Five of the six Kentucky football players charged with burglary last year have filed suit against the Lexington police officer who led the investigation into a fight at an off-campus fraternity party.
RJ Adams, JuTahn McClain, Andru Phillips, Earnest Sanders, Vito Tisdale and Joel Williams were each charged with first-degree burglary in August 2021. Tisdale was also charged with first-degree wanton endangerment. The charges resulted from a fight at an off-campus fraternity party in March 2021.
A grand jury declined to indict the players in September 2021. On Wednesday, Adams, McClain, Phillips, Tisdale and Williams filed suits against Lexington police officer Cory Vinlove alleging he “initiated false charges to frame and defame them,” according to a news release from the players’ attorneys.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, police officer Donnell Gordon and Police Chief Lawrence Weathers are also listed as defendants in the lawsuits.
“This lawsuit is another tragic example of the damage caused by corrupt policing in America,” Elliot Slosar, an attorney at Chicago-based civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy, said in the release. “It is shocking how Officer Cory Vinlove, in spite of objective evidence and the University of Kentucky’s thorough investigation, damaged so many lives. As the lawsuits demonstrate, these five young black men were targeted by a white officer with an ax to grind and determined to make a name for himself.
“The false initiation of charges stripped these players of their innocence and prevented them from enjoying college and playing football for the University of Kentucky, a program they love. RJ, JuTahn, Andru, Devito, and Joel bring this lawsuit to get justice for the damage caused and to hold Defendant Vinlove and others responsible for their egregious misconduct.”
Student conduct records obtained by the Herald-Leader showed alcohol and racial slurs “played a significant role” in the escalation of the altercation at the party near UK’s campus. The players were allegedly told they weren’t welcome at the party, according to court and student conduct records. Racial slurs were allegedly directed at some of the players, who left but later returned with more people. They reportedly forced their way into the home and got into a fight that ended with multiple people injured.
Some people attending the party said multiple women were hit during the fight, according to student conduct records. Tisdale was charged with wanton endangerment because he was accused of bringing a gun and pointing it at people but no gun was found, according to available police reports.
A student conduct review was conducted to figure out who violated UK student policies. Ten individuals were charged with at least one student conduct violation. Six people were found not responsible for any of their respective university charges.
Each of the players were suspended from team activities when UK learned of their reported involvement in the incident. Players returned to team activities in June 2021 after they were cleared by the university investigation but were suspended again after the criminal charges were filed in August. The players were cleared to return to the team when the grand jury declined to indict.
The lawsuits filed Wednesday allege that even though the players were allowed to return to the team, “the false allegations and nationwide publicity that followed had a devastating impact on their football and educational careers, their mental health and well-being, and their name, image, and likeness,” according to the news release. They identify Vinlove as a University of Louisville graduate, alleging he “embarked on a journey to frame Mr. Adams and five other black men for a crime they did not commit.”
Three of the six players charged have since transferred from the UK. Phillips, McClain and Tisdale remain on the team, but Tisdale is expected to miss the entire 2022 season due to an injury suffered during spring practice.
The Lexington Police Department released the following statement Wednesday afternoon regarding the lawsuits.
“Because the investigation is ongoing, we do not have any comment or further information to release at this time,” said public information officer Hannah Sloan.
Editor Jeremy Chisenhall and staff writer Taylor Six contributed to this report.
This story was originally published September 21, 2022 4:41 PM.