Former WKU coach, player mentioned in alleged sexual assault cover-up lawsuit

Freshman guard Marlon Hunter (3) heads towards the hoop during the game against Campbellsville University at Diddle Arena, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Hunter finished the game with four points and five rebounds. Matt Lunsford/HERALD 

Jeremy Chisenhall, Drake Kizer & Matt Stahl

Former WKU men’s basketball head coach Ray Harper and former WKU basketball player Marlon Hunter have been mentioned in a lawsuit that alleges Hunter was expelled from WKU over “sexual misconduct,” and that Jacksonville State University covered up a sexual assault committed by Hunter.

Neither of them have been charged with a crime relating to these allegations. They are not defendants in the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges JSU covered up the incident, thwarted the investigation and caused a second grand jury to reverse Hunter’s indictment by a previous grand jury.

Hunter, a freshman guard at the time, was one of three players (along with then-freshman guard Chris McNeal and junior guard Fredrick Edmond) suspended from the WKU basketball team in March 2016. Harper resigned as head coach of the program the same day.


The reasoning for their departures from WKU was never disclosed. 

Hunter was later released from his scholarship before he transferred to Odessa College in Odessa, Texas, to play the 2016-17 season. Hunter then moved on to JSU and rejoined Harper for his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Roger Appell, the plaintiff’s attorney on the complaint, said he felt WKU handled the situation properly. 

“They did what they were supposed to do,” Appell said. “They expelled these kids. They gave them due process, and then expelled them.”

WKU Athletics told the Herald on Friday it would not comment on the matter. 

“We will not have comment on a situation at another institution,” team spokesman Zach Greenwell told the Herald. “In regard to the student-athlete, our university took action in 2016, and as indicated at that time, will have no further comment on the matter.”

The Title IX lawsuit, filed by a Georgia woman against JSU and its board of trustees in federal court on Oct. 3, claims Hunter sexually assaulted the plaintiff in 2017 while she was taking part in JSU’s “Fast Start Academy,” a six-week program designed to help high school students transition to college. The plaintiff was 17 at the time, and was taking classes at JSU while living in a co-ed dorm.

Members of the JSU men’s basketball team were also housed in that dorm, the lawsuit states, meaning Hunter lived there as well. 

The plaintiff and her friends were drinking alcohol in the dorms on the night of July 21, 2017, according to the lawsuit. She first encountered Hunter in the parking lot outside the dorms in the early morning of July 22. Hunter verbally assaulted the plaintiff, the lawsuit alleges, saying, “you better stop playing before you get this d***.”

The plaintiff encountered Hunter a second time inside the dorm, the lawsuit alleges. She was walking to the bathroom when Hunter attempted to kiss her.

The plaintiff pushed him away and refused to go to his room, at which point Hunter picked the plaintiff up, threw her over his shoulder and carried her to his room, as alleged by the lawsuit. 

The plaintiff tried to make as much noise as possible but was unable to alert anyone, the lawsuit alleges. Hunter then sexually assaulted the plaintiff “despite the protests and refusals of plaintiff,” as alleged by the lawsuit. 

Hunter moved away for a moment as the plaintiff’s friends forced their way into his room, allowing the plaintiff to flee the room, according to the lawsuit. 

JSU was notified of the sexual assault and failed to notify the plaintiff’s mother for several weeks, despite the fact that the plaintiff was a minor who was living with her mother at the time, the lawsuit alleges. 

Hunter continued playing basketball for JSU until the team’s loss in the Ohio Valley Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament on March 8, 2019. Harper is still the head coach of the JSU men’s basketball team.

JSU’s athletic department has not yet responded to requests for comment from the Herald. 

WKU released a statement on March 17, 2016, announcing Harper had resigned as head coach of the WKU men’s basketball team effective immediately. 

WKU’s statement also revealed Hunter, McNeal and Edmond were all suspended following the result of a University Disciplinary Committee hearing on March 16, 2016.

“I feel this is in the best interests of the program; a program I care deeply about,” Harper said in a statement following his resignation. “It has been a true honor being a part of this historic program, as both a head coach and assistant coach.”

Harper remained in paid status at WKU through the end of his contract term, which concluded on June 30, 2016, according to a Bowling Green Daily News report.

Harper was reportedly slated to be paid roughly $125,000 over the three months following his resignation, even if he accepted a new head coaching position during that time.

JSU Athletic Director Greg Seitz announced the hiring of Harper as the program’s next head coach on April 6, 2016, and Harper was formally introduced the next day on April 7, 2016.

After his introductory news conference at JSU, Harper told the Anniston Star he wasn’t involved with the situation that led to Edmond, McNeal and Hunter being suspended at WKU.

“I had nothing to do with it,” Harper said. “Obviously, if I did, I wouldn’t be here today. We had great kids, and I was proud of what we were able to accomplish. I think, if we’d had two more wins this year in the conference tournament, I’d still be there.”

Seitz also released a statement to the Anniston Star affirming his belief that Harper was the right man to become the program’s 11th head coach.

“We conducted a complete and thorough review of his situation at Western Kentucky, and unfortunately, due to federal privacy laws, I’m not able to discuss the situation,” Seitz said in the statement. “What I can tell you is there was no NCAA-related issues or academic issues with the men’s basketball program under the leadership of Coach Harper.

“Additionally, I spoke with the NCAA, and they are not investigating anything involving Western Kentucky, the men’s basketball program or Coach Harper. I hope that our fans, alumni and supporters understand that we have spent a significant amount of time reviewing Coach Harper and have no reason to doubt that our program is in excellent hands under his leadership.”

WKU was firm in its belief that public discussion of any details related to the student disciplinary case was prohibited by federal law and gave no reason for the resignation or the suspensions.

“Federal law prevents us from public discussion of any details related to student disciplinary cases,” WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart said in a 2016 statement.

The Herald also confirmed no police reports regarding the three suspended players were filed with the Bowling Green Police Department or the WKU Police Department.

Then-WKU President Gary Ransdell later told the Herald that Harper’s resignation was related to the outcome of the University Disciplinary Committee hearing.

“[There] may have been multiple considerations, but yes, this was the primary reason,” Ransdell said in 2016.

Ransdell also confirmed on March 21, 2016, that WKU didn’t plan to comment further on the situation, nor would WKU discuss the circumstances surrounding the hearing and subsequent suspensions, citing The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, FERPA “is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.”

“Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record,” the U.S. Department of Education website states in its online description of the act.

The Herald submitted multiple open records requests related to the incident — including emails among Ransdell, Stewart, Director of Judicial Affairs Michael Crowe Jr. and Title IX coordinator Andrea Anderson — each of which were denied due to the content of the messages containing information that was “preliminary in nature” at the time or that was prohibited from disclosure under federal privacy law.

The Herald also submitted an open records request for any information regarding Title IX investigations or disciplinary actions regarding the three suspended players, which was also denied by WKU due to federal privacy law.

The timetable surrounding the duration of the players’ suspensions was initially unclear, but the Herald reported that the players were still enrolled at WKU in the immediate aftermath.

Current WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said at his introductory press conference on March 28, 2016, that he wasn’t anticipating a return to the program for any of the suspended players.

“Absolutely not — the university made a decision,” Stansbury said in a video posted by WKU Athletics. “So no, not at all.”

Stewart confirmed the suspended players were no longer enrolled at WKU on April 6, 2016.

“They have been released from their scholarship and are able to pursue other opportunities,” Stewart said in a 2016 statement.

Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 270-745-5044 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.

Sports Columnist and News Editor Matt Stahl contributed to this report. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattstahl97.