LSU players face felony charges

Updated: August 29, 2011, 3:18 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and teammate Joshua Johns were released on $5,000 bond each Friday in connection with a bar fight that injured four people.

The two players turned themselves in after police obtained arrest warrants on felony charges of second-degree battery, stemming from their alleged roles in a fight outside Shady's bar in Baton Rouge on Aug. 19. The players have also been suspended indefinitely by the school.

"Today is a sad day for the city of Baton Rouge. Today is a sad day for Louisiana State University, the LSU alumni and the countless fans that follow the Tiger football program," Baton Rouge police chief Dewayne White said. "It is also a sad day for the Baton Rouge police department."

White said the evidence in the case would be forwarded to the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney for review.

He described the evidence as "numerous interviews of witnesses, including victims and players implicated in the incident ... as well as video evidence of certain individuals, all of whom were present at the scene."

Jefferson and Johns both hired new attorneys, with Jefferson retaining Lewis Unglesby and Johns enlisting Thomas Damico.

"This has become something very disproportionate to what it is," said Unglesby, a former special counsel for the Louisiana governor's office whose other past clients have included former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, Popeye's Fried Chicken founder Al Copeland and several politicians who have faced corruption charges. "There are fights in bars involving young people all over this country every day. I don't believe Mr. Jefferson did anything wrong. At the end of this, when you get through with the drama of a big-time program and quarterback, at the end of it it's a bunch of college students acting like college students act. And we can't lose sight of that."

Attorney Shannon Fay, an associate of the players' former lead defense attorney, Nathan Fisher, said their effort to disprove the accusations against the players would continue.

"This is an ongoing case, and we will continue to diligently defend our clients, who we believe are innocent," Fay said.

While that effort continues, Jefferson, a starter, and Johns, a reserve linebacker, will miss fourth-ranked LSU's season opener on Sept. 3 against Oregon at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. They could miss many more games than that.

"We will continue to cooperate with the authorities in an effort to find out exactly what took place during the incident," LSU coach Les Miles said. "As sad as this incident is, it's important that we learn from this and that we take away a valuable lesson. This has weighed on all of us. It's time for us to come together as a team and focus on what we are here to do."

A police report says a 19-year-old woman named Victoria Long said she witnessed several LSU players beating one of the alleged victims and saw Jefferson kick that man in the face.

"Jordan disputes that he kicked an individual in the face," Unglesby said. "I have no fear of the facts of this case. Which is why Jordan needs to be back playing football. At the end of this, the evidence will be that Jordan Jefferson acted as a leader for his team, doing what he was taught to do, being a good teammate."

Four people were treated and released at a hospital in the hours after the fight, and police have said one person had three fractured vertebrae, injuries serious enough to warrant felony charges.

"This has been an unfortunate and difficult situation for everyone involved," said Michael Bienvenu, an attorney representing the alleged victims. "My clients have remained strong throughout this process and are currently focused on healing their injuries."

Two witnesses who work at the bar told The Associated Press that the players did not throw the first punch but added that once the melee began, it was difficult to see who hit whom, and they could not verify the extent to which Jefferson and Johns were involved.

Shady's door manager Jordan Neldare, who said he witnessed the fight, said he noticed that Jefferson removed himself from the brawl before it was over and was standing alone near the bar's entrance, looking upset.

White said Jefferson and Johns have cooperated fully in the investigation.

"I am surprised an arrest was made based on the evidence I've seen," Damico said. "I don't believe Josh is guilty. I don't believe Josh was involved at all."

Police also identified offensive lineman Chris Davenport and receiver Jarvis Landry as people of interest in the fight but did not comment on their status Friday. White said the police would not be making any more public comments about the merits or facts of the case, "for the purposes of protecting the integrity of an ongoing and continuing investigation into to this matter."

Each of the four players were interviewed by investigators Tuesday. On Wednesday, police executed a search warrant of Jefferson's apartment and took 49 pairs of shoes, along with a DNA swab.

Under team orders, LSU players have not discussed the fight publicly since it happened.

"It's certainly a tough time for our team when they see a teammate in peril," said Miles, describing some players in tears when they first gathered to talk about moving forward without Jefferson and Johns. "It's hard on them. I don't believe there were many that believed that was the outcome, and it took some time for them to understand what was going on.

"This is not how I intended to spend my preseason," Miles added. "I wanted to spend it much more on football."

With Jefferson suspended, fellow senior Jarrett Lee is the likely starter against Oregon, with sophomore Zach Mettenberger, a junior college transfer, next in line.

Jefferson, a senior, guided LSU to an 11-2 record last season. He is 20-7 as a starter, but the team ranked last in passing in the Southeastern Conference last season, with 155.6 yards per game.

Still, LSU has numerous key players returning and was expected to compete for Southeastern Conference and national championships this season.

The team's success now will ride on how the players are able to regroup from a series of setbacks this offseason, one of which occurred Thursday when LSU suspended starting wide receiver Russell Shepard for violating school and NCAA codes that pertain to discussing NCAA inquiries with teammates who are also scheduled to be interviewed on the same matter.

LSU plans to apply for Shepard's reinstatement, but it is unclear how long that will take. The receiver will miss at least the opener and possibly more games.

Shepard had been interviewed about the NCAA's ongoing investigation into the relationship that scouting services provider and purported street agent Willie Lyles has had with a number of college football programs, including both LSU and Oregon.

Earlier this summer, Steve Kragthorpe, who was hired after last season as the Tigers' new offensive coordinator, announced he had Parkinson's disease. He has remained on staff as quarterbacks coach, but relinquished offensive coordinator duties. Miles has since promoted offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to fill that void.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN's Joe Schad was used in this report.

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