CRAWFORD | From cell phone flap to alleged rape, reconstructing Jones' troubled week
WDRB Sports columnist Eric Crawford looks at how the events of the past 10 days have unfolded for the University of Louisville and former basketball player Chris Jones, who pled not guilty Thursday to rape and sodomy charges.
Thursday, February 26th 2015, 12:20 pm EST
STARKVILLE, Miss. (WDRB) — Former University of Louisville point guard Chris Jones has pleaded not guilty to rape and sodomy charges this morning, but questions remain over what happened this past Saturday night, and in the week leading up to the incident, during which Jones was suspended from the team, then returned.
Even as headlines blared Jones' triumphant comeback to the basketball team in a standout performance in Louisville's 55-53 win over Miami on Saturday afternoon, Jones is alleged to have raped two women that night, explaining the abrupt announcement by Cardinals' coach Rick Pitino on Sunday that Jones had been dismissed from the team.
Confused? You have an excuse. Between the time of Jones' initial suspension last week and his eventual dismissal and now arrest, misinformation has reigned where hard facts have been difficult to come by.
Now that Jones has appeared in court and been ordered into home incarceration, here's an attempt, through comments from U of L coach Rick Pitino, official police and court documents and sources with direct knowledge of the events, to recreate the events of a whirlwind week.
On the night of Feb. 16 and early morning of Feb. 17, there was an altercation between Jones and a former girlfriend. She went to his apartment around midnight, and he left the premises. When he didn't return, she told U of L police that she left the apartment at 3 a.m. after “messing up” his room. Later that day, about 2 p.m., Jones texted her cell phone telling her he would “smack TF out of” her.
Campus police investigated this threat. Multiple sources told WDRB that Jones surrendered his cell phone to police, who were able to examine past messages sent between the parties. They wound up taking no further action, based on what they read, and on the fact that, as the police run report states, the woman “did not want Jones prosecuted, but preferred that someone talk to him abut this behavior.” U of L's Dean of Students was notified.
At a team meal on Feb. 17, however, Pitino learned of the text message. He asked Jones to leave the table and immediately suspended him for one game, and asked Jones to surrender his cell phone to him as punishment. Jones would not. Pitino then announced Jones suspension from the team before leaving for Syracuse, and because he had not given up his cell phone nor perhaps fulfilled other conditions of his return, voiced doubt over whether Jones would ever return to the team.
On a radio program on 93.9 FM in Louisville with host John Ramsey that afternoon, U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said that there was “nothing major in this situation” with Jones and that he and Pitino would “work through it.”
On his pregame radio show before the Cardinals' next game, at Syracuse on Feb. 18, Pitino said, “There are things outside of my hands, that when somebody does wrong that is not related to our basketball team, must be dealt with.” He also said of Jones, “I'm not sure he is going to come back.”
The Cardinals lost their game at Syracuse, 69-59, and afterward Pitino called Jones, “a knucklehead, a complete knucklehead when it comes to listening,” on his postgame radio program, and said that if Jones did not meet his requirement with coaches he would need to “pack his bags.”
“Chris, if he would've done what he was supposed to do, he'd have just had a one-game suspension,” Pitino said. “His off-the-court stuff got cleared up today. But he didn't do what he was supposed to do to get back. . . . If I go back and he hasn't taken care of it, hell could freeze over before he puts on a Louisville uniform again.”
When Pitino returned, sources tell WDRB, Jones surrendered his phone and agreed to other strict disciplinary measures, including a curfew, and Pitino reinstated him, which he confirmed in a text message to WDRB's Rick Bozich on Feb. 19.
In a news conference on Feb. 20, Pitino said of Jones, “Chris knows how disappointed I am he missed that game. I said, 'You cost your team a victory.' Not saying we would have definitely won if he was there, but he knows how I feel and he's very disappointed as well because he wanted to make that trip. We've got to move on now. I said, 'You can't do anything to erase your mistake, but what you can do is play harder and better.' He said, 'Coach, don't you think I play really hard?' And I said, 'I don't know if anybody plays any harder than you, but now you've got to go beyond it because we've got five games remaining and we could lose all five if we don't start to play great defense, so you've got to pick it up.'”
In Louisville's next game, against Miami on Feb. 21, Jones did pick it up. The Cards fell behind early, but Jones helped rally the team with 17 points and two steals, including a go-ahead jump shot with just over three minutes to play.
