LEXINGTON, Ky. - A grand jury has declined to indict the six Kentucky football players facing burglary charges from a March fight at a fraternity party.
Offensive lineman R.J. Adams, running back JuTahn McClain, defensive back Andru Phillips, wide receiver Earnest Sanders IV, safety Vito Tisdale and defensive back Joel Williams were each charged with first-degree burglary in August. Tisdale also was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment for "being identified as the suspect pointing a handgun at one of the victims," according to a Lexington Police Department news release.
The players, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, waived their preliminary hearings to the grand jury on Aug. 25.
The grand jury heard the case Monday and returned its decision Tuesday. With all charges dropped, the six players have been cleared to return to team activities, a university spokeswoman confirmed shortly after news of the grand jury's decision broke.
An email from victim advocate Kimberly Emeric to the partygoers who testified at the grand jury hearing provided to the Courier Journal said the prosecutors presented all the evidence and "gave the jurors all possible indictment options." The grand jury then decided to dismiss the case in its entirety.
According to the police department release, three players entered a residence uninvited where a private party was being held on March 6 and were asked to leave. The players became upset and threatened to return.
A short time later, those three players returned with additional teammates and forced their way into the residence. One player, Tisdale, was reportedly seen pointing a firearm at a victim.
According to court documents, the players "became involved in a physical altercation with multiple occupants of the residence." The players have alleged the fight was sparked by an unnamed female partygoer calling them racial slurs once they arrived at the house.
The Kentucky athletics department first became aware of the incident in March.
After initially saying all six players were held from team activities for 11 weeks, a university spokesman clarified that each of the players was held from team activities once the program learned of his alleged involvement in the incident.
"For most of them, that was the week following the March 6 incident, but for at least one player, it came at a later date," the spokesman said. "We returned the players to team activities with those resumed in June."
Players were returned to the team after being cleared by a university conduct board investigating the incident. While the players were active for the start of preseason camp in August, Stoops held them out of practices again after the charges were filed, saying he was waiting to learn if the police department had gathered additional evidence that would change the conclusion reached at the student conduct hearing.
According to university documents provided to the Courier Journal through an open records request, eight Kentucky students present at the March 6 party were charged with a student conduct violation for "harm and threat of harm." Three students were found responsible for that violation, but names were redacted from the student conduct reports.
Other students were found responsible for violating the university's COVID-19 healthy and safety guidelines. The Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, which was hosting the party, was placed on probation for failure to comply, hazing, misuses of alcohol and violating COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
Tisdale's family shared a copy of his conduct report with BBN Tonight, a show on LEX-TV in Lexington that is produced by the university's multimedia marketing rights partner JMI Sports. The report confirmed Tisdale was one of the students found responsible for "harm and threat of harm," but it also concluded "there was not a preponderance of evidence to say with certainty (Tisdale) had a gun."
Olivia Tutt, a Kentucky student and one of 10 partygoers listed as victims in a Lexington Police Department investigative report, told the Courier Journal she felt university administrators were "more concerned that people were drinking than girls were getting beat up."
Tutt says she was punched twice — once on the right arm, once on the hip — by Phillips.
Phillips’ attorney, Charles Grundy, told the Courier Journal his client “didn’t even arrive on the scene until everything was over,” that he carried no weapon, hit no one and that his case “should obviously be dismissed.” Libby Hogan, the university’s assistant director of Student Conduct, arrived at a similar conclusion after meeting with the player, notifying Phillips in a letter dated April 23 provided to the Courier Journal by Phillips' father that he would not be held responsible for a code violation and that witnesses had confirmed “they didn’t see him engaged in fighting.”
Tutt said she identified Phillips by matching his face to pictures found online by friends after the fight.
The players took to social media after the charges had been dropped to celebrate their return to the team.
"Truth will always find its way out," McClain posted to Instagram. "Now let's ball."
"I'm glad the truth has finally come out as my fabricated charges have been dropped," Adams posted to Twitter. "Thankful for my family and friends who have supported me up to this point. Excited to be back on the field."
After practice Tuesday, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops revealed the six players had actually returned to practice last week in anticipation of Monday's hearing but had not been cleared to play in Saturday's game at South Carolina. The six players could play this weekend against No. 9 Florida, but Stoops said the group has work to do to catch up to game speed after their suspensions.
"We stuck by our players because we believed in them, and we believed at the end of this process they’d be exonerated," Stoops said. "And they were.”
Courier Journal reporter Tim Sullivan contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky football burglary case: Grand jury declines to indict players