De'Andre Johnson was provoked by woman's racial epithets, lawyer says

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Former Florida State quarterback De'Andre Johnson's attorney, Jose Baez, told NBC News on Tuesday that his 19-year-old client punched a woman in the face after she called him racial epithets and provoked him.

Johnson, a freshman from Jacksonville, Florida, was dismissed from FSU's team by coach Jimbo Fisher on Monday night, hours after the state's attorney's office released surveillance video of him striking the 21-year-old woman in a Tallahassee, Florida, bar on June 24.

Johnson, who was named "Mr. Football" in Florida as a senior at First Coast High School in 2014, is charged with misdemeanor battery. Baez entered a written not guilty plea on his client's behalf on July 2. Johnson is scheduled to appear at a case management hearing in Leon County Court on July 22.

Appearing on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday, Baez said Johnson was not the initial aggressor, but is "owning this" and trying to learn from the experience.

Baez said the woman raised her fist and shouted "racial epithets" at Johnson after he accidentally made contact with her while they waited to order at the bar.

Baez said Johnson tried to "de-escalate the situation," but the woman "kneed him in the groin area" and "took another swing before he retaliated."

"It wasn't until she struck him twice that he reacted," Baez told NBC. "But he is very ... he is very regretful that he didn't turn around and walk away immediately."

The video, which was captured by security cameras in a bar near the FSU campus, shows Johnson trying to push past the woman, who was waiting to order at the bar. The woman turned toward Johnson, who grabbed her right arm after she raised it in a fist. The woman raised her knee and swung at Johnson with her left arm, and then he punched her in the face.

According to the Tallahassee Police Department incident report, the woman, an FSU student, suffered bruising near her left eye, swelling of the left cheek and upper lip, and a small cut near the bridge of her nose.

State's attorney Willie Meggs, who decided to charge Johnson after seeing video of the incident, said the woman still had a black eye when he met with her last week.

"He makes no excuses for what happened," Baez told NBC. Baez called Johnson's dismissal from the football team "unfortunate." "All he wants to do is learn from this experience and move on and get an education. We certainly don't want him to pay for the rest of his life for an incident that occurred in a bar."

Baez, who defended Casey Anthony in her murder trial in Orlando in 2011 -- the Florida mother was found not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter -- hasn't responded to interview requests from ESPN.

Meanwhile, a source told on Tuesday that FSU officials hadn't seen video of Johnson punching the woman until the video was published on the Tallahassee Democrat website Monday. The source said Fisher didn't see the video until Monday night -- shortly before he dismissed Johnson from the team -- because he was vacationing in a remote area of West Virginia.

Florida State president John Thrasher, in a statement released Tuesday, said he fully supported the actions Fisher took to suspend and then dismiss Johnson from the program.

"While it is always important to adhere to due process, having now seen the physical altercation captured on video, there is no question in my mind that Coach Fisher made the correct decisions," Thrasher said. "I expect all students at Florida State University, including student-athletes, to adhere to the highest level of conduct. I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior exhibited in this case.

"Florida State University was forged from an outstanding college for women and has a long tradition of being a caring community that demands students be treated with dignity and respect."

Former Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby, now a member of the Buffalo Bills,took to Twitter on Tuesday to question why the woman hasn't faced consequences for her role in the incident.

One his tweets said "People saying its a bad tweet for saying something should be done both ways ? I'm confused . If that was tall kid or loved one then what"

The series of tweets was later deleted.

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