On April 13, 2013, Tennessee coach Butch Jones announced that football player Marlin Lane was suspended for “disciplinary reasons.” More than a year later, via reporting by the Tennesseean, it was revealed that those “disciplinary reasons” involved a police investigation into if Lane had raped an 18-year-old high school student.
At the time, it was reported as one of two examples of the university failing to disclose rape investigations involving athletes. The case is back in the news as a part of the sweeping Title IX lawsuit brought against the university, accusing it of “deliberate indifference” to sexual assault by athletes. The woman who said she was raped isn’t one of the eight plaintiffs; instead, the case is cited as one of several examples of how Tennessee’s athletic department used its influence to hinder investigations.
(If the names Marlin Lane and Geraldo Orta, the two players involved, sound familiar, it’s because they were accused a year later of confronting and threatening one of their teammates for aiding a separate woman who said she had been raped by two other Tennessee football players.)
As part of a new complaint filed yesterday, 12 pages of police records were added as well as a sworn affidavit from then-director of student judicial affairs Jenny Wright. These new records give a detailed account of how the rape investigation unfolded and how this one, and possibly others like it, ended with no charges filed, no significant university punishment, and a player trotted out as a success story. It’s also a striking example of why it’s so difficult to prosecute so many sexual assault cases. Here is how the investigation played out, according to the records.
The alleged assault happened in the early hours of April 7, 2013, but the police investigation started two days later, on April 9, after the student spoke with a school counselor. The counselor told the school resource officer (it is not specified in the police report, but these were likely employees at her high school), who told Knoxville police. The student told Knoxville police one story about where the assault occurred, but the details didn’t add up, and the officer asked her to “tell him the truth.” That’s when she said the assault happened at Vol Hall, in the apartment of football players Marlin Lane and Geraldo Orta. Because it happened on campus, the case was turned over to university police.
The university police reports start with a summary of what they were told by Knoxville PD. According to that summary, the girl said she was in the dorm for a party with a few friends; her cousin had had a “previous relationship” with Lane, and she had a “previous sexual relationship” with Orta. She said she’d had some alcohol but wasn’t drunk when she went back to Lane’s bedroom with him and Orta.
(Izauea Lanier is another football player.)
The girl said she found her friends and left. She provided police with the pants she wore that night, and a rape kit was done. “Some bruising” was found in her genital area, the report said. The girl told Knoxville police that “she does have a history of being sexually assaulted by her father and uncle.”
Later that day, the university police officer asked Lane if he would come in and talk. Lane, per the report, said “he had heard about what was being said and wanted to come in as soon as he finished his tutoring session.” The police report doesn’t say how Lane already knew about it, but the lawsuit contains this passage:
During the investigation, UT football players were interviewed but only after they had already been made aware of the allegations by UT and had conversations with their teammates.
Upon information and belief, these conversations and prior actions by UT allowed the players to “get their stories straight.”
Lane told police that at about 3 a.m. he was inside his room, texting his girlfriend in Florida, after a night of partying at a bar called The Hill. Orta and the girl came inside, Lane said, sat on his bed, and had sex there for about 20 minutes. Then he says the girl came over to him, still naked, and started hugging him, grabbed his penis and eventually put it inside her vagina. At some point, she said “no get off” and he did. He says he grabbed his shorts and left the room. When Izauea Lanier said the girl was crying, Lane found her in the bathroom. He waited for her to come out in his room, then checked again and she had left.
The officer asked Lane why he thought the girl would say he raped her.
I asked if he knew why Ms. [redacted] would say that he raped her and he stated that he was talking with her cousin, [redacted]. He thought that she felt bad for having sex with him and didn’t want to tell [her cousin] the truth.
The officer asked Lane if he was telling the truth, and he answered “that he didn’t have anything to hide.”
Later that day, while collecting Lane’s bedsheets, police found Orta at the apartment. He told them that he ran into the girl and her cousin at a frat party at The Hill, and that he left along with Lane and Lanier about 1:30 a.m.. He dropped off Lane and Lanier at their apartment, went over to his girlfriend’s place to talk with her, then joined them at the apartment about 3 a.m. He found the girl and a friend hanging out with Lane and Lanier in the living room.
