Duck star James pleads not guilty to charges

Duck star James pleads not guilty to charges »Play Video
LaMichael James

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -- Police jailed LaMichael James, a breakout star of the University of Oregon Duck football season and the program's freshman rushing record holder, on suspicion of strangulation, fourth degree assault and menacing sometime early Wednesday morning.

James pleaded not guilty to five misdemeanor counts at an arraignment Wednesday. His next appearance in court is scheduled for March 24.

His 22-year-old accuser told police she is James' girlfriend, Sgt. Tom Borchers with the Springfield Police Department told KVAL News.

She told police the incident happened on Feb. 15 after 7 p.m. outside the Gateway Street apartment where James lives, Borchers said. She told police she went to the apartment, there was an altercation and that James put his hands on her throat.

She did not report the incident to police until 7:45 p.m. Feb 16. Police later arrested James at a Kinsrow Avenue apartment complex and booked him into the Lane County Jail.

James, who set a new rushing record for a freshman at the UO, was also named the Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year by the league. He shared team honors for Most Outstanding Player with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

Athletic director Mike Bellotti answered questions from reporters Wednesday morning.

Watch Bellotti's interview

Later in the day, in a prepared written statement, Coach Chip Kelly said:

"We are concerned anytime a student-athlete is mentioned in a police report. We do not condone any behavior that doesn't meet University standards or our football program's standards, and we go to great lengths to actively educate our student-athletes regarding appropriate conduct.

"We have the utmost confidence in the local law enforcement authorities to determine the facts in all instances involving our student-athletes, and will reserve further judgment or comment until further information is available."

File footage of James in action for the Ducks

James is the highest profile football player arrested in a school year that opened with controversy after LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player. Police did not pursue criminal charges in that incident.

The Ducks have since seen a number of arrests and accusations against players during and after their Rose Bowl season.

In late November, police in Springfield arrested player Terrance Montgomery on suspicion of assault. Investigators from the district attorney's office reviewed the case and determined there was not enough evidence to pursue any charges.

Then in January, Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity member Max Wolfard told OregonLive he had filed a police report accusing two UO football players, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and wide receiver Garrett Embry, of thefts at the fraternity house.

Both Embry and Montgomery later left the program -- Embry for an unspecified violation of team rules, Montgomery to pursue interests other than football, the athletic department said.

Kicker Mike Bowlin also left the program in the wake of a different incident Jan. 24: a street fight that landed fellow UO football player Rob Beard in the hospital.

In a twist, Eugene police said Tuesday that officers had cited Beard on fourth degree assault, a misdemeanor, in connection with the Jan. 24 fight that put him in the hospital.

"EPD is still investigating this case and can't provide further details except that during the investigation it was found that Beard also committed an assault," spokeswoman Melinda Kletzok said in a press release.

Beard was knocked unconscious and beat up in the fight. At the time, police said he was coming to Bowlin's assistance. Beard was hospitalized after the incident.

Later that week, police arrested two men in connection with the attack that put Beard in the hospital. Officers arrested Kirby Taylor Hawkins and Maurice Dion Peterson III on suspicion of second degree assault.

After arresting Hakins and Peterson, police arrested UO football player Matt Simms on suspicion of assault in what police allege was an attack on someone Simms thought was involved in beating up Beard.

Simms has since left the team. So has Bowlin, who withdrew from the UO as both a student and an athlete.