Monday, September 29, 2008

Suspended Lineman Files Lawsuit Against Purdue

By Leroy Bridges
Sports Editor

Suspended Purdue football lineman Uche Nwaneri has filed a lawsuit against the University, hoping to be reinstated.
A hearing in Tippecanoe County Court will be held Tuesday morning.
Nwaneri was suspended after a student disciplinary hearing by the Office of the Dean of Students after a July 14 fight in the Mollenkopf Athletic Center.
An Aug. 24 hearing before the Campus Appeals Board upheld the semester-long suspension.
The suit names the University; Steve Akers, executive associate dean of students, and Cathy Sleeth, chairperson of the Campus Appeals Board, as the defendants of the suit, which seeks no damages.
Purdue Board of Trustees chairman Tim McGinley couldn't be reached for comment and Akers and Sleeth declined to comment on Sunday.
In a statement released by Courtney B. Justice, Nwaneri's attorney, Nwaneri said that he didn't want to take this to court but he had no choice.
"It is especially hard for me because I love Purdue, and I respect and admire my professors and coaches who are giving me a first-class education - in the classroom and on the football field."
Late Friday, Judge Don Johnson set a 9 a.m. Tuesday hearing on Nwaneri's motion for a preliminary injunction to temporarily reinstate Nwaneri until a formal hearing could be conducted.
According to a copy of the lawsuit that was intended to be filed on Friday, Nwaneri was forcibly confronted by former teammate Ryan Noblet during a summer workout at Mollenkopf in July. The suit claims Noblet instigated the confrontation with verbal abuse, pushing and "attempted to get his arm around Uche's neck." Nwaneri retaliated by a "reasonable attempt to protect himself ... accidentally fracturing (Noblet's) jaw."
Purdue police were notified of the incident that evening by Pamela Noblet, Ryan's mother, according to the lawsuit. Purdue police apprehended Nwaneri at his home the following morning and he then voluntarily went to the police station, where Nwaneri gave his first statement, according to the complaint. As the Purdue police investigation was ongoing, Nwaneri was notified by Akers on July 19 that he had been charged with misconduct according to a student conduct code.
On July 28, a hearing was held before the Dean's office and Nwaneri was found guilty of "battering Ryan Noblet resulting in serious bodily injury." Akers found the disciplinary penalty appropriate "to demonstrate how detrimental this kind of conduct is to the University" and suspended Nwaneri from Purdue for the fall semester. The suspension would prohibit Nwaneri from playing football for Purdue, as well. Nwaneri then filed an appeal to be heard by the Campus Appeals Board.
On Wednesday, the appeal, which was closed to the public, was heard. Nwaneri was accompanied by his attorneys during the hearing; however, Nwaneri had to conduct his entire presentation by himself. According to the lawsuit, Sleeth, chairperson of the board, "repeatedly expressed her personal views and her approval of the Dean's decision, emphasizing her conviction that Dean Akers did the right thing."
During the appeal's hearing, Nwaneri questioned three witnesses, offensive line coach Bill Legg, trainer Jessica Zuercher and freshman wide receiver Derek Benson. Legg was asked to give character descriptions of both Nwaneri and Noblet. Legg told of Noblet's history of confrontations over the past three years, according to the lawsuit.
On Sunday, Legg would not comment about what he said at the appeal hearing. Benson said on Sunday that he did not want to get into details of the situation.
According to the suit, during Nwaneri's testimony at the appeal, he stated that he was placed into an interrogation room for an hour, while Lt. Fred Davis of the Purdue Police Department "threatened bullied and intimidated him." According to the suit, "Davis then accused Nwaneri of lying, of being a criminal, told him he would have to stand trial and was going to jail." No record of that interview is contained in the police report to the Dean, according to the suit.
Davis could not be reached for comment.
According to the suit, Nwaneri's right to due process of law was violated during the hearings.
On Sunday, the University would have no comment on the lawsuit, according to Jeanne Norberg, director of University News Service.

Published in the Purdue Exponent on Aug. 29, 2005

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