Former Michigan State football recruiting director Curtis Blackwell filed a lawsuit against head coach Mark Dantonio and several others at the university this week, claiming that he was unlawfully arrested and his employment with the university was ended improperly last year.
The lawsuit says Blackwell's former bosses overreacted and "ran roughshod" over his constitutional rights in an effort to demonstrate that Michigan State did not tolerate "cover-ups" in the immediate wake of the abuse scandal involving former university doctor Larry Nassar. Blackwell's attorney said Michigan State ended its relationship with Blackwell because he exercised his Fifth Amendment right while not participating in interviews about a sexual abuse allegation made against three former Spartan football players.
The lawsuit also names former president Lou Anna K. Simon, former athletic director Mark Hollis and a pair of detectives from the Michigan State University Police Department as defendants. Michigan State officials did not respond Tuesday afternoon to questions about the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court and seeks $150,000 or more in damages.
Michigan State suspended Blackwell in February 2017 after learning that he was aware of sexual assault allegations made against a trio of then-freshman players on the football team and did not properly report that information, according to a review of the incident conducted by a law firm hired by the university. Blackwell claims in the lawsuit that he was not attempting to provide cover for the football players or interfere with a police investigation, but was "simply performing his job which required 'mentoring student athletes.'"
Blackwell said he was denied an opportunity to share his side of the story with any of his bosses before or after he was suspended. The lawsuit includes a copy of his Michigan State contract that states he should be granted an opportunity to speak with the athletic director before he is disciplined.
Blackwell worked with the football program for four years on a contract that renewed annually at the end of each March. The contract was extended for two months during the spring of 2017 before Dantonio decided not to keep Blackwell on staff at the end of May 2017. Dantonio said later that year that he decided not to retain Blackwell due to "philosophical differences."
Blackwell's lawsuit claims that Dantonio, Hollis and others were upset that he did not answer questions from police or from the law firm hired by the university about the sexual assault allegations made against the former players, who later pleaded guilty to felony charges of seduction. Blackwell's attorney said he opted not to answer those questions because he was concerned about the way he was initially treated by police. He said they handcuffed him without presenting any evidence and unlawfully confiscated his two cellphones.
"He would have fully responded if they hadn't exercised such bad faith up front," said attorney Jim Fett, who filed the lawsuit on Blackwell's behalf.
Fett argued that even though Blackwell's contract with Michigan State had expired, Blackwell still has grounds to sue because it is illegal not to renew a contract on the basis of discriminating against an employee for exercising any of his or her rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution. Fett said he believes Blackwell would not have been fired if he had chosen to answer the questions of police and the university-hired attorneys.
Police claimed Blackwell interfered with their investigation into the sexual assault. County prosecutors decided not to charge him with any crimes. After leaving Michigan State, Blackwell returned to running the Sound Mind Sound Body Academy football camps and youth programs he started before coming to work for the Michigan State football program.