Three Boise State University students who saw a football player punch a fellow student said he was reacting to a shove and swing from the other student, according to witness interviews done by a private investigator.
The attorney for Ben D. Taylor says he suffered two black eyes, a broken nose, a concussion and a broken arm after being punched several times in a freshman dorm Oct. 8. Taylor sued last week, one day after attorney David Claiborne gave photos of Taylor’s heavily bruised and swollen face to the media. He’s seeking damages in excess of $10,000 — his medical bills have already topped that, Claiborne said.
The 18-year-old Honors College student from Lake Tapps, Wash., is back in classes, with some limitations on what he can do while he’s treated for a concussion over the next several weeks, Claiborne said. He has a removable cast for his left forearm, which was fractured about midway between his wrist and elbow.
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No criminal charges have been filed against Jace Richter, the 19-year-old student accused of attacking Taylor. But the 5-foot-10, 188-pound safety from Meridian has been kicked off the football team, and the university is investigating to determine if the incident violated the student code of conduct. Boise police are performing their own investigation; when they’re done, they’ll forward their report to prosecutors for review.
Richter has received threats of physical abuse — even death threats — since the incident became public, but he has continued going to classes, according to his attorney, Michael Bartlett.
Physical assault, including unwanted physical contact, fighting and attempting to harm another person, is listed among the violations in Section 4 of Boise State’s code of conduct. The university issued a mutual no-contact order to both men, Bartlett said. Richter was moved to a new dorm room.
Claiborne said he believes there were 10 to 15 witnesses — he hasn’t interviewed them all — and they’re all likely to have different accounts.
“There’s going to be a lot of arguments over who was drinking, and how much, who provoked it and how much. That’s a lot of noise,” Claiborne said. “That does not give you the excuse to knock someone to the ground and beat the ever-living hell out of them. That does not excuse the conduct.”
Bartlett says the circumstances of the confrontation do matter, and that some witnesses have indicated a couple of Taylor’s injuries, such as the broken arm, could have come from an earlier altercation.
“What’s clear is that three witnesses at the scene uniformly indicate that Ben was the initial aggressor, that he pushed Jace and that he swung at Jace. And that Jace hit him while defending himself,” Bartlett said.
Where were BSU officials?
The encounter between Richter and Taylor occurred between 1:30 and 2 a.m. at Taylor Hall, which is first-year student housing. Claiborne has said none of the witnesses immediately notified dorm resident advisers, campus authorities or Boise police.
Boise police were notified about 12 hours later — at 1:30 p.m. Taylor’s brother took him to a hospital, and that’s where police met him, a police spokeswoman told the Statesman.
Taylor Hall is a three-floor, 216-capacity dorm that has suites with four to eight rooms on each floor. There are three RAs per floor, according to Boise State spokesman Greg Hahn. He declined to say whether any of the RAs were there that night, heard anything or were made aware of the incident.
“Boise State is bound by federal privacy laws that protect information about all students,” he said.
Federal law also requires universities such as Boise State to publish a campus crime log online. It’s a listing of all crimes reported directly to campus police.
The campus crime log shows someone reported a battery at 2:20 a.m. on Oct. 8 in the 1400 block of Chrisway, but that’s in another part of campus about a half mile from Taylor Hall.
Taylor’s lawsuit alleges a simple series of actions: Richter pounded on the door of a student’s room. Taylor opened the door. Richter struck him in the face, knocking him to the ground and incapacitating him. Richter then repeatedly struck Taylor in the face.
In a nutshell, the allegation is that Taylor was the victim of an unprovoked attack — one that he didn’t see coming.
But the three witnesses to the incident say Taylor was verbally aggressive and initiated a fight.
The Statesman reviewed their accounts, obtained by a private investigator hired by Bartlett. A reporter also tried to contact those witnesses, as well as other people who were said to have been there, but none responded.
The three witnesses, all women, gave detailed accounts to the private investigator. All three said they had been drinking alcohol earlier in the night but were sober at the time of the confrontation.
They said six to eight students (men and women), including Richter, were hanging out in a living room area in one wing when Taylor came upstairs to see a friend.
Taylor appeared to be angry, had a cut on his head and blood on his shirt from a fight he’d had earlier downstairs. Taylor and a female friend went into the friend’s room, and one of them locked the door.
The woman’s friends said they became concerned about her when they heard loud banging noises in the room, and she stopped responding to text messages. One said the noise sounded like banging on a wall, and she initially thought it was coming from the door to the living room.
Two of the young women and Richter began pounding on the door and yelling at their friend to open the door. Taylor opened the door.
He exchanged words with Richter, then shoved the football player backward into the hallway, all three women said. Two of the women said he took a swing at Richter but missed.
Richter pulled Taylor to the ground and punched him three times in the face, the women said. One said he also kicked Taylor in the head.
Richter’s male friends, other football players, quickly ushered him out of the room.
Two of the women said they iced Taylor’s head, talked to him about his injuries and kept him awake because they were concerned he suffered a concussion. One said that he complained of pain from a wrist injury from an earlier fight.
While the women were tending to him, Taylor asked them who had injured him — he did not remember what happened.
The women said they couldn’t get Taylor to go to the hospital. One of Taylor’s roommates took him back downstairs.
The next morning, at about 7 to 7:30 a.m., Taylor pounded on the door of the women’s wing. He asked about what happened the night before. He said that he didn’t remember anything that happened, according to their accounts.
Prior argument didn’t get physical, attorney says
The witness accounts say nothing about the status of the woman who was in Taylor’s room. But Bartlett and Claiborne both said they’re not aware of her being harmed by anyone before or during the confrontation. Both attorneys also said neither Taylor nor Richter was known to be romantically involved with the woman.
As far as providing a motive for Richter to intervene, Claiborne said: “I’ve heard that account come from two or three of Jace’s buddies, and it’s not substantiated by the other witnesses. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter … even if it was in defense of others, once he incapacitated Ben, that doesn’t mean he has the right to continue to pummel on him.”
He dismissed accounts that the noise coming from the dorm room was alarmingly loud or unusual, as apparently none of the three RAs that live on the floor stepped in to investigate.
Claiborne said Taylor was in an argument with one of his roommates earlier in the night, but it didn’t get physical. He said the female friend his client visited on the third floor did notice a scratch on Taylor’s face, and that he was complaining about his wrist hurting, possibly from a fall earlier that night.
Taylor doesn’t have much memory of what happened after the first punch, his attorney said.
Court, university processes
The university process is private — but the civil suit proceedings are public.
Richter has been summoned to court, though no hearing dates have been set. He has 20 days from the time he is served to respond.
“We would like to see him charged with a crime and pay the consequences,” Claiborne said. “My clients want to see the criminal justice system do what it’s supposed to do.”