Friend says Jameis Winston was alone with Uber driver

Buccaneers in a tough spot with Winston (2:06)

Jeff Darlington reports on the position Tampa Bay has found itself between its QB Jameis Winston and the NFL. (2:06)

A friend of Jameis Winston's who was with him the night the Buccaneers quarterback allegedly sexually abused an Uber driver says Winston left a party scene alone in the Uber car. That statement contradicts a third friend who has said publicly that Winston was never left alone with the driver.

Winston, former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks and Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby were at a Scottsdale, Arizona, nightclub in March 2016 when Winston became intoxicated and "unruly," prompting his friends to send him away in an Uber, Banks' attorney, Mark Scruggs, told Outside the Lines. "What happened after that," Scruggs said, "they cannot say." Banks has never been identified publicly as being at the scene until now.

On Thursday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the NFL was planning to suspend Winston for the first three games of the 2018 season for violating the league's personal conduct policy in relation to the allegation. The NFL had no comment Friday.

The female Uber driver -- who has only ever been identified as "Kate" -- did not go public with the allegation that Winston grabbed her crotch during the Uber ride until last fall, when she told BuzzFeed News that she wanted to tell the truth "about a powerful man who felt entitled to my body when all I wanted to do was my job." She did, however, file a formal complaint about Winston to Uber soon after the ride. She ended that complaint by stating, "He is NOT safe for other drivers," according to the BuzzFeed News story. Winston's Uber-riding privileges were revoked, but Winston did not notify the league of the complaint against him.

The woman has not filed a police report to date, and her attorney, John Clune, said Thursday that he did not have any comment about the NFL's decision or what steps the woman might take next.

Kate told Buzzfeed News in November 2017 that a group of men placed Winston alone in the front passenger seat of her car around 2 a.m. on March 13, 2016, outside a Scottsdale nightclub. She said the men excitedly told her that she would be chauffeuring someone famous that night, Winston. Scruggs told Outside the Lines that Darby, Banks and Winston had been together throughout that night until the Uber showed up for Winston.

Kate told Buzzfeed News that after leaving the nightclub, she drove to a fast-food restaurant at Winston's request and while in the drive-thru lane, Winston reached over and grabbed her crotch, holding his hand there for three to five seconds until she verbally interjected.

Winston's camp denied the allegation, issuing a statement that "the driver was confused as to the number of passengers in the car and who was sitting next to her."

That denial was followed by a statement from Darby, who in response to the BuzzFeed News story, said he was a passenger in the car: "There were three of us in the car, not just one as has been reported. Myself and Jameis were in the backseat. I am confident that nothing inappropriate in nature happened in the car that evening and Jameis did not have any physical contact with the Uber driver. The accusations are just not true."

Darby didn't name the third person, Banks. But Darby's and Winston's statements effectively would put Banks in the front seat for the 2 a.m. ride from the club.

Banks is serving 15 years in prison after being found guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in June 2017 for his role in the gang rape of a female Vanderbilt student in June 2013.

Scruggs said any implication that Banks was the front-seat passenger is false.

"Brandon was never in the car with this victim," Scruggs told Outside the Lines. He said Banks told him that the three men had taken an Uber together earlier in the evening with a different female driver before partying together. "They were two different events, two different Uber drivers," Scruggs said.

The NFL began investigating the Uber allegations after the BuzzFeed News story was published.

Banks did not speak to the NFL as part of its investigation, Scruggs said, though Scruggs said league representatives tried to interview him in prison several months ago. Banks, who is awaiting a ruling on an appeal of his sexual assault conviction, told them he would not talk to them without Scruggs present. Scruggs said no one from the NFL had reached out to him before the visit nor did anyone from the NFL contact him afterward.

"Obviously, the NFL did not rely upon anything Banks said," in making a decision, Scruggs said.

Darby's agent did not respond to messages, and a spokesman for the Eagles said Darby was unlikely to comment Friday.

Darby's statement vouching for Winston was the second time he had publicly come to the defense of his friend and former Florida State teammate. After Winston was accused of having sexually assaulted fellow student Erica Kinsman in December 2012 while at Florida State, Darby and fellow teammate Chris Casher provided criminal investigators with affidavits indicating that they saw Winston having consensual sex with Kinsman.

Tallahassee police investigated the allegations and were widely criticized for sitting on the report and not collecting certain evidence until a media request in fall 2013 prompted the department to turn the case over to prosecutors, who determined they did not have enough evidence to charge the then-FSU quarterback. Winston was not suspended from the school or disciplined by the football team for the incident. Winston was disciplined over a separate incident, in September 2014, for standing on a table inside the university's student union and shouting a sexually explicit internet meme.

Florida State also investigated Darby and Casher. Casher admitted to police that he took a video recording of the encounter between Winston and the woman but had deleted it from his phone. The university's investigation found Casher responsible for two code-of-conduct violations but did not find Darby responsible.

Kinsman told her story and revealed her identity in "The Hunting Ground," a 2015 documentary about campus sexual assault, which also had information about another sexual assault allegation against Winston that did not result in criminal charges. The female Uber driver, Kate, decided to come forward with her story in part after watching the documentary, sources told ESPN.

A spokeswoman for Winston said Friday afternoon that the NFL had yet to inform him of any suspension, and she said she could not comment on the information from Banks or any aspect of the investigation.