MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A former Memphis Tiger football player who was barred from campus after being accused of raping a fellow student has filed a lawsuit against the school.
On October 15, 2017, Ernest Suttles was at the team hotel prior to the University of Memphis vs Navy football game when he was arrested and charged with rape. According to the police affidavit, the victim told police she and Suttles were in a relationship for awhile but that on Thursday, October 12, he forced her to have sex.
The lawsuit said that by noon he was kicked off the team without advance warning or even a hearing.
The university then sent the following statement to the media:
"Ernest Suttles has been dismissed from the University of Memphis football team for a violation of team rules in an off campus incident. As was communicated in an earlier statement, Settles has been removed from campus while this matter is reviewed by the Office of Student Accountability, Outreach and Support for violations of the UofM Student Code of Conduct. During the ongoing investigation, no additional comments will be made."
Suttles has maintained his innocence from the start. His attorneys released a statement on behalf of their client, saying, “Mr. Suttles was accused of rape this weekend and removed from the University of Memphis football team immediately. Mr. Suttles denies any accusation of rape. While a serious matter, being falsely accused of rape is also extremely serious.”
Shortly after being arrested, Suttles said he received a notice of complaint from the university in an email which stated an accusation had been made against him. The University said they would investigate the claim, but while doing so he was not allowed to step foot on campus. However, he was allowed to continue his studies through online courses.
Cooperating with the investigation, Suttles said he gave university officials his roommate's name. That individual was reportedly with him at the time of the alleged incident and was prepared to testify that nothing had happened.
"Inexplicably however, the University’s investigators never interviewed this witness before or after imposing what it called, ”interim measures” against the Plaintiff, barring him from campus, kicking him off the football team and branding him as a rapist in public," the lawsuit said.
The accuser allegedly dis-enrolled from the university in Spring 2018.
On July 24, 2019, attorneys for Suttles sent WREG a statement saying charges had been dismissed.
"On October 15, 2017, Ernest Suttles woke up expecting to play in a football game for the University of Memphis against Navy. Instead he was arrested and charged with rape. Although Mr. Suttles has always maintained his innocence, he was summarily removed from the team and barred from campus. Mr. Suttles was able to obtain his Masters degree remotely, but he certainly missed out on numerous academic, athletic and employment opportunities as a result of these accusations. Twenty months after his arrest the charges against Mr. Suttles were dismissed. Mr. Suttles is relieved by this resolution and looks forward to continuing to be a productive member of this community."
To this day the investigation by the university has not been resolved, the lawsuit said.
On August 5, 2019, Suttles filed a lawsuit against the school saying the accusation and how it was handled caused him significant harm. He was "branded" by the university as a rapist and lost his scholarship, reputation, educational opportunities and job prospects, including a possible career in the NFL.
"Concerns with Jane Roe’s credibility were never raised by University investigators, nor was her account questioned, and vital witnesses were ignored, because the University of Memphis trains its staff to adopt a trauma-informed approach which discourages the thorough questioning of complainants in the sexual misconduct process to avoid further trauma," the lawsuit said.
Furthermore, the lawsuit claimed that the university handled the accusations against Suttles quite differently from those lodged against a white student in 2017. That student was allegedly allowed to continue attending classes on campus.
Suttles also found issue with the statement the university released after that accusation came to light.
Dear Campus Community:
It is deeply disturbing whenever there are reports of potential criminal behavior that involve and impact our students and our campus. The safety of our students, and all on our campus, is paramount. When reports of potential criminal behavior emerge, the University of Memphis follows a deliberate series of steps to ensure safety, guard confidentiality of all involved, and allow for due process. In all reports of potential criminal behavior, we encourage and support the reporting party to pursue criminal charges, related potential investigation and potential prosecution. In cases where criminal charges are filed and an investigation is initiated by the local police for incidents that occur off campus, the UofM is dependent on the findings of that investigation in order to take action if one of our students is involved. Acomplainant can choose to hold their campus matter in abeyance while the criminal matter is proceeding. When evidence emerges and the fact pattern is established, the UofM is able to take definite action consistent with the legal requirement of due process. Over the past several years we have removed students from our campus when the evidence and fact pattern supports such an action. We will certainly continue to do so, but we will also do so in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
While investigations are being completed and evidence gathered, either on campus or by the local police, the University of Memphis provides support, services and a range of resources to those impacted by potential criminal behavior. We are a community and country governed by the rule of law, and we will follow those laws and provide due process throughout. When the facts of investigations are established and evidence gathered, we have not hesitated to take the harshest
position possible for criminal activity on our campus. The University of Memphis will continue to do so. If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out.
M. David Rudd
Suttles is seeking compensation for emotional and psychological damages, damages to his reputation, past and future economic losses, loss of educational opportunities and loss of future career prospects.
He also is asking that the university be ordered to expunge his disciplinary record, his education file and destroy the record of the accuser's complaint.