Kamal Johnson was determined to make a play.
Late in the fourth quarter of the football team’s game against Houston on Saturday, Sept. 7, Johnson ripped his arm free from a Cougars offensive lineman, wrapped up Houston sophomore running back Ryan Jackson and threw him to the ground.
It was the only tackle of the game for Johnson, a senior who maintained a relatively low profile throughout training camp despite earning a role as one of the team’s starting defensive linemen.
However, Johnson’s place on the team hasn’t always been so secure and could be put into jeopardy in the upcoming month.
As a part of an ongoing criminal investigation that began last October, Johnson is awaiting trial on charges of aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and recklessly endangering another person. Legal experts said Johnson could serve jail time if he is convicted on some or all of the charges. His trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 8.
While his status as a student is in good standing, Johnson’s case raises questions about whether a student-athlete should be afforded the privilege of playing a sport while awaiting trial on criminal charges. A number of football players have been charged with assault and suspended from the university during the past two years, but Johnson is the only one who is back on the team.
Court records show that Johnson is the only participating student-athlete at Temple who has a felony charge filed against him in Philadelphia.
At a press conference last Tuesday, Sept. 3, coach Matt Rhule told The Temple News he was unaware of Johnson’s upcoming legal proceedings. When asked why Johnson is still on the team, Rhule said: “Anything legal you’d probably have to talk to the legal department here. If anybody’s on the team, they’ve been cleared by people here at school.”
Rhule declined to comment further in an interview last Friday, Sept. 6.
Johnson was charged in connection to an incident first reported to Philadelphia police on Oct. 4, 2012. A 21-year-old female Temple student told police that her boyfriend forced himself into her apartment, assaulted her and locked her inside a bedroom for more than three hours, refusing to let her leave.
The student reported the incident to the police a week later and showed signs of scratches, bruising and a contusion on her head, a spokeswoman with the police department said. The student told police her boyfriend had been abusive to her during the couple’s three-year relationship.
Johnson turned himself in on Oct. 5, 2012, according to the police department. He was initially charged with kidnapping to inflict injury/terror, but that charge was later dismissed due to a lack of evidence.
When charges were first filed against Johnson last year, the university released a statement indicating that he was suspended from the football team “until [the] situation is resolved.” He didn’t play for the remainder of the 2012 season.
Since then, the situation has changed. Rhule was introduced as the new football coach in December 2012 and Johnson’s kidnapping charge – the most serious against him – was dropped. Johnson was reinstated on the football team in time for spring ball and won the position of starting defensive tackle during the summer.
Though his place on the football team had been in flux, Johnson’s status as a student has remained unchanged. He was cleared through a Temple student conduct hearing in a process separate from his criminal proceedings.
Stephanie Ives, the dean of students, said suspensions are typically handed out if there is some threat to student safety. She said Temple relies on its own code – separate from legal code – to make a ruling in conduct hearings. However, one of the code violations is a violation of state or local laws.
“It doesn’t matter to the university what a criminal charge is,” Ives said, though she refused to comment on specific cases. “After the information is given, the university would look at its own code and say, ‘What are the possible code violations because of this action by a student?’”
Johnson refused to comment through athletic communications. A phone number for his attorney listed on his docket sheet was out of service. Interview requests with players through athletic communications were denied and multiple players refused to speak on the issue under the condition of anonymity.
Johnson’s case is only one of a series that have come out recently with assault charges against Temple football players – both active and inactive.
In May 2012, former linebacker Praise Martin-Oguike was arrested and charged with rape and sexual assault. He was suspended from both the football team and the university in light of the charges and has not been reinstated. Like Johnson, Martin-Oguike’s trial is scheduled for next month.
Wyatt Benson, the former starting senior fullback, was suspended from the football team at the end of August pending assault charges in connection to an incident that occurred in April. He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 27.
When asked why Benson was kicked off the team, but Johnson remains a starting tackle, Rhule refused to comment.
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @joey_cranney.
Sean Carlin, Evan Cross and Avery Maehrer contributed reporting.