Lawyer alleges boat cruise double standard

STAR TRIBUNE (Mpls.-St. Paul) Newspaper of the Twin Cities

Date: 12/23/05

David Chanen; Judd Zulgad; Staff Writers

The attorney for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper said Thursday that a crew member on a players' boat cruise admitted he had engaged in sexual activity with a woman, and the attorney questioned why that boat company employee wasn't charged while four Vikings on the cruise were. Attorney Earl Gray said he learned about the employee's activities on the Lake Minnetonka boat when he read the case documents from Hennepin County Sheriff's Office investigators. "Mr. Culpepper is charged with an offense that can't be proved and he will be found not guilty," Gray said. "The only reason he was charged is because of his name." The employee is a male relative of the owners of Al & Alma's Supper Club and Charter Cruises, which supplied two boats Oct. 6 for the annual party thrown by first-year players for their team, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the case. None of the sources identified the employee by name, and the charging documents in the case do not name any of the crew members. The employee touched the woman sexually during a lap dance, sources said.

Investigators received a tip about the employee from a downtown Minneapolis bar owner, the sources said. The employee was then confronted by investigators, and he admitted what he had done with the woman, the sources said. Culpepper and teammates Bryant McKinnie, Fred Smoot and Moe Williams were charged last week with the misdemeanor charges of indecent conduct, disorderly conduct and lewd and lascivious conduct. Court documents allege that their actions took place in front of crew members and included lap dances and use of sexual toys. It's unclear where on the boat the employee allegedly engaged in the sexual activity, and whether it was in front of other people or in private. That issue could affect whether the activity rose to the level of a criminal act or was a private activity between consenting adults. Gray said he plans to use the boat employee's admission of sexual activity to defend his own client. On Thursday, prosecutor Steve Tallen reiterated a statement that the case remains under investigation and that more people could be charged. He wouldn't comment on allegations against the boat employee. Attorney Stephen Doyle, who is representing the boat company, said it would be inappropriate to respond until criminal cases are resolved. He said all the crew members on the boat authorized him to decline media requests for interviews.

While some of the details against the players were made public in charging documents, only basic police reports are considered public until cases are closed. The investigative reports by the sheriff's office are generally not made public until the case is completed. The public court documents do not name the six boat crew members who observed what they considered to be inappropriate sexual behavior. The players' first court appearance is expected next month, but their attorneys may appear on their behalf. Gray said Culpepper plans to go to trial. Attorneys for the other players have said their clients will also plead not guilty. Culpepper "will be found not guilty because he did not do anything on that boat and hopefully he will get some of his reputation back by being found not guilty," Gray said. "Anybody else would not have been charged, and there is evidence that is true because one of the employees of the boat company admitted to committing a sexual act with one of the girls and he wasn't charged."

Gray said Culpepper was identified by one employee whose observation of what happened is "quite questionable." Sheriff Pat McGowan has said that eyewitnesses identified players through photographs and that no physical evidence was found. "All of the eight or 10 people that were employees knew who Daunte Culpepper was ... All were asked about Daunte Culpepper and no one said he did anything except the one employee," Gray said. He also pointed to the fact that the sheriff's office called a news conference about the misdemeanor charges as further evidence of special treatment. Sgt. Haans Vitek said the sheriff's office wanted all media outlets to have equal access to the information. The office had received so many inquires about the charges that they wouldn't be able to get back to everybody in a timely manner, he said. "The high-profile nature of it made it a media event," Vitek said.

Gray also raised concerns that all the boat employees were interviewed by detectives in Doyle's office. Investigators usually like to interview witnesses on their own turf or knock on their doors, he said. "I've never heard of this being done in my 35 years in the business," he said. Kevin Warren, the team's vice president of operations and legal counsel, said this is an open investigation and consequently the team had no comment. Gray said Culpepper is obviously upset about the charges. He's not worried about whether his client would have to "finger teammates" if he goes to trial. "Not in a case such as Daunte's. The case is so thin. I haven't crossed that bridge yet," Gray said. "Usually the state has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt." When asked if he would make Culpepper available for an interview, Gray said: "I told him the less he says the better. He's going to fight this case."

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