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Inconsistent testimony, lack of video evidence, murks up Tennessee bar brawl investigation

Yeah, so who started the fight? Well, who do you want to believe, GVX, the Knoxville Police Report, and Gary Russell, the guy who got beat up:

Chase Nelson, 22, is accused of starting a fight with 20-year-old bar patron Gary Russell inside Bar Knoxville, 1820 Cumberland Ave., shortly before 2 a.m. Friday, according to Russell's statement to the Knoxville Police Department taken that morning while he was being treated at a hospital.

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A UT athletic department official, who asked not to be identified because of the investigation, said an internal review indicated Nelson wasn't present the night of the brawl.

Or Gary Russell, the guy who got beat up:

Russell, 20, says he was attacked and beaten by a group of Tennessee football players, including sophomore defensive tackle Montori Hughes and senior receiver Denarius Moore, early last Friday morning at Bar Knoxville, a nightspot near campus. A bar-clearing brawl ensued, leading to one Tennessee player being dismissed, two others being suspended and an off-duty Knoxville Police Department officer being knocked unconscious and sent to the hospital.

Look, nothing about this is good. The guys should not have even been there. No one should have been beaten up, regardless of who bumped who, who started it, what was said, or anything else. Because the quotes get worse:


"If not for my friends jumping in, I would be dead or brain-dead," Russell told "It was obvious that they weren't going to stop."

Russell, both of his eyes blackened and his left one swollen shut, was taken to the hospital by one of his friends and treated. He said he had a baseball-sized knot on the back of his head "where six or seven football players were punching and kicking me."

He broke his nose, suffered bruises on his chest and required nine stitches above his left eye. His forearms were bruised from "trying to fend off kicks and punches" while he lay on the ground.

"One of them was holding my head up, and they were punching me in my face while I was on the ground and stomping on my chest," Russell said. "Finally, my friends were able to help get them off me, and the bouncers started dragging them outside."

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Morton said after [off duty police officer] Capouellez was kicked that several players started to run, but others came back toward the bar with their shirts off and wanting to fight some more. He said there were at least 17 football players in attendance that night . . . .

Like I said, not good. Not good at all. And what kind of person wants to defend someone against those kinds of allegations?

The guys who get paid to do so, that's who, and regardless of how tasteless you may find it, the defense lawyers are going to have a field day with some of the testimony.

The police report says that Russell told police that Chase Nelson started it. Then he told ESPN that the only players he could identify for sure were Montori Hughes and Denarius Moore. Police are obviously acting on what they gathered during their own investigation, because Hughes hasn't even been questioned, and he, through his attorney, has adamantly disputed Russell's version of the story, saying that Russell (215 pounds) hit him from behind after they had bumped into each other earlier in the night:

"Montori Hughes was the victim of an unprovoked assault while at the establishment," [attorney Greg] Isaacs said. "Our witnesses and investigation have confirmed that Mr. Russell threw the first punch, and this has been corroborated by not only the individuals at the establishment but also by photographs showing the damage to Montori Hughes' face."

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"Unfortunately, athletes can be targets at times in public establishments," Isaacs said. "Montori Hughes has absolutely nothing to hide and will cooperate completely with authorities."

That statement about Hughes's face corroborating his story is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, as injury is no proof of who started it or whether Hughes hit anyone, but still. Russell told cops Chase Nelson started it. News last night indicated Nelson wasn't there, and this morning an ESPN story says Russell says he could only identify Hughes and Moore. So why did he tell police Nelson started it? If it's because it's true, why did he tell ESPN he couldn't identify anyone but Hughes and Moore?

Oh, and there's this from the GVX story:

On a sports call-in radio show on WNML on Friday, a caller identifying himself as "Allen" and claiming to be a co-owner of Bar Knoxville said he witnessed a UT player start the initial fight with the patron inside, said host Jimmy Hyams. When asked which player it was, the caller only replied "number 97," Hyams said. Nelson's jersey number is 97.

Curious. As sddbaker said, how convenient if they were all wearing their jerseys. Who needs video, if that's the case?

And about that video system? Out of order:

Morton said his bar does have a video surveillance system but that when he went to check the tape the morning after the brawl, he realized there must have been a power surge a few days earlier and that the tape hadn't been running for two days.

"That's unfortunate because it would have sealed everybody's fate," Morton said.

Yes, it would have, one way or the other. But now it won't. So all we have is a bunch of testimony, some of it wildly inconsistent. It's the way of these things.

So as we said on Friday, good luck sorting this one out. And remember, in the court system, the burden of proof is on the prosecution and the standard of proof required is high. Inconsistent testimony is not a good way to get there.

That may be why Dooley stressed that he doesn't labor under the strictures of the legal system. He doesn't have the burden of proof, and he doesn't have to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt. He just has to investigate and then make the best decision he can. He must have felt that he had enough to believe that Darren Myles had done something sufficient to get him kicked off the team and that Greg King and Marlon Walls had done enough to warrant suspension. He must also believe that the rest of the facts are sufficiently inconclusive, at least as of last Friday afternoon, as to hold off any additional judgment. For now.