LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Three students who say they were at a March incident that resulted in charges for a half-dozen University of Kentucky football players claim the players forced themselves into a party at a fraternity house and assaulted multiple people before Lexington police were called and the crowd was dispersed.
All three students spoke to WDRB on the condition of anonymity out of concern for their own security. Their version of events presents only one side of the story, but it is a side that has gone untold publicly until now.
UK players Vito Tisdale, Reuben "RJ" Adams, Robert "Jutahn" McClain, Andreu Phillips, Earnest Sanders and Joel Williams pleaded not guilty during their arraignment in Fayette District Court on Friday on burglary charges. Tisdale also pleaded not guilty to wanton endangerment charges. He’s accused of having a gun in his possession at the fraternity party in the early-morning hours of March 7.
A Lexington Herald-Leader story on Friday reported that a court filing acknowledges that a "physical altercation" occurred at the party but that Lexington police did not specify the number of types of injuries sustained.
The trouble, according to one of the students, began a week prior when several UK football players showed up to a party uninvited. They entered the house and stayed until several people approached the players and asked who they were. The witnesses say the players then threatened to beat them up. The players subsequently were asked to leave, and according to these witnesses, stayed without further incident until the party broke up.
"They said the guys who were telling them to leave were being racist, which is not the case," one of the students said. ". . . We told them to leave because everyone was leaving and people live there and none of us knew them. They were saying we were kicking them out because they were Black, even though . . . we have Black members in our organization and there were Black students at the party. It wasn't a racial thing, we just didn't know them, they weren't invited and it was 2 or 3 a.m. and we were all just going home, and that's why people were leaving and getting in cars to go."
A week later, the students say, a small group of UK players showed up at another party and were refused entrance at the door. The group said they would be back with more people, and "strapped," one student remembered.
One of the students who spoke with WDRB said he was told about the threat and began telling people that they needed to leave the residence. About 20 minutes later, he said, he found himself trying to help barricade the door against a group of football players who were trying to force it open, which they eventually did, running into the house.
The student said the group of players, "just came in and started throwing punches at guys, girls, it did not matter who. They were just throwing punches to throw punches. I turned and made a barricade and got as many girls out of the house as I could before I ran through the house. I saw one of my friends pinned in a corner just getting unloaded on, with punches, just taking a brutal beating. There were just little scrums going on all over the house, lots of screaming, lots of everything. And I ran into a room and closed the door behind me and called the police."
Another student who says he was in the doorway corroborated that statement, though he could not confirm exactly how many players ran through the door. He noted that others were waiting in cars outside.
"It was like a drive-by," he said. ". . . There was a bunch of guys just running in, and Vito hit (a girl) in the face, and then pushed her up against the wall with his forearm, like kind of choking her. And as he hit the girl, then runs over to another group of people and starts hitting, you can see his gun in his waistband, because he didn't have pants on, he had basketball shorts on. They were pretty loose, but you could still see it, he had a gray shirt and I believe like a white tank top underneath that, and you could see it tucked in there. . . . It was in the front, but kind of leaning toward his right hip."
The student said the entire incident lasted between five and 10 minutes.
"A lot of people in the house were trying to hide," he said. "There were a lot of girls there. A lot were trying to get hid into a room or trying to get out the back door and run. So a lot was going on. I don't think they were coming in and targeting anyone specifically, but they did hit, from what I know for sure, three girls. And three or four of them jumped one of my friends."
The students produced several photos they claim are of people who were bruised and beaten up at the party, and said they have provided those photos to authorities.
After running to a separate room to call the police, another player said he came out and began telling people that police were on their way, and the crowd began to disperse.
Outside the house, a third student who spoke with WDRB said he witnessed the build-up to the incident. He said he had hustled his girlfriend and some others out the back door and toward a car in the driveway with a friend of his driving when he heard the initial threat. He said they were about to get in the car when they were confronted by a group of players, who ran up to the car on foot and surrounded the group.
"That's when the gun was drawn," he said. "Vito pointed at me with the gun, then pointed it behind him back towards the house asking, 'Are you with them?" . . . At the time my focus was solely getting the girls and driver out safe and that's what I told him, 'All I'm trying to do is get these girls home safe man it's late.' After about 5 seconds I just heard a, "Man, f--- this dude,' and the group sprinted up to the front door of the house and all I could hear was them trying to break in the door."
This student said others outside called 911 and stayed on the phone with police from a neighbor's back yard until they arrived and, in fact, until they had left.
Those at the party told WDRB that Lexington police blocked off the street but did not take statements from witnesses that night and after speaking with a half dozen or so players who remained at the scene let them return to their homes. The students were told to file a police report the next day, which they did. The say as many as 10 people from the party gave statements to police. WDRB has been unable to obtain a copy of that report, and has requested audio of the 911 calls but not yet received it.
The student who watched from a nearby backyard said when he entered the house after police had left, "The group of guys had badly beaten up my friends as well as having hit and shoved down girls who were still in the house. Those in the house claimed to have seen guns in the group's waistbands, and therefore didn't feel at all safe retaliating."
UK football says it will monitor the proceedings and won't comment further out of respect for the legal process.
“We have been aware of this matter since March, as we withheld the players from team activities while a student conduct review was held,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said in a statement Thursday. “Based on the outcome of the review, the players returned to activity in June. We are evaluating the current situation as we receive more information.”
A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday in Fayette District Court.
Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.