After the game, Pitino said of Jones, “I had a couple players a while ago that were a problem, and I didn't like coaching them. The reason I didn't like coaching them was not the problems that they brought me, but because they didn't work hard. I can deal with a lot of problems. We'll try to correct them and try to get them to own up and be a Louisville man. What I don't like is when somebody doesn't work hard at their game. Chris works hard at his game. All the time. That's why I appreciate him. Is it fun to coach him? Not like Russ Smith - there's not a lot of laughter coaching him. You appreciate how hard he works, so you give him some latitude when things don't go well and he comes out of the game. He came out of the game tonight, and actually didn't pout for the first time, which was awesome. He just sat down, I said `You ready to go in?' and he said `Yes.' Now we took the next step."
Jones said after the game that he “had no problem” with Pitino's criticism of him.
“I've just got to prove him wrong and get back on track,” Jones said. . . . I started listening to coach. Every time I listen to coach, I play great. When I've tried to fight back, that's when I've struggled some.”
But later that night, according to a warrant sworn out by U of L detective John Tarter on Wednesday, Jones, along with two other men, are alleged to have raped two women and forced them to engage in oral sex on campus. Both women were treated at University of Louisville hospital, where a forensic rape kit was performed. Both were able to identify Jones as a member of the University of Louisville basketball team and said Jones told them his name.
Neither is believed to be the woman Jones had the altercation with several days prior. One is a U of L student, the school said today.
Shortly after noon on Sunday, Feb. 22, Pitino learned of other accusations against Jones, though a university statement said he wasn't yet aware of all the specifics of those, as well as violations of the terms of his return to the team, including the curfew.
Even as stories of Jones' success against Miami were making the rounds, Pitino on the afternoon of Feb. 22 dismissed Jones from the team and announced it publicly without further comment. When contacted via text message, Pitino said, “He is finished.”
That evening, a representative of Louisville Metro Police Department told WDRB that there were "no current issues" involving LMPD and Jones, and a U of L police spokesperson also denied that it was investigating the player, though subsequent reporting has shown that to be incorrect.
Stories then began to fly. Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones said via Twitter that the reason of Jones' original suspension was a fight at 4th Street Live. His report of the reason for the suspension was false, and the allegation of a fight at 4th Street Live has not been proven. Jones also claimed Chris Jones quit the team earlier in the season. That has been denied by the University. But those accounts were picked up by several national websites.
A Courier-Journal report on Monday, picked up by ESPN and other national outlets, quoted a source saying that Jones would be seeking out John Lucas, a former NBA player who has helped many troubled players, including former U of L star Chane Behanan. In a message to the newspaper later that day, Jones said that was not the case.
Pitino did not comment on Jones until after U of L came from 13 points down to beat Georgia Tech on the night of Monday, Feb. 23.
At that time, Pitino said this:
“Look, guys, regardless of if somebody does something wrong, I feel they're all my children, but he's no longer on the basketball team, so he's got to now talk for himself, no different than when Chane Behanan left,” Pitino said. “It's not up to me to comment about anything. He was dismissed from our team. He's not coming back. We wish him the best success in the game of life. But it's just, it is what it is. Nothing I can say can remedy the situation.”
Later, Pitino said this about the process of dismissing a player.
"I feel awful for the young man, but there are certain rules that you can run people and there are other rules that you just can't,” Pitino said. “You've got to move on. Unfortunately, we just have to move on. It's like your children, you don't like to see anybody be hurt. But there's also accountability, and doing the right things, and he didn't, and he's got to now get his life together, get on with his life, there's no way he's coming back, it's over, and we've just got to move on now and try to become a better basketball team. Hell of a player. Mistakes were made, and sometimes in life you've got to pay for those mistakes."
A day later, on Feb. 24, via Twitter, Jones said: "Thanks cardnation and coaches for everything these 2 years was love I really enjoyed it you live and learn and never make that mistake again"
This morning, after Jones pleaded not guilty to the rape charges, U of L sports information released a statement about the player.
“While Chris is no longer a member of our team, we understand that the allegations are very serious,” U of L sports information director Kenny Klein said in a release. “While we cannot comment on this ongoing investigation, we certainly expect our student-athletes to uphold certain standards, including their treatment of others. We have great respect for the legal process and our university procedures and we will cooperate as requested with this matter.”
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