DENVER – Police said Thursday they are investigating whether a woman was raped by a University of Colorado football player after leaving a bar in 2002 — the seventh allegation of its kind to surface since 1997.
"This was a particularly brutal case," Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner (search) said. The alleged victim said she was sodomized.
The university football program is at the center of a scandal concerning accusations that recruits were lured to Boulder with sex and alcohol, and which may end up costing coach Gary Barnett (search) his job.
Three women have sued the school in federal court, saying they were raped by football athletes in 2001 and the university did nothing after a high school student accused a player of rape in 1997.
In the past few weeks, three more cases have been disclosed. Former Colorado player Katie Hnida (search) says she was raped by a teammate in 2000 and a one-time athletic department worker says she was assaulted by a player in 2001.
In the latest case, the woman told police she met two men at a bar the night of Aug. 23, 2002 but had trouble remembering what happened after leaving for her apartment. She told police "she may have been drugged."
The woman reported a bump on her forehead and bleeding from what she told police was a sexual assault.
One witness interviewed by police, a bartender, refused to disclose the names of two men in the bar that night.
"He said he would not risk getting them into trouble because, 'They're on scholarships, I can't do that to them,"' police said.
Beckner said the alleged victim had difficulty identifying a suspect, but authorities eventually focused on two football players. DNA tests ruled out one as a suspect, while tests on the second player's sample haven't been completed, he said.
The case has not yet been presented to the district attorney's office for review. Beckner said the woman wants the case prosecuted.
The police chief said he was not surprised that more women have been coming forward to report sexual assaults since the federal lawsuits were filed against the university. Rape counselors say publicizing reports gives victims the courage to come forward.
Meanwhile, a half-dozen former university football players defended Barnett Thursday, saying he has provided discipline and morality despite the snowballing accusations.
"We believe coach Barnett is a man of high moral integrity," former quarterback Charles Johnson said, standing with the other former players before a crowd of reporters. "We believe he is doing the right things. A balanced story is not being told."
Barnett was put on paid leave late Wednesday for saying Hnida, a placekicker, was "not only a girl, she was terrible," a comment university officials said was unacceptable given the seriousness of her allegation.
In a televised interview Thursday night, Barnett conceded he probably shouldn't have answered a reporter's question about Hnida's ability as a player.
"I understand how it looked. I took a question maybe I shouldn't have taken," Barnett said. "I was trying to communicate that we cared about Katie, that we were going to any extent we could to help her achieve her dream of being a college football kicker."
Barnett brushed aside a question from King about the alleged rape in 2001 by a football player, saying he couldn't discuss some things because of legal issues. He said he wants to remain at Colorado and expressed confidence that he'll be reinstated.