Vanderbilt identifies four football players booted from team

10:46 AM, Jul 16, 2013   |    comments
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By Brian Haas and Jeff Lockridge, The Tennessean

DNA and other forensic evidence will play a key part in a sex crimes investigation into an incident at a Vanderbilt University dormitory, police said Monday.

The news came as the university, forced by the publication of its upcoming SEC football guide, revealed the identities of the four football players it had kicked off the team, suspended from the university and banned from campus in connection with the police investigation.

The four identified were: Cory Lamont Batey, 19, from Nashville; Brandon Vandenburg, 20, from California; Brandon Eric Banks, 19, from Maryland; and JaBorian "Tip" McKenzie, 18 from Mississippi.

The university and Metro police have been tight-lipped about the investigation, which began in June and continues as detectives here and at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation go over forensic evidence.

Neither police nor the university has indicated what the players' connection is to the sex crimes investigation and no arrests have been made. The university has said that the players were dropped only for violating team rules related to the June investigation.

Attempts to reach the players have been unsuccessful. But Batey has hired Nashville defense attorney Worrick Robinson to represent him in the matter.

"We have no comment because there is an investigation pending and it just wouldn't be appropriate at this time," Robinson said.

Katina Veal, McKenzie's mother, said that she couldn't talk about the situation when reached by phone June 29.

"I've been advised not to give any information so I can't talk to you without my representative," she said. "I'm sorry."

DNA experts on case

Metro police said that despite the amount of time since sex crimes detectives were contacted June 26 about an incident at a Vanderbilt dormitory, the case is still proceeding. The agency previously said it had sent evidence to the TBI for further analysis. But on Monday, police said they were specifically eying DNA evidence in the case.

"Sex crimes cases such as the one involving the Vanderbilt dormitory matter take time. A number of persons have been interviewed," Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron said by email. "Evidence has been collected and has been/is being analyzed by police department electronics experts and TBI scientists who specialize in DNA. It is not uncommon for initial evidence analysis to provide detectives with additional detail that requires further investigation."

The Davidson County District Attorney General's Office has also joined the investigation.

Campus reacts

The case has captured the attention of students staying on Vanderbilt's campus through the summer semester. Senior Dory Hunt of Chicago said she was dismayed at how little information Vanderbilt has put out on the incident.

"It's made it worse," she said. "That made a lot of people really question what happened and the severity of it."

Emily Long, a sophomore from Longview, Texas, is staying in a Vanderbilt dorm this summer and said she is glad the incident got reported.

"It bothers me and I think there's a lot more cases like that that occur here and don't get reported," she said.

She said the large majority of students and athletes are good people. Still, the incident has made her cautious.

"I lock my door at night," she said.

No playing time yet

The four banned players have never played a game for the Commodores. Three of the four did not play during their freshman seasons in 2012, while the fourth was transferring to the Nashville school from a California junior college.

One of the young men dismissed from the football team was the first player from Ensworth, a Nashville private school powerhouse, to accept a football scholarship to Vanderbilt. That player, Batey, switched positions from receiver to safety this spring after redshirting in 2012. He played offense and defense on a pair of state championship teams at Ensworth.

Vandenburg was one of the nation's top junior-college recruits when he signed with Vanderbilt out of College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., in February. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end and former University of San Diego player was expected to fill an immediate need for the Commodores and had a good chance to earn a starting job next month at camp.

Vandenburg's former coach said his experiences with the youth were always positive.

"He was a very good student," College of the Desert football coach Dean Dowty said. "He did everything he was supposed to do with that. I never had any issues with him at all - that's my experience with him. But he wouldn't be where he's at (having signed with Vanderbilt) if he didn't do those things here."

Banks was an up-and-coming cornerback who projected to get on the field this fall. He redshirted in his first season on campus in 2012, but the Maryland native had played his way into the secondary rotation during spring practice. One of his older brothers, Andrew Banks, played at MTSU.

Brandon Banks' former coach said he "did what he was supposed to do and how he was supposed to do it in high school, and that was it.

"He didn't get himself involved with ladies here because if they got involved, she better be walking him to class, not him walking her to class, because he had to be on time," said Danny Hayes, the Gwynn Park, Maryland, football coach. "His nose was so clean you wouldn't even think about him doing something like that. I constantly preached to my kids about that."

Coach weighs in

Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin on Monday said that the university continues to cooperate with Metro police.

"For student athletes at Vanderbilt, it is a privilege, not a right, to be a part of the program. My coaching staff and I make sure every member of our team understands that. We insist on high standards of personal responsibility and integrity, and there are consequences when those standards are not met," he said.

"In dealing with this matter, the Commodores football team will continue to hold itself to the same high standards of responsibility and integrity Vanderbilt demands of all of our students. We are cooperating fully with the Nashville Police Department and have pledged not to say or do anything that could interfere with its work or compromise the rights of anyone involved. We have not prejudged anyone's guilt or innocence."

The university declined to elaborate further.

Police said that detectives continue to work the case.

"This case is by no means at a standstill," Aaron said. "Investigative legwork is actively continuing this week."

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