Fumbling with felonies

Butte College Athletics Department includes high-profile rape defendant on Roadrunner football roster, then boots him

Brandon Banks is one of four former Vanderbilt University players expelled from that school after the alleged 2013 gang rape of an unconscious female student. He started the fall 2014 semester at Butte College.

Brandon Banks is one of four former Vanderbilt University players expelled from that school after the alleged 2013 gang rape of an unconscious female student. He started the fall 2014 semester at Butte College.

A former Vanderbilt University football player currently facing charges in Tennessee for his role in the alleged gang rape of an unconscious female student was included on this season’s Butte College football roster, but booted from the team Tuesday (Sept. 9) as his legal status came to light.

The inclusion of a high-profile rape suspect on the team is particularly vexing in light of a history of off-field violence by Butte players, and the school’s inclusion in May on a list of institutions being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for its handling of sexual assaults and harassment complaints. Neither the school’s administration, nor the Athletics Department, has thus far taken responsibility for suiting up Brandon Banks, an apparent violation of the school’s own policy regarding athlete conduct.

Banks, 20, of Maryland, is currently facing five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery from a June 2013 incident that garnered national attention. Banks has been out on bond and awaiting trial, which is expected to begin in Nashville in November. He pleaded not guilty in August 2013. Also accused are Brandon Vandenburg, 21; JaBorian “Tip” McKenzie, 20; and Cory Batey, 20. Vandenburg allegedly took pictures and video as the victim was repeatedly sexually assaulted.

Butte College announced that Banks was off the team effective immediately on Tuesday, after Nashville NBC affiliate WSMV—followed by Action News Now—reported Monday (Sept. 8) he was a defendant in the Vanderbilt case.

“Butte College has a strong code of conduct for all student athletes, and clearly with the charges pending, the student should not have been allowed to participate on the team,” Butte College President Dr. Kimberly Perry said via press release. “We remain committed to providing a safe and secure learning and working environment for students, faculty and staff.

“We also ask that the public respect the students’ [sic] privacy and let the judicial process work before the student is pre-judged to be guilty of any crime.”

Al Renville, director of student services, explained he was contacted “about three weeks ago” by Butte College Athletics Director Craig Rigsbee to inquire about Banks’ academic eligibility in light of having been accused of a sexual assault in another state. Renville said Rigsbee provided no further details about the nature of Banks’ alleged offenses.

“My response to him was the same as it would be regarding anyone else applying to Butte College,” Renville said in a phone interview Tuesday. “As long as they’re a high school graduate and at least 18 years of age, anyone and everyone has the ability to apply to and attend any of the community colleges in the state of California, including Butte. Whether he could play on the team or not was totally the decision of the coach and athletic director.”

Renville deferred questions about how much more Rigsbee and football coach Jeff Jordan knew about Banks’ case, and whether Banks was actively recruited by Butte College, to the Athletics Department. But during a phone interview, Rigsbee told the CN&R he would “absolutely not” comment on the matter, referred all questions to Renville, and abruptly hung up the phone. Jordan did not return requests for an interview.

Renville said Banks, a defensive back, was asked to leave the team because his inclusion on the roster “caused a disruption at the institution and to the football team to the extent that it was better he’s not on the team.” He also said Banks was still a student as of Tuesday.

Butte College

Photo by tom gascoyne

“Whether he decides to stay at Butte College and in the area is up to him,” Renville said, adding that Banks’ mandatory court appearances—the next is in late October—could take a toll on his academic pursuits.

“That type of absence, to avail himself of legal proceedings, is not an excusable absence, so handling that would be between him and his instructors.”

The Butte College football team currently holds the national and state championship titles in its division. It was also the country’s top community college team in 2008, has churned out a number of National Football League players—most famously former Super Bowl and NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers—and has consistently earned accolades for its performance on the field. But the conduct of some players off the field has long been a source of controversy, particularly when it comes to violent crime.

In 1997, two drunken Roadrunner players beat a man named Lloyd Green to death in an alley in a south campus neighborhood. Three years earlier, a Butte College football player shot a teammate during a dispute, leaving the victim paralyzed from the waist down.

Though no charges were filed, in April 2012 a Chico State student alleged that several then-Butte College players severely beat him and others at a house party near the university (See “Off sides,” Newslines, April 19, 2012).

Rigsbee acknowledged then that the Butte players were involved in the 2012 scuffle, but downplayed the incident: “In this particular instance, I think there was a bunch of good kids on both sides, some tempers flared, and the situation just didn’t need to go to that extent,” he said.

Rigsbee also touted the fact that all Butte athletes adhere to an honor code, officially known as the “Butte College Student-Athlete Code of Conduct.” The agreement includes the stipulation that players charged with felonies cannot participate until the director of athletics does an investigation. Conviction of a felony results in immediate dismissal.

With no comment from Butte athletics, it’s unknown what kind of investigation—if any—was conducted regarding Banks.

Butte College also has been scrutinized for its handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints. In May, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the school was on a list of educational institutions under investigation for its handling of a 2012 off-campus sexual assault involving two Butte students.

“Being on that list was something that obviously surprised us,” Renville said, explaining the college investigated the matter as it’s legally obligated to do, but one of the parties involved was unhappy with Butte’s decision and appealed to the OCR.

“We communicated [to the OCR] our new policies and procedures, and they responded that they felt we were doing a great job. We hadn’t heard from them since, until they announced we were on that list. They’ve chosen to literally do nothing about that case in the last year and a half, and we haven’t heard one word from them.”

Perry’s press release said an immediate review of athletic enrollment policies will take place. She also stated that Banks could still attend Butte College, as the college is an open-enrollment campus. If he is found not guilty, or the charges are dropped, his participation on the football team could be re-examined.