ORONO, Maine — University of Maine officials defended the institution’s management of a football player’s arrest on domestic violence assault charges in 2012, describing its response as “comprehensive and thorough.”
Those are the words Robert Dana, UMaine’s vice president for student affairs, repeated several times during a press conference Friday at the Memorial Union in response to the arrest this week of Zedric Joseph, 23, in connection with a fatal double stabbing in Florida that left one man dead and injured the woman Joseph was charged with attacking in Orono just over a year ago.
Joseph, of West Palm Beach, Fla., was arrested in Georgia, where he fled after the March 7 stabbing in his hometown that claimed the life of Ricardy Chery, 23, and injured Vashti Laurore, 23, who is the mother of Joseph’s daughter. Laurore has a son by another father.
Joseph remained at Richmond County Jail in Augusta, Ga., on Friday awaiting his extradition hearing, which may happen Monday, a jail official said.
UMaine police arrested Joseph for domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening and misdemeanor assault on Dec. 17, 2012, after Laurore, whose name is spelled Vasthi Laurori in Maine court documents, told officers that he had choked her twice and threatened to kill her in a jealous rage. The case was later plea-bargained to disorderly conduct, for which Joseph spent 48 hours in jail.
The couple and the two children lived at University Park, located on the west side of campus. Joseph was suspended from the university after the 2012 arrest, UM officials said at the press conference, but specific details about how long the suspension lasted or other penalties were not released.
“I can’t talk about his case but what usually happens in 100 percent of the [domestic violence assault] cases is that a student would be required to receive domestic assault and relationship violence counseling,” Dana said. “They would be required to receive other types of counseling. They would be constrained from interactions with the person, the complainant in the case, and they probably would have to be involved in positive community experiences.
“And then, the person would have a relationship, ongoing, with the university, whether in the dean’s office or counseling or whatever,” Dana said. “I cannot talk specifically about Zedric, but that is the protocol for anybody implicated in a situation like this.”
The UMaine officials declined to release records detailing the outcome of Joseph’s disciplinary hearing, even after receiving a printed copy of the university’s own rules regarding student privacy rights that clearly state “disclosures of the final results of a disciplinary hearing involving an alleged crime of violence” are not prohibited from release.
“This morning, Robert Dana gave several examples of the typical resolutions that result from our student conduct process,” UMaine spokeswoman Margaret Nagle said in an email in response to the Bangor Daily News’ request for Joseph’s disciplinary records. “To protect the right to privacy of students, the University of Maine has never released the contents of its conduct records to anyone but the victims involved, and then only for their knowledge and not for public disclosure. Release of such records beyond the victims is discretionary, according to FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] requirements.”
Dana said Joseph was suspended from the university on an interim basis after the reported 2012 domestic assault and “was not allowed any contact with the athletic department. It went on for some period of time. I don’t know where the crossover came” between the school suspension and his return to the football field.
“The university’s management of it was comprehensive and thorough,” Dana said. “How he played football at the time is something outside of this process.”
It could not be immediately determined if Joseph was suspended from the football team during spring practices in 2013. Joseph appeared in the first three games of the fall 2013 football season for the Black Bears. A senior running back, he made his first career start on Sept. 14 against Bryant College, suffering a broken leg that ended his season.
Efforts to reach University of Maine football coach Jack Cosgrove Friday were unsuccessful, but a response to questions posed to him was made on his behalf by Nagle.
Dana said there had been no indication of further conduct issues involving Joseph once he had complied with university mandates in the wake of the 2012 incident.
“Since this event, the student has been completely off the radar in terms of doing other negative behaviors,” Dana said.
New athletics director Karlton Creech, who began his UMaine duties on Feb. 10, said he intends to review all athletic policies, including those involving student-athlete misconduct.
“I think part of my responsibility as the athletic director is to take a comprehensive look at all of our policies and procedures, something I had already planned on doing, as part of my 90-day plan,” Creech said at the press conference.
He stressed that UMaine student-athletes are subject to team rules and a student-athlete code of conduct in addition to the university student code of conduct that governs the general student body. The student code of conduct lists relationship abuse/domestic violence as grounds for disciplinary action but does not stipulate a specific sanction. The most severe sanction listed is disciplinary dismissal. Disciplinary suspension is listed next.
When asked why Joseph would not have been dismissed from the football team after his 2012 misconduct, Creech said each case involving a violation of the codes of conduct is handled on an individual basis.
Shortly before Joseph was charged with the 2012 assault, former UMaine player Jovan Belcher, who went on to become a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed his girlfriend and then took his own life.
Since that time, UMaine has modified how it handles domestic violence, Dana said.
“We’ve changed our approach to domestic assault-relationship violence very, very substantially in the last year, year and a half now. Not necessary solely based on this case, but everything factors into our thinking,” Dana said. “We have now a very, very comprehensive program looking at this and how the university responds and when they respond and so forth.
“So if we know about a situation like this we take immediately, quite dramatic action to separate people, to ensure people have a safe environment to operate in, to make sure the process is victim-centric, to make sure people’s rights are respected, not run over, to make sure there is prevention and a response,” he went on to say.
Nagle said that student-athletes are exposed to information about relationship violence. Prevention is a primary responsibility o f UMaine’s Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program.
“A Student Life team, as well as the student group Athletes for Sexual Responsibility, meet with all first-year student-athletes, where healthy relationships and issues of relationship violence and other matters are discussed,” Nagle said. “Similar training is offered to all students in our residence halls, in our Greek community and with student groups.”
Nagle said Joseph, who came to UMaine in 2011 from Erie Community College in Buffalo, N.Y., would have received the training as a transfer student.
Both Creech and Dana refused to fault Cosgrove for the alleged actions of Joseph or the December 2012 murder-suicide involving former UMaine football All-America defensive end Jovan Belcher.
“Any time you’re faced with a tragedy of this nature, you look for explanations and question everything you’re doing,” Creech said. “But when I look at athletics at Maine and the football program, the vast majority of the stories are positive with individual players and the program as a whole. I certainly wouldn’t want to characterize a program or a department with the heinous actions of two individuals.”
Creech said he had never been involved with a situation of this magnitude during nearly 10 years at the University of North Carolina.
Dana and Creech said football players, student-athletes and staff members, along with other UMaine students, would be provided with counseling or support services as needed to deal with the emotional effects of the situation involving Joseph.
Dana described the actions of the former football players as “horrible.”
“These two young men have ruined their lives and obviously perpetrated the most grievous of crimes against their victims, and you can just see the debris field,” Dana said. “But these two students do not reflect the football team here. The don’t reflect the athletic department.”
BDN Assistant Sports Editor Pete Warner contributed to this report.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.