UW basketball player Venoy Overton charged with furnishing alcohol to minor
University of Washington men's basketball player Venoy Overton was charged Tuesday with furnishing alcohol to a minor in January. He was suspended from the team for the Pac-10 tournament, but will play in the NCAA tournament if the Huskies are invited.
Seattle Times staff reporters
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In a season of big expectations and bigger disappointments, the University of Washington men's basketball team was rocked Tuesday by a criminal charge against a key player.
Senior guard Venoy Overton, the Huskies' most experienced player, was charged Tuesday with furnishing alcohol to a minor, two days before the team begins postseason play.
Coach Lorenzo Romar responded by suspending Overton for the Pacific-10 Conference tournament but said he would play again if the Huskies are invited to the NCAA tournament.
"This has been the toughest year since I've been a coach here, for me," said Romar, in his ninth season. "You have a certain vision, and you work hard for your program to be a certain way. You also want the best for your guys, and if something goes wrong and a guy makes a mistake, it's always a setback. You always hate to see that happen. You make mistakes, and there are consequences to deal with that."
The gross-misdemeanor charge against Overton stems from a Jan. 8 incident in which Seattle police say he met with two 16-year-old girls and took them to his sister's apartment in South Seattle. A police report says Overton, 22, furnished the girls with alcohol and engaged in sex acts with both.
Overton, a defensive standout, will travel with the team to Los Angeles, but he'll watch from the sidelines when No. 3 Washington faces sixth-seeded Washington State at 8:40 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals of the single-elimination tournament.
Overton practiced Tuesday, but was unavailable for comment.
"He knows he did wrong, and he knows what was at stake," Washington guard Isaiah Thomas said. "People make mistakes, and I feel like you deserve a second chance."
Although the NCAA has a host of rules that govern recruiting and other matters, the issue of disciplining student-athletes for criminal behavior is left to individual universities.
That has led to a wide disparity in approaches. Conduct that might lead to expulsion from the team at one school will not even merit a one-game suspension at another.
Washington State coach Ken Bone suspended star guard Klay Thompson for one game last week after the junior was cited for marijuana possession. Bone also suspended guard Reggie Moore for one game earlier this season after he was charged with marijuana possession.
Brandon Davies, a sophomore starting forward for Brigham Young, was suspended for the remainder of the season last week after he admitted violating the school's honor code by having premarital sex with his girlfriend.
The decision on whether to discipline a player typically falls to the coach, the athletic director and perhaps even to the university president. And a coach often will come up with a set of guidelines that might sound reasonable in theory but defy consistency in practice.
For universities, all kinds of questions crop up in trying to devise rules for punishing off-the-field behavior. Should a player be punished after an arrest but before being charged? What about a player who has been charged but not convicted?
Should a university conduct a separate investigation of allegations — or rely entirely on the work of law-enforcement authorities?
Romar declined to go into detail but said the school had taken disciplinary action against Overton while the investigation was ongoing. He also said UW's decision was not influenced by outside factors.
"What happened with Klay Thompson has no bearing on our decision here," Romar said. "There were a lot of things to be considered here. Sometimes there's an outcry by the public that something needs to be done.
"As far as I'm concerned, behavior needs to change and we have to learn from our mistakes. Mistakes are going to be made, but every situation is different. I don't think you handle every situation the same way sometimes. It's important from here on out that we learn from this and go from here."
Overton's suspension is the latest in a series of setbacks for Romar's team.
The Huskies were the runaway preseason favorites to win the Pac-10 regular-season title, but heavy expectations, injuries and disappointment have spoiled their promising season. They finished third.
Washington stumbles into the postseason with a 20-10 record and losers in six of its last 10 conference games.
The Huskies' problems coincide with Overton's troubles, but Romar didn't lay all the blame on him.
"It's hard for me to say," he said. "I'd love to be able to say, 'Yep, that's the reason that we haven't played as well.' I'd love to be able to say that. Who knows?"
Washington was 12-3 and 4-0 in the Pac-10 on Jan. 8 after defeating Oregon State 103-72 in one of its most lopsided victories of the season.
Overton met the two 16-year-old girls after that game.
One of the girls told police that she felt like she had to engage in a sex act with Overton because of who he was. The King County Prosecutor's Office decided against filing a charge in connection with the allegation because of questions about the girl's account and conflicting witness statements, according to a court document.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes' office, which handles misdemeanor cases, then took over the case to determine whether Overton should be charged with furnishing the two girls with alcohol.
The Seattle Times generally doesn't name individuals in a criminal investigation unless they are charged with a crime.
Overton's first appearance in Seattle Municipal Court is scheduled for April 1. The charge, a gross misdemeanor, is punishable by up to a year in jail.
According to the Seattle Municipal Code, a person is guilty of unlawfully furnishing liquor if he or she "knowingly gives, supplies or furnishes liquor to a person under the age of 21."
The code also deems it illegal for anyone older than 21 to permit a minor to consume alcohol on his or her property. The code, however, permits parents, doctors, dentists or clergy to give alcohol to a minor for medicinal or religious purposes.
According to a report by Seattle police Detective Kyle Kizzier, one of the girls said she encountered Overton on Facebook shortly before their meeting.
The girl and her friend took a bus to Seattle after she told her mother they were going to a movie in Bellevue and then shopping, Kizzier's report said. The two girls met up with Overton and his friends at a McDonald's near Seattle Center.
The girls then rode with Overton in his car to his sister's apartment in South Seattle, stopping for alcohol on the way, the report said.
The girls told police they both drank at the apartment, Kizzier's report said.
The girl who later brought her case to Seattle police said she was compelled into a sex act with Overton after seeing her friend engage in the same act with him, the report said.
She later told police "it just happened," according to the report.
The King County Prosecutor's Office said the decision to forgo sex charges against Overton was based on a review of statements by witnesses, including the girl's friend and two other men who were in the apartment, according to a memo outlining the decision. Overton told police that the girl never said "no" to any sex acts, the memo said.
King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Carol Spoor called the case "highly problematic" because the girl participated in sex acts under "situational pressure."
State law, Spoor wrote, "places the burden on the victim to clearly communicate a lack of consent to the suspect, which she did not do."
The age of consent for a sexual relationship in Washington state is 16, although it is against the law for a teacher to have sexual relations with anyone younger than 21.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com; Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org; staff reporter Ken Armstrong contributed to this report; information from Seattle Times archives and The Associated Press also is included.
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