire 2022 season due to an injury sustained during spring training.

The Lexington Police Department issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon regarding the lawsuits.

“Because the investigation is ongoing, we have no comment or other information to announce at this time,” Media Officer Hannah Sloan said.

Editor Jeremy Chissenhall and writer Taylor Six contributed to this report.

This story was originally published September 21, 2022 4:41 pm.

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John Hill is a football hitting writer for the University of Kentucky at Lexington Herald-Leader. He joined the Herald-Leader in 2022 but has covered athletics in the UK for over 10 years. Hill was named Sports Writer of the Year 2021 in Kentucky.

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