Roethlisberger documents give details
Statements from accuser, witnesses describe behavior of Steelers quarterback and his entourage in Georgia bar
Friday, April 16, 2010
By Jonathan D. Silver and Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Michael Henninger/Post-GazetteSteelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- Members of the posse accompanying Ben Roethlisberger on a Georgia bar crawl played a pivotal role in uniting the star quarterback with the woman who accused him of rape -- and barring the women's friends from checking on her, according to investigative documents released Thursday.
The 20-year-old college student told police that a "bodyguard" escorted her to a back room in the Capital City nightclub in Milledgeville shortly before an encounter with Mr. Roethlisberger in a dingy bathroom led to the rape allegations.
And a friend of hers, Nicole Biancofiore, claimed that a third woman was "taken away by a bodyguard of Ben's" when she tried to open the locked bathroom door.
None of the men who were bar-hopping with Mr. Roethlisberger on March 4-5 in Milledgeville, near the quarterback's off-season home, admitted to being involved in any such untoward activity.
That group included Steelers tackle Willie Colon, off-duty Coraopolis police Officer Anthony J. Barravecchio and off-duty Pennsylvania State Trooper Edward Joyner of the Washington barracks.
When the case was closed this week without charges being filed, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's voluminous file became public. Among the hundreds of pages of documents generated during its monthlong investigation were police reports, interviews with at least 54 people and handwritten statements by the accuser.
The Post-Gazette does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.
Reports in the file show that investigators were initially intent on getting a sample of Mr. Roethlisberger's DNA to compare it to a male DNA sample retrieved from the woman through a sexual assault kit. They took swabs of evidence from the nightclub bathroom and obtained a search warrant to collect the quarterback's genetic material.
Officials at the bureau's crime lab, however, told agents that there was too little DNA from the kit to be able to compare it to Mr. Roethlisberger's DNA.
"The sample was so minute that it could not be profiled," George Herrin, deputy director of the bureau's Department of Forensic Science, said.
In the absence of DNA evidence, investigators relied on witness accounts and statements by the alleged victim to try to unearth the truth about what happened in the Capital City nightclub.
In their statements, witnesses describe churlish behavior by the Steelers superstar. Mr. Roethlisberger is said to have exposed his genitals in the nightclub hallway, ordered a woman to be ejected from the club's VIP section and made "crude, sexual remarks" to his accuser. A bartender working the VIP room described the quarterback as "mean."
At the same time, one person in Mr. Roethlisberger's entourage, Mr. Colon, told police that the accuser repeatedly tried to get the quarterback's attention at a bar earlier in the evening, pinched Mr. Roethlisberger and, along with others in her party, wore a sexually suggestive nametag.
Mr. Colon said the woman asked him if he knew what her "DTF" nametag meant. She said it was a crude acronym for wanting to have sex.
Authorities have already said the woman was drunk -- so much so that an initial police report noted: "It is unclear to what happened after this point due to the complainant's recollection being foggy from her intoxication level."
The officer who wrote that report, Milledgeville police Sgt. Jerry Blash, now finds himself under internal investigation for comments allegedly made to one of Mr. Roethlisberger's friends at Capital City.
"Hey, I need to talk to you guys," Sgt. Blash reportedly told Officer Barravecchio, the off-duty Coraopolis officer.
"We have a problem. This drunken bitch, drunk off her ass, is accusing Ben of rape," Officer Barravecchio said Sgt. Blash told him. "This pisses me off. Women can do this. It's[bull] but we've got to do this, we've got to do a report. This is BS. She's making [stuff] up."
Ms. Biancofiore said at first it seemed as if Sgt. Blash was not going to file a report. She told investigators that Sgt. Blash said he would, but also noted that Mr. Roethlisberger has wealth, has access to lawyers and that they would be wasting their time.
Milledgeville police Chief Woodrow W. Blue Jr. said Sgt. Blash's alleged comments did not influence the investigation and had no bearing on its outcome. He said that the sergeant's conduct is under investigation and he is confined to desk duty. Chief Blue and Sgt. Blash could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
Fredric D. Bright, the local district attorney, announced Monday that he would not file rape charges against Mr. Roethlisberger because of an inability to prove that a crime had occurred early March 5. Despite his conclusion, Mr. Bright nevertheless publicly upbraided the quarterback for his conduct.
In the reports released Thursday, witnesses indicated that Mr. Roethlisberger and his cohort were so image-conscious that they worried about pictures taken of the superstar posing with drinks or alongside women with alcoholic beverages.
At the same time, the quarterback thought nothing of holding court in the back room of a nightclub where a bartender lined up tequila shots for Mr. Roethlisberger, his male friends and a number of attractive young women, some of them underage and with fake IDs.
One of those friends, Trooper Joyner, who was off-duty, permitted only women to enter the VIP section of the Capital City nightclub.
Mr. Colon told investigators that was because of past encounters with jealous boyfriends and said his teammate's bodyguards "found it simpler to keep them out."
Mr. Colon was among the men who gathered to celebrate Mr. Roethlisberger's 28th birthday in Georgia.
On March 4, the group went jet skiing on Lake Oconee. Tired from drinking heavily the night before, according to Mr. Colon's account, the group did not imbibe.