After Lane went inside his room, Orta said he sat down next to the girl, who told him, “don’t let me sleep with Marlin, pinky promise.” Orta said he thought that was weird, so he went to Lane’s room to tell him. While the two were talking, Orta said, the girl came inside and started taking her clothes off, then rubbing her body in his lap. He “made up his mind to submit and have sex with her.”
Police asked Orta why he thought the girl didn’t want to have sex with Lane. He said that she said “she didn’t want to because her cousin, [redacted], liked Mr. Lane.”
The next day, April 10, two university police officers went to the school and talked to the girl. She also said she had been at a party at The Hill but couldn’t drink because she had no ID. She said someone later dropped off her and her stepsister at Vol Hall, where Lane and Lanier let them inside. Lane made them drinks, she said, and she had some sips but she “doesn’t usually drink and [it] made her sick.”
She said went to lie down in Lane’s room; Orta followed her in and starting to initiate sex with her. Lane came in and asked if he could smoke. She said it was OK and tried to leave. She told Orta she wasn’t going to have sex with him while his roommate was in the room.
He stopped, she said, when Lanier came into the room. She started crying but wouldn’t say anything to Lanier. She said he gave her a hug and said “I don’t know what happened, but I’m sorry.”
She didn’t talk to anyone about what happened until the day she went to the hospital. One officer asked her if she had told Knoxville police that she didn’t want to pursue charges and she said, “No, I just wanted to make sure I was OK. Let Marlin do Marlin.”
At this point in the report, it appears like the interview is about to end with her declining to pursue charges, until police start telling her what Orta and Lane claimed happened.
“When I told her that they said that she reached out to Mr. Lane and grabbed his penis she became agitated and started to cry,” the officer wrote. “She said ‘This is fucking crazy. I would never in my life have sex with Marlin and I was so fucking mad at Orta. I would not do that. That’s not me.’”
She said Lane texted her the day after saying “I’m so sorry for last night I didn’t mean to let that happen for real.” The officer asked again about pressing charges.
“I thought I didn’t until you told me what they said,” she responded. “Um, I don’t know right now.”
After that, the investigation slows down. The police call one woman, whose number goes unanswered and who has no voicemail. On April 16, an officer calls the girl who she says she doesn’t want to pursue charges. He says OK but to let him know if she changes her mind, that the case can be reopened. Three days later, he calls her again. She says she saw on the news that Lane had been suspended and she “didn’t want to pursue anything further.” This time, she put it in writing (a text message). The officer talked with a prosecutors who “advised that she did not think that we should pursue it since the victim is no longer wishing to go forward.”
The police report ends on May 7 by noting the officer picked up the sexual assault kit from the sexual assault center and put it into evidence storage. There is no mention of whether it was tested.
When details of the rape investigation came out in 2014, via the Tennessean, the woman told the paper she hasn’t wanted to prosecute because she was scared and she didn’t want her family to find out. Teammates were contacting her friends, she said, and one player sent her a direct message on Twitter saying, “Why are you trying to ruin his life? He’s the star of the team.” Lane’s girlfriend also screamed at her over the phone, she told the paper, accusing her of ruining Lane’s life.
“I never said anything back except it was none of their business,” she told the Tennesseean. “I didn’t understand how they would take his side just because he was a football player.”
Lane had been suspended, though at the time coach Butch Jones said little more than it was for disciplinary reasons. He was reinstated after missing four spring practices and the Orange and White game. The lawsuit asserts one possible reason why Lane returned without missing a regular-season game:
Director of Student Judicial Affairs, Jenny Wright was instructed to stop any investigation of Marlin Lane for this rape.
In July 2014, at SEC media days, Jones called Lane “a success story in our football program of what a difference a year makes in terms of overall maturity, changing his overall life, his lifestyle.”
You can read the police reports here or below.