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  1. Sports

Title IX sexual assault investigation finds Florida WR Antonio Callaway not responsible

Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) comes down with a 66-yard reception and runs it into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter of a game between the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (Loren Elliott, Times)

Months of uncertainty surrounding University of Florida star receiver Antonio Callaway appeared to come to a close Friday.

A Title IX hearing officer cleared Callaway of three university code of conduct charges related to a sexual assault investigation that began in January. The third-party hearing officer, Jacksonville lawyer and Gators booster Jake Schickel, ruled that Callaway was not responsible for sexual assault, sexual misconduct or conduct causing physical injury during a December encounter at Callaway's residence.

Schickel's four-page ruling effectively allows the Gators' top offensive talent to remain on the field and provides the first public outline of the incident.

The complainant's statements said she did not consent to the sexual intercourse "because of intoxication and/or force." But Schickel wrote that the evidence showed she was not "intoxicated to the extent she could not consent" and that she admitted in text messages that she was pretending to be drunk. Schickel found no evidence of injuries and wrote that some of the woman's other text messages were inconsistent.

Callaway said the woman was "the aggressor" in the situation because he was high on marijuana and "so stoned I had no interest in having sex with anyone," according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. Schickel did not hear Callaway's counter complaint because that investigation is ongoing.

"This decision by the hearing officer reflects only a fraction of the evidence, which is not favorable to the complainant," Callaway's attorney, Huntley Johnson, said in a statement. "The young lady's adviser has said, 'They will take their witnesses and go elsewhere.' They need to be careful what they wish for."

The complainant's attorney, John Clune, said his client will probably not continue to pursue the case, either by appealing UF's ruling or through a lawsuit.

The complainant boycotted last week's hearing because Schickel is a football booster, which Clune said gave an appearance of bias to a case involving a high-profile football player. Clune said the woman "has lost all faith in the university" and is still deciding whether to return to UF this fall. The Times typically does not name victims or possible victims of sexual assault.

"It wasn't exactly a news flash that Mr. Callaway was going to be found not responsible," Clune said. "It just seems like this whole situation, ever since we found out they were having a booster hear the case, is a disgrace, and it's a disservice to everybody who is involved in this process."

The federal gender-equity law Title IX requires universities to investigate allegations of sexual assault even if there is no criminal complaint. Clune informed the State Attorney's Office that the woman did not report the incident to police in part because she believed the prosecutor would not bring charges against a Gators football player.

In Friday's letter, Schickel detailed his experience prosecuting rape cases and said he did not believe his ruling would be biased. UF defended its practices Friday in a written statement but said it could not comment on specific cases because of student-privacy laws.

"Be assured that any situation of this serious nature reported to the university is immediately addressed following Title IX regulations, U.S. Department of Education guidelines and university policies," UF said in a statement released by communications director Margot Winick.

"These policies and practices support those who report sexual misconduct of any kind and ensure a fair investigation and process for the accuser and the accused beginning with the initial report and through any appeal."

UF initially suspended Callaway in January while it investigated the complaint against the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Miami native. Callaway missed all of spring practice before the school modified his suspension in June to allow him to return to campus and team workouts. He has participated in the team's fall camp.

A UF athletics department spokesman deferred comment to the university. Players are typically not suspended after their first positive marijuana test, according to the department's policy.

Callaway was the Gators' most explosive offensive player last season and the hero of their comeback win over Tennessee. He led the team with 1,211 all-purpose yards, and his 678 receiving yards set a school freshman record.

Contact Matt Baker at Follow @MBakerTBTimes.