They dined that evening at a sushi restaurant and then headed into Milledgeville, an antebellum city of roughly 19,000 people and home to Georgia College & State University. The off-duty officers chauffeured the group in two vehicles.
Although the night out began with no plan, Mr. Colon said a waitress suggested several hot spots popular with the college crowd, including the Velvet Elvis and Capital City. The men popped into a total of six bars, with Capital City being the final stop. They attracted attention along the way.
Around 11 p.m, as the group entered Velvet Elvis, a group of women that included the accuser were at the end of the bar. Mr. Colon said the women recognized the quarterback and went "nutty."
"The girls approached Roethlisberger and asked to take photographs with him, and Roethlisberger accommodated their requests." The women said they were wearing their provocative nametags, which they had received at a birthday party, because "they thought it was funny."
In the second of her two written statements, the accuser said she and her friends "left him alone."
Mr. Roethlisberger's group crossed the street to another bar, The Brick. Mr. Colon said the women followed them, although the accuser wrote that "We went to The Brick, where they happened to be. We continued to have casual conversation. He even made crude, sexual remarks."
While at The Brick, Mr. Colon said, the woman "repeatedly attempted to get Roethlisberger's attention, which included pinching him." She wrote that he called her "a tease."
Again, the crowd grew around Mr. Roethlisberger and he "was getting annoyed that people continued to take photographs of him with alcoholic beverages in his hand."
The groups ran into each other again at Capital City. Mr. Roethlisberger and his group were given a back room, a private bartender and a bouncer. Besides Mr. Roethlisberger's friends, there were "a lot of blonde girls," Officer Barravecchio recalled.
Drinking commenced, and the quarterback ordered two rounds of tequila shots. The bar tab totaled $160, which Trooper Joyner paid in cash.
In the first of her two written statements, the accuser told police that when she found herself in the room with Mr. Roethlisberger, "I said, 'I don't know if this is a good idea,' and he said, 'It's OK.' He had sex with me and meanwhile his bodyguards told my friends they couldn't pass them to get to me."
The woman's handwriting is clearly sloppier than in her subsequent statement, given later in the day. In the first statement, she refers to the quarterback as "Ben Rotheseburgehergh."
In the second statement, she writes that Mr. Roethlisberger invited her party to the VIP area.
"He said there were shots for us, numerous shots were on the bar, and he told us to take them.
"His bodyguard came and took my arm and said, 'Come with me.' He escorted me into a side door/hallway and sat me on a stool."
The bodyguard left, she told police, and Mr. Roethlisberger appeared with his genitalia out of his pants.
"I told him, 'It wasn't OK, no, we don't need to do this,' and I proceeded to get up and try to leave. I went to the first door I saw, which happened to be a bathroom. He followed me into the bathroom and shut the door behind him.
"I still said, 'No, this is not OK.' And he then had sex with me. He said it was OK. He then left without saying anything. I went out of the hallway/door to the side where I saw my friends. We left Capital and went to the first police car we saw."
Ms. Biancofiore, the accuser's friend, said the woman "was dragged by a bodyguard to the back room in Capital. She was extremely intoxicated and not aware of what was happening."
A third friend, Ann Marie Lubatti, told police, that she "approached the other security guard and told him that she [the accuser] was in no shape to be back there with Ben Roethlisberger. He couldn't look me in the eye, and told me he didn't know what was going on."
The GBI later identified that bodyguard as Trooper Joyner, and the GBI also determined that the man who led Roethlisberger's accuser down the hallway was Officer Barravecchio.
Ms. Lubatti and Ms. Biancofiore told authorities that their friend and Mr. Roethlisberger were in the bathroom for about 10 minutes. He emerged first. When she came out, she had tears in her eyes.
They asked what happened.
"We need to go," she said. "We need to go."
Trooper Joyner said he never stopped anyone from going in the hallway area of the bar and never saw anyone else in the group do so.
Officer Barravecchio said on Mr. Roethlisberger's instruction he showed a woman where the bathroom was but did not remain there. Instead, he went to the main bar to get Red Bulls for himself and Trooper Joyner.
Soon after, Sgt. Blash showed up at the club and said, "The way she says it happened, there is no way," Trooper Joyner said. He added that Sgt. Blash said the accuser had already changed her story several times.
Mr. Bright, the district attorney, said during his news conference that when the accuser first approached a police officer outside the nightclub immediately after the incident, "The police officer asked 'Did he rape you?' And her response was 'No.' Then he asked, 'Did you have sex?' And she said, 'Well, I'm not sure.' "
On the way back to his home in Reynolds Plantation, the quarterback called his lawyer.
In the other vehicle, Mr. Colon and his group discussed what happened and how "we can't get ourselves in these situations."
Upon arrival, Mr. Colon said Mr. Roethlisberger told him that the accusation was "BS" and that he did not do anything.
Jonathan D. Silver: [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email] or 412-263-1962. Dan Majors: [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email] or 412-263-1456.
Washington correspondent Daniel Malloy writes the "Pittsburgh On The Potomac" blog exclusively at PG+, a members-only web site of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.
First published on April 16, 2010 at 12:00 am
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