A judge has decided a man convicted of rape as a teen in a highly publicized Ohio case will be temporarily reinstated on the Youngstown State University football team after he filed suit against the school in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson granted Ma'lik Richmond, of Steubenville, a temporary restraining order against the university in a hearing on Thursday, allowing him to play football again for the next 14 days. She has scheduled a preliminary hearing for an injunction on Sept. 28.
Richmond filed a federal lawsuit against the university Wednesday after the school allowed him to join the football team as a walk-on and then told him he couldn't play this season. He's seeking reinstatement to the team's active roster along with attorney fees and an unspecified amount of damages."
One of Richmond's attorneys, Susan Stone, said in the lawsuit that the university had become infected with an anti-male bias due to Richmond's rape conviction.
Stone argued Thursday that the university was contractually obliged to allow Richmond to play so long as he followed university rules. She said the university hurt Richmond's football career prospects by curtailing his exposure to professional scouts at the peak of his abilities, and that the restraining order was necessary to prevent Richmond from losing any more playing time.
"This is his time to shine," Stone said. "Every opportunity to play is crucial."
An attorney representing the university, Christina Corl, countered that the university didn't violate any contractual obligations to Richmond because he didn't take advantage of a school grievance procedure before filing suit.
A university spokesman declined to comment on Thursday. Corl spoke in court but declined comment after the hearing.
Richmond served about 10 months in a juvenile prison after he and a Steubenville High School teammate were convicted in 2013 of raping a 16-year-old girl during an alcohol-fueled party. The case brought international attention and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the Steubenville's storied football team.
He was released in January 2014. He attended colleges in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before transferring to Youngstown State in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore.
Richmond and his legal guardians spoke with YSU President Jim Tressel and football coach Bo Pelini about him joining the team and both were supportive, the lawsuit said. Richmond made the team as walk-on defensive end in January.
According to the lawsuit, Richmond excelled during Youngstown State's spring game and was told by Pelini he would play this season. Pelini told the Youngstown Vindicator that he decided to allow Richmond to join the team after conducting his own investigation.
The day after the Aug. 4 article, a female student at Youngstown State began circulating a petition calling for the school to not allow Richmond to play football.
The lawsuit said that Pelini called Greg Agresta, one of Richmond's guardians, on Aug. 9 and said there was pressure being exerted on the university's Board of Trustees. Pelini told Agresta that Tressel proposed that Richmond become a practice player and wait until next season to play.
Youngstown State subsequently issued a statement in a university-wide email saying the school takes sexual assault very seriously, and that Richmond would be allowed to continue practicing with the team but would lose a year of eligibility.
Richmond quit the team after learning of the email.
Richmond's father, 51-year-old Nathaniel Richmond, was shot and killed Aug. 21 in Steubenville after authorities said he shot at a judge who returned fire. Judge Joseph Bruzzese, who survived, was overseeing a wrongful death lawsuit that Richmond filed against a housing authority following the death of his mother and a great-nephew in a 2015 house fire. Authorities haven't identified a motive, but say one theory is that Richmond mistakenly believed Bruzzese had dismissed the lawsuit.