Penn St.'s Casey Cleared of Charge

Wednesday, November 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — After spending five months as a suspect in the beating of an off-duty police officer, Penn State quarterback Rashard Casey is once again just a student-athlete.

A grand jury in New Jersey voted Tuesday not to charge Casey in the attack on Patrick Fitzsimmons as the officer left a Hoboken bar in May. The grand jury did indict Casey's high school teammate, Desmond Miller, on a charge of third-degree assault.

University president Graham Spanier criticized journalists, citing newspaper accounts last week that said the grand jury voted to indict Casey.

``I think this has to go down as one of the great blunders in Pennsylvania journalism, and I hope that the columnists and editorial writers and reporters who put in the headlines and put in their stories that there was an indictment will not only retract that, but clearly set the record straight and apologize,'' Spanier said.

Terry Hull, first assistant prosecutor for Hudson County, would not confirm or deny reports Tuesday that the grand jury took more than one vote, and that a vote last week was in favor of indicting Casey.

Neither Casey nor coach Joe Paterno would comment Tuesday night, Penn State sports information director Jeff Nelson said.

Paterno has backed his quarterback since the beginning. Two weeks ago, Paterno said he thought Casey was innocent and that the case would not affect Casey's standing with the team.

``I honestly have gone with the premise that I think Rashard didn't do it,'' Paterno said. ``I honestly believe he didn't do it.''

Police said Casey punched Fitzsimmons, and that Casey and Miller kicked Fitzsimmons repeatedly in the head after he left a bar. Police said the men were angry that Fitzsimmons, who is white, left the bar with a black woman.

Casey still could be called as a witness against Miller, said Ed DeFazio, deputy first assistant prosecutor.

Spanier said the university judicial system still would look into the case, ``but given the information that we have, I would anticipate that the matter is probably closed.''

Casey's lawyer, Dennis McAlevy, said he would continue to defend a lawsuit filed against Casey by Fitzsimmons, who seeks unspecified financial compensation for ``severe and painful injuries.''

The lawyer also called the media ``for the most part, absolutely fair'' in the handling of the case.

``Many times, what the media gets is correct, but sometimes it's not,'' McAlevy told the Center Daily Times. ``I had heard rumblings too, probably more than the media had.''

Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno said he was ``somewhat surprised'' at the grand jury's decision.

``Our system of criminal justice is such that the jury made its decision, and I must respect that decision, but that it is inconsistent with the facts,'' LaBruno said.

The chief said three eyewitnesses said they saw Casey strike the officer.

In addition, two of Casey's friends heard him utter a racial slur at the officer, while a third friend said Casey was involved in a ``verbal altercation'' with the officer, LaBruno said.

LaBruno said it was unclear whether Fitzsimmons would be able to return to duty.

No phone listing could be found for Miller. A message left for his lawyer, Alfonso Robinson III, on Tuesday night was not immediately returned.