(WXYZ) — Just days ago, former Michigan State University staffer Curtis Blackwell made news when, in a deposition, he said under oath that MSU Football Coach Mark Dantonio was cautioned by multiple assistant coaches not to sign a recruit with a history of criminal allegations, in an effort to have the coach deposed for his lawsuit.
So, who is Curtis Blackwell and what does this lawsuit really center around? He is sharing his story in his first television interview on the matter with 7 Action News' Carolyn Clifford.
The wrongful termination lawsuit, the sexual assault allegations surrounding three MSU football players and the question – who knew what and when?
Blackwell was hired by Dantonio in 2013.
"What role did Dantonio want you to play on his staff?" Carolyn Clifford asked.
"Him and (then-Athletic Director) Mark Hollis created this position that would be where I would mentor student athletes. It was called the director of college advancement," Blackwell said.
He said Dantonio and other head coaches from acros the country would come to Sound Mind Sound Body – the youth football camp founded and run by Blackwell in search of solid recruits.
"Dantonio was at every single camp speaking as the headliner with all of his coaches and players," Blackwell said.
While on MSU's staff, Blackwell could only be on the board of Sound Mind Sound Body and had nothing to do with coaching, but he said he was the perfect fit to help keep young MSU football recruits out of trouble.
"So all of these kids would have direct contact with you everyday, right?" Clifford asked.
"They call you for advice or if they got injured, if they got in trouble, if their playing time was reduced," Blackwell said. "Ask questions to, I was the go-to guy."
Blackwell says his office was a revolving door for kids in the MSU football program. And during his time with MSU, they had quite the success.
"We won two Big Ten Championships, Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, parties galore," he said. "Anyone who knows East Lansing, there's always a party."
But a party in 2017 was different. Allegations of sexual assault lead three football players to be dropped from the team.
- Former Michigan State football players reach plea deal in sex assault case
- Three MSU football players named after being charged with sexual assault
It's this party and what happened in the months following it that led Blackwell to file a federal lawsuit.
In that suit, filed in November 2018 against former MSU President Lou Anna Simon, Dantonio, Hollis and two MSU police detectives, Blackwell said he was "wrongly accused of covering up for the athletes," "wrongly arrested" with no evidence and fired "to justify and divert attention away from their own actions."
"When a coach calls in Title IX, that means he's worried about something. He's worried his athletes have done something illegal? Possible sexual assault or an alleged sexual assault may have taken place," Blackwell said to Carolyn Clifford.
"They wanted a scapegoat and a fall guy," Blackwell's attorney, Tom Warnicke, said. "They used him."
A month after the allegations surfaced, Michigan State University police came to campus.
"They asked me, did I have information to that? I said, well yes, I spoke to the players all the time but no one every told me specifically any type of sexual assault occurred," Blackwell said.
He said that suddenly the hour-long interview was over and he was under arrest.
"Why did they say they placed you under arrest?" Clifford asked.
"They said that at some point during the interview that I violated some type of university ordinance," he said.
MSU police alleged that Blackwell interfered with their investigation by not reporting the discussions to police or university officials until police came to him on Feb. 8. Blackwell said he was humiliated.
"They placed me in handcuffs in front of everybody and then they took both of my cell phones," he said. "and I said, 'oh this is really serious.'"
According to the lawsuit, following the arrest, he exercised his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. He said he was held in cuffs at the police station for more than an hour before being released.
"Our position is that Michigan State Police that arrested him had no probable cause," Warnicke said.
Blackwell was initially suspended and eventually, his employment with the university was terminated.
"They've given, I think, five completely inconsistent reasons for why they made the decision," Blackwell said.
According to the lawsuit, "there was no evidence the plaintiff (Blackwell) had interfered with a police investigation as the MSU Police Defendants had falsely alleged. Consequently, no charges were ever brought against Plaintiff by the Ingham County Prosecutor and the 54-B District court for the City of East Lansing granted Plaintiff complete immunity in exchange for his truthful testimony in the investigation of the January 2017 sexual assault incident."
Court documents say MSU suspended him because he was in violation of his employment agreement, but never once allowed him to explain his side as required by the contract.
Blackwell has given his side during a six-hour deposition released to the public last week.
His attorney said they are not aware of any other university employee who has ever been arrested on campus.
So what happened to those three MSU players at the center of the allegations?
"All of the charges, for the most part, were dropped and the young men pleaded guilty to a seduction, a charge that hasn't been used since the 1800s.
According to court records, the players were sentenced to three years probation and could one day have their records wiped clean with a program for young offenders.
The football players could carry on with their careers. According to Blackwell's attorney, things were not so simple for Blackwell.
"We also think that there's a potential element of race discrimination that went on here because a lot of the individuals that have engaged much more egregious activities, much more serious activities," Warnicke said. "Many people were tried or convicted, including Nassar, and on the way down they were never arrested on campus and taken away in handcuffs."
"What would satisfy you? You were asking for $75,000. Is that enough?" Clifford asked.
"Number one thing is my name, my legacy," Blackwell responded. "I'm a husband, I'm a father, I'm a leader in this community."
Last week after the deposition was made public, Dantonio's attorney released the following statement.
“While it is the University’s policy to deal with litigation in court, and not the press, the recent publicity efforts by Mr. Blackwell and his attorney warrant a brief response.
Mr. Blackwell’s lawsuit concerns his allegations that his contract was not renewed because he refused to co-operate with investigations being conducted by the MSUPD and a law firm hired to evaluate the MSU football program’s compliance with sexual assault reporting policies. The lawsuit has nothing to do with the recruitment or actions of any student athletes, including Auston Robertson.
Mr. Blackwell’s publicity seeking efforts to nevertheless inject this and other irrelevancies into this lawsuit seek to deflect from what actually happened, and were already rejected by the court. We have filed a motion for protective order consistent with the court’s earlier ruling.
Coach Dantonio has been more than willing to testify and explain the reasons he decided to not further extend Mr. Blackwell’s contract. This could have been accomplished months earlier, before the onset of the football season, and dates were provided but not accepted by Mr. Blackwell’s counsel. We now expect the court to address the timing and parameters of his deposition in response to our motion.”
You can read the entire protective order motion and lawsuit below.