Police Reports Raise Questions about Nebraska Athletic Department's Account of Maurice Washington Investigation

A Santa Clara Co. Sheriff's Investigator says an attorney representing the Athletic Department was informed of the specific allegations against Washington last fall, and says the attorney questioned why Bay Area law enforcement would pursue the case.

New court records obtained Wednesday by NBC Bay Area from the revenge porn case against University of Nebraska running back Maurice Washington call into question statements made by University officials about what they knew about the case, and when they knew it.

Washington, who was a high school football star in San Jose, faces a misdemeanor criminal charge under California’s relatively new “revenge porn” law in connection to a video of a 15-year-old Bay Area teen allegedly being sexually assaulted, as first reported by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit. The victim told NBC Bay Area she dated Washington for eight months during her freshman year of high school.

Washington did not record the video and is not part of the alleged assault involving two former classmates and his ex-girlfriend, who is now 18. But Washington is accused of keeping the video on his phone and sending it to the victim last March, along with the message, “Remember this hoe [sic].” Because the victim was a minor when the video was recorded, Washington is also being charged with possession of child pornography, a felony. 

A police report obtained by NBC Bay Area states an attorney representing the University’s Athletic Department knew about the specific details of the criminal investigation by mid-September of last year, and had a copy of a Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department in December, seemingly calling into question statements by Athletic Department officials who said this week they only knew that police in California were trying to contact Washington, and little else beyond that. Despite the criminal investigation into Washington, he was allowed to play for the entire season, and as of late Wednesday, had not spoken to detectives investigating the case.

According to Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Detective Colin Haselbach, Jon Bruning, the former attorney general of Nebraska who investigators say told them he was representing the University of Nebraska Athletic Department, questioned why the Sheriff’s Department was even expending resources on the case, and said it was highly unlikely Nebraska prosecutors would ever file charges on such a case.

“He said, ‘Do you actually charge people in California for stuff like this?’” Haselbach told NBC Bay Area. “He said, ‘Here in Nebraska, it would be highly unlikely we would charge on a case like this.’ He basically said we would tell [Washington] to delete [the video] and not talk to the girl again. I explained we do take these cases seriously and that’s why we’re investigating it.”

Bruning declined to comment on the matter when contacted by NBC Bay Area last week, and over the past two days, University officials downplayed what they knew about the case.

On a Nebraska radio program Tuesday, Athletic Director Bill Moos said the University was made aware last fall that police were trying to speak with Washington, but knew little else beyond that.

“We were inquisitive, but there wasn’t a lot of conversation that went any further than, ‘We have a concern of something that happened in California and we’ll keep you informed,’” Moos said. “And that’s just really how it panned out.”

Beyond Moos’ statement on the radio program, a spokesperson for the Athletic Department released a statement Monday, saying, in part:

“Last fall we were contacted by the Nebraska Attorney General’s office and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln police department and made aware that officials in California were interested in interviewing Maurice Washington about a prior incident. Details were not shared and there was no additional follow up with the Nebraska Athletic Department.”

The University declined to answer follow-up questions by NBC Bay Area.

But police reports obtained by NBC Bay Area Wednesday show Detective Haselbach, as well as an investigator from Nebraska’s Attorney General’s Office; both separately made contact in mid-September of last year with Bruning, who told them he was representing the University’s Athletic Department. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department report and the Nebraska Department of Justice report both state investigators revealed to Bruning exactly what Washington was being accused of.

The Nebraska Department of Justice indicates that on September 14, Investigator Ed Sexton received a call from Bruning, who said he had been contacted by members of the Athletic Department about Maurice Washington and that he was representing the Athletic Department in the matter.

“The nature of the case was disclosed and at the end of the discussion, it was my understanding that Bruning would talk to Washington and his coaches, then let me know if, or when, I would be able to interview Washington,” Sexton wrote in the report.

On September 19th, the report indicates Bruning called Sexton back, asking if California authorities were looking to charge Washington.

“I told him that it was my understanding that they were probably going to charge him with a misdemeanor in California,” the report states.

That same day, September 19, a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department report indicates that Bruning also called Detective Haselbach to discuss the investigation.

Haselbach told NBC Bay Area he explained to Bruning that Washington was being investigated for possession of child pornography, distribution of child pornography, sending harmful matter to a minor – all felonies – as well as revenge porn, a misdemeanor.

That’s when Haselbach says Bruning questioned whether authorities actually charged cases like this in California.

Haselbach said three months later, on December 14, he sent copies of the search warrant to Bruning, and soon had another conversation with him.

“He said, ‘When you start out coming at me with felonies, it makes it impossible to want to provide this kid for an interview,’” Haselbach said, recounting the conversation with Bruning. “Then he said in their state, ‘we would never charge a felony for something like this.’”

Santa Clara County Sheriff’s spokesperson Michael Low said an arrest warrant for Washington is currently pending, and that his department stands behind the case.

“We take crimes against minors very seriously and we are aware of the trauma that cyber bullying can have on a teenager’s life,” Low said. “And as a law enforcement agency, it is our job to make sure that we protect those victims.”

John C. Ball, now representing Washington in the criminal case, said Washington would likely surrender himself to authorities in California.

On Sunday, Ball issued this statement:

"This is a situation involving an inappropriate cell phone video. The allegations are that Mr. Washington sent that video to his high school girlfriend. Mr. Washington did not make the video, nor does he appear in the video. The incident is alleged to have taken place in California, several years ago. Mr. Washington will continue to be fully cooperative with the authorities in this situation. We are in contact with those authorities and are in the process of making arrangements to move forward and resolve this matter. Mr. Washington has confidence in our justice system, and knows that he can rely on the fundamental constitutional rights of due process and the presumption of innocence."

Ball issued another statement Monday afternoon, saying:

"The narrative put forth today is that Mr. Washington used a video as a weapon to re-victimize his former high school girlfriend. That is not true. Without a doubt, Mr. Washington had absolutely nothing to do with that sexual assault. The communications between these two young people are yet to be fully determined, and there are additional facts and circumstances that give context and perspective to this situation."

According to the Omaha World-Herald, a Nebraska lawmaker is arguing the case against Washington demonstrates the need for a ‘revenge porn’ law in Nebraska. 

NBC Bay Area will continue to update the story as we learn more.

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