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USC's Dennis Is Focus of Sexual Assault Case

Running back is part of police investigation and has been suspended from team indefinitely.

August 19, 2004|Gary Klein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

USC running back Hershel Dennis is the focal point of a sexual assault investigation, law enforcement sources said Wednesday.

The Robbery-Homicide Division, Rape Special Section of the Los Angeles Police Department is handling an investigation that the LAPD said Tuesday "may involve a member or members" of the top-ranked Trojans, who begin their season against Virginia Tech on Aug. 28.

It is not clear what role Dennis played in the alleged incident.

Dennis, a junior from Long Beach, has been suspended from the team indefinitely, said Coach Pete Carroll, who removed Dennis from practice Tuesday for what Carroll called "disciplinary reasons." Dennis also was absent Wednesday.

"He's just not going to be out here," Carroll said after the Trojans' morning practice.

Carroll has declined to specify the reason for his actions. A source said Carroll addressed the matter in a team meeting and that Dennis was suspended for breaking team rules forbidding drinking and having a woman in a training-camp dorm room.

Dennis started every game last season. He rushed for 661 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry as part of a tailback rotation that included freshmen LenDale White and Reggie Bush.

Dennis, 20, could not be reached for comment.

According to law enforcement sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the alleged assault occurred early Monday morning at a complex near campus where players were housed during training camp. At least 14 people associated with the football team were present at some point during a gathering where marijuana and alcohol were being used, the sources said.

One USC player said he was playing dominoes with others in the apartment when Dennis arrived with a woman Dennis had previously dated. The player said Dennis and the woman went into another room for part of the evening.

The woman reported an alleged assault to a rape-crisis team in the LAPD's South Bureau, which sent the case to the special section when South Bureau personnel realized the nature of the case and who might be involved.

Law enforcement sources said Dennis was the player the alleged victim named in an interview with police about the alleged assault.

After USC's afternoon workout Wednesday -- a walk-through that preceded the team's departure by bus to a downtown hotel -- Carroll said he had not been informed of the status of the police investigation.

Asked if any of his players had been questioned by police, Carroll said, "I don't know of anybody that's been requested to be talked to at all yet."

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Staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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