A judge in California has signed an arrest warrant for Nebraska running back Maurice Washington, his lawyer said on Thursday, while university officials said the athletic department did not know the exact allegations against the player during football season.
Washington was charged in California in December with possessing and distributing a video of a former girlfriend being sexually assaulted by two other people in 2016, when she was 15.
He will surrender himself to authorities and appear in court in California to avoid being arrested, said his attorney, John C. Ball.
Washington is suspected of storing the video on his cellphone and sending it to the victim last March. He is charged with a felony count of possessing a video or photograph of a person under 18 who is engaging in or simulating sexual conduct and a misdemeanor count of posting a video or photograph of a person engaging in or simulating sexual conduct without consent, leading to the person suffering emotional distress. Washington was a star at The King's Academy in Sunnyvale, California, where he met the girl. He later attended high school in Texas.
Ball stressed that Washington was not involved in the alleged assault.
"Mr. Washington had absolutely nothing to do with the alleged sexual assault," Ball said in a statement. "The young woman in this case did not even allege that the recorded incident was sexual assault and nonconsensual until recently, after she allegedly received the video from Mr. Washington, years after the alleged assault happened. This is about two young people who were once boyfriend and girlfriend in the eighth grade, and their communications years later. Without all the facts, any judgment of anything in this case is premature, and would be based only on speculation and conjecture. Mr. Washington is presumed to be innocent. He will address this case in a court of law, relying on rules of evidence and due process."
Also on Thursday, Nebraska athletic department officials said that they connected Washington to an attorney who was friends with head coach Scott Frost, but that the school did nothing improper and coaches last fall were unaware of the exact child pornography allegations the player was facing.
Investigators in California and Nebraska were in contact since September with Washington's attorney at the time, Jon Bruning, who is a former Nebraska attorney general now in private practice, although not typically with criminal defense. Bruning last week referred Washington to Ball, a criminal defense attorney, after he learned charges were pending.
According to a Nebraska statement, coaches and athletic department officials knew that California investigators wanted to talk to Washington, but Bruning had told Frost last fall that he couldn't disclose the nature of the investigation because of attorney-client privilege. Bruning did tell Frost he doubted the probe would result in criminal charges.
Nebraska also denied wrongdoing in referring Washington to Bruning. Records released Wednesday by the Santa Clara County Superior Court state that Bruning said he had "been contacted by members of the athletic department," but the school said it was only for a referral.
"Nebraska Football staff were clear to both Bruning and Washington that Washington had to be treated as a normal client and billed appropriately," a university statement read, adding that Bruning had a "long-standing friendship" with Frost and associate athletic director and fellow former teammate Matt Davison.
The NCAA typically allows athletic department officials to refer athletes to attorneys, but the athlete must be the one who initiates contact with the lawyer. In a case like this, it would violate NCAA rules if the school paid the athlete's legal fees; and rules generally prohibit attorneys from offering special discounts or pro bono work to athletes if that similar offer isn't available to non-athletes.
"I was introduced to Maurice Washington by football staff last fall," Bruning told ESPN on Thursday. "I was told the Nebraska Attorney General's office had called around various places at the University for Mr. Washington and wanted to question him. I told Maurice he likely needed an attorney to help him. I also said to retain an attorney he needed to sign an engagement letter and pay for that service to avoid issues with the NCAA. Football staff reiterated that we had to do everything by the book and ensure he didn't receive an extra benefit. Everyone was keenly aware that we had to ensure every rule was followed to protect the University, coaches, and Mr. Washington's eligibility."
Bruning was drawn into the case after Ed Sexton, who works in the Nebraska attorney general's office, spoke to an athletics compliance official, Jamie Vaughn. Sexton wrote that Vaughn told him the football staff "wanted to know what was going on and wanted to talk to Washington." Football coaches also were concerned about Washington needing a lawyer.
Bruning said Wednesday he never told anyone at the university about the nature of potential charges.
The investigation in California stretched from last March into the summer. California authorities then asked Sexton to help track down Washington for an interview.
According to court documents obtained by The Associated Press, Sexton said he contacted Nebraska and was called back first by Vaughn, and then on Sept. 14 by Bruning.
"The nature of the case was disclosed and it was my understanding that Bruning would talk to Washington and his coaches, then let me know if, or when, I would be able to interview Washington," Sexton wrote. "I do not anticipate being allowed to interview Washington."
Five days later, court documents say, Sexton called Bruning, who told Sexton that Washington had told him he had no idea about the video allegation.
By the second week of September, Washington had started his freshman season and was on his way to becoming the team's third-leading rusher.
Court papers described futile attempts by a California detective and Sexton to arrange an interview with Washington through Vaughn and Bruning. They made repeated calls and sent texts to Washington that went unanswered.
The court documents suggest the case languished throughout the season, and there is no indication Washington was ever interviewed. On Dec. 14, Bruning received copies of search warrants from the sheriff's office in Santa Clara County, California.
"Having not heard from [Santa Clara County Sheriff's investigator Colin Haselbach] for three months, I called him that day, and his demeanor on that call can best be described as hostile and unprofessional," Bruning told ESPN. "He berated me about the case, threatened to have my client arrested and insisted he should be able to talk to my client, despite our Constitution's fifth amendment right to remain silent. I said I'd consider his request."
Bruning said he then did not hear anything from investigators until a reporter told him last week that Washington was being charged, at which point he gave the case to Ball. Bruning also said that he had never heard the video described as covering a rape or assault until the news broke on Monday.
Washington was considered a top player in Nebraska's 2018 recruiting class, and he earned immediate playing time. He appeared in 11 games and started against Ohio State and Iowa. He finished with 455 yards rushing and 221 yards receiving. He also was Nebraska's top kick return man.
Information from ESPN's Paula Lavigne and The Associated Press was used in this report.