Knoxville Police officials, including Chief David Rausch, gave "professional courtesy" calls to Tennessee football coach Butch Jones to inform him that two of his players were being investigated for an alleged rape -- hours before those players were first questioned by police, according to The Tennessean.
Citing sources and cellphone records, the newspaper reported Wednesday that Jones was informed by police of rape allegations involving A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams on Nov. 16, 2014 -- just five hours after the related 911 call had been made to police, and four hours before police showed up to question Johnson.
Johnson and Williams were indicted on aggravated rape charges in February 2015 and have separate trial dates this summer. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Knoxville detective Sam Brown, a liaison with the football team, is reported to have first called Jones at 8:20 a.m. to alert him about the investigation. Jones then called Johnson two minutes later while an assistant coach called Williams, according to The Tennessean, which reported that the two used the time to talk with each other and potential witnesses and to hire attorneys.
Rausch then made the first of four calls to Jones at 8:38 a.m., according to the report, and over the next 72 hours, the chief and the coach spoke 15 more times totaling 22 minutes.
Those same cellphone records obtained by the newspaper showed Jones then made the first of three calls to Knoxville attorney Wilson Ritchie, whose firm is representing Johnson in the criminal trial this summer.
The Tennessean reported Knoxville Police officers did not show up to Johnson's apartment, where the crime is alleged to have taken place, until about noon that same day, and then returned at 6 p.m. with a warrant to search the apartment.
Rausch told the paper that making courtesy calls to UT officials when athletes are suspected in crimes is a common occurrence.
But Assistant District Attorney Sean McDermott told The Tennessean that "a pre-arrest disclosure of sensitive information that is not made for the purpose of advancing the criminal investigation potentially could violate state law regarding the misuse of official information."
A lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Nashville says Tennessee has violated Title IX regulations and created a "hostile sexual environment" through a policy of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes. The suit has eight unidentified women as plaintiffs, including the one who alleges she was raped by Johnson and Williams.
In June, an ESPN Outside the Lines investigation of 10 major college programs found that athletic departments often insert themselves into investigations involving their athletes and that athletes are much more likely to have favorable outcomes than non-athletes of the same age facing charges.