University of Memphis 'Branded' Football Player as Rapist, Ended His NFL Chances, Lawsuit Claims

A former University of Memphis football player claimed the school's handling of rape accusations lodged against him branded him as a rapist and cost him his chance at the NFL.

Ernest Suttles had a football scholarship at the public Memphis, Tennesse, college, but was removed from the team in 2017 after he was arrested for allegedly raping a former girlfriend. Along with being cut from the team, the lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, claimed Suttles lost his scholarship, reputation, job prospects and a potential NFL career.

Title IX offices are often tasked with handling sexual assault claims on college campuses and lawsuits filed against Pennsylvania State University and the University of California–Los Angeles claimed the process denied the accused due process.

Suttles' lawsuit also alleged that his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process was violated in the wake of "Jane Roe's" rape accusation.

"Honestly, I think that the fact there are so many cases like this is an indicator there's a problem," Curtis Johnson, Suttles' attorney told Newsweek. "I always adhere to the philosophy that if there's a lot of smoke there's a fire and there's a lot of smoke about this across the country."

In October 2017, the Memphis Police Department arrested Suttles and hours later, he was kicked off the football team. This, the lawsuit claimed, showed that the school decided he was guilty. He was also barred from campus and one of his professors was informed that he could not attend classes because of the investigation.

"These restrictions have had a devastating effect on the Plaintiff; first the press release of the University of Memphis was rebroadcast around the country, effectively branding the Plaintiff [as] a rapist," the lawsuit stated, adding that after the accusation was published, he stopped receiving interest in potential bowl invitations and other activities that could have led to an NFL career.

ernest suttles university of memphis lawsuit rape
Chad West #58 of the Cincinnati Bearcats blocks against Ernest Suttles #48 of the Memphis Tigers on September 24, 2015, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. On Monday, Suttles filed a lawsuit against the university claiming it denied his due process rights while investigating a rape claim. Joe Murphy/Getty

The statement, which the lawsuit claimed varied greatly from one that was issued about a white male in a similar situation, definitively ended his football career and "branded him as a rapist without the presumption of innocence."

"Everyone has this mentality that they are going to punish first and investigate second and that is the essence of where everything goes wrong," Johnson said. "There's this presumption of innocence that we supposedly adhere to with the law and for some reason that hasn't filtered down to the state universities."

Suttles denied he raped Roe and said his roommate, Christian Johnson, witnessed the alleged event. However, according to the lawsuit, the school never contacted Johnson, and has yet to complete the investigation, despite a policy that stated it would make "every reasonable effort" to resolve claims within 60 days. Newsweek reached out to the University of Memphis but did not receive a response in time for publication.

The former football player is still barred from campus, according to the lawsuit, and although he obtained his master's degree online, the association of him as a rapist forced him to take a job far below the salary he was qualified to earn.

Without conducting a hearing during which he could face his accuser, listen to her testimony and share himself, the school denied him the right to due process, the lawsuit stated. In July, the charges against Suttles were dropped.

Along with unspecified damages, the lawsuit requested the University of Memphis expunge Suttles' disciplinary record, remove any record about his suspension from his education file and permanently destroy the record of Roe's complaint.

While Johnson said they're prepared to go to trial, given that Suttles repeatedly maintained his innocence and the chargers were dropped, he hoped the university would be willing to resolve the issue quickly.