Former Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Cephus said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the university that he was used as a scapegoat during a sexual assault investigation that resulted in his temporary expulsion.
Cephus seeks unspecified damages in his lawsuit filed in federal court in Madison, accusing the defendants of violating his rights to due process, violating the provisions of Title IX and breach of contract.
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Cephus was suspended from the Badgers football team in August 2018 and was expelled from the University of Wisconsin-Madison for violating its non-academic code of misconduct as part of a Title IX investigation following his arrest on sexual assault charges in second and third grade.
After a jury acquitted Cephus, he was reinstated and led Wisconsin in the reception during the 2019 season when the Badgers went 10-4 and reached the Rose Bowl. Cephus recently completed his rookie season with the Detroit Lions, who took him in the fifth round of the 2020 draft.
University officials did not immediately respond to an email Tuesday seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Cephus’ attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, said he has spoken with NFL agents and draft analysts who believe Cephus would have been drafted earlier if not for his expulsion.
“He wants to set a precedent for schools to be more careful and diligent in how they proceed in these cases and not just rush to judge when they know for sure they don’t have all the evidence,” Miltenberg said. .
The complaint says Wisconsin was “seeking to pressure the men to be harshly prosecuted in order to remedy their long-term inability to address allegations of sexual assault.” The complaint adds that Cephus’ status as a well-known soccer player made him “the perfect candidate for the university to demonstrate its investigative efforts and punish the men accused in a notorious manner.”
The defendants include Chancellor Rebecca Blank, campus Title IX coordinator Lauren Hasselbacher and the school’s board of regents.
The criminal charges stemmed from an incident at Cephus’ Madison apartment in April 2018. Cephus engaged in sexual acts with two 18-year-old Wisconsin students, who later said they were raped and too drunk to consent. Cephus said the sex was consensual.
Cephus’ attorneys say in the complaint that the Title IX investigation of the schools was “a flagrant judicial error.” That investigation concluded that Cephus “most likely did not” sexually assault women.
Cephus’ attorneys argue that the university should have delayed the investigation until the conclusion of the criminal process because there was relevant evidence that would not be released until after the criminal case was closed. They say they included video evidence that disputed the women’s claims that they were intoxicated that night.
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They say the school acknowledged that it had tried unsuccessfully to obtain this evidence and went ahead with its disciplinary hearing anyway.
The complaint also says that the statements of two students were consistently taken at face value and that the investigation was skewed by a lack of transparency.
The lawsuit comes five months after one of the students involved in the case sued the university over its 2019 decision to reverse Cephus’s expulsion and allow him to return to the soccer team.