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Roethlisberger hires attorney in sexual assault case

MILLEDGEVILLE — Police investigators and the GBI said Monday they continue to look into allegations of sexual assault against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger is accused of sexual assault against a 20-year-old Georgia College & State University student that allegedly took place early Friday morning at the Capital City nightclub in downtown Milledgeville. No charges have been filed against Roethlisberger.

At a Monday afternoon news conference in front of the Milledgeville police station, Police Chief Woodrow Blue told about two dozen media members that Roethlisberger’s attorney, Ed Garland of Atlanta, had been in contact with investigators and was arranging for Roethlisberger to talk with them in the next “two or three days.”

Roethlisberger, who has a house on Lake Oconee, left Georgia sometime during the weekend, officials said.

Blue said investigators would be seeking DNA samples from Roethlisberger.

In addition, the GBI is studying surveillance videos taken from several downtown establishments Thursday night and early Friday morning. Special Agent Tom Davis declined to comment about what had been found on those videos.

Garland, who has previously represented high-profile clients such as NFL linebacker Ray Lewis in a murder case and rapper T.I. on weapons charges, issued a statement Monday indicating that he thought Roethlisberger eventually would be cleared of the sexual assault accusation.

“The facts show that there was no criminal activity,” Garland said in the statement. “No sexual assault occurred. We are cooperating with the investigation. Ben is completely innocent of any crime. The truth of the events should cause this investigation to end without a criminal charge. I will not go into details at this time but will in the future.”

Davis said the accuser also has retained an attorney, but he declined to identify her lawyer.

Officials still are declining to comment about the nature of the alleged sexual assault. Blue said city police investigators plan to interview eight people in the next few days, including all members of Roethlisberger’s party from that night.

This is not the first time a woman has accused Roethlisberger of a sex crime. Roethlisberger also has been accused of rape by a woman who says he assaulted her at a Lake Tahoe hotel-casino in 2008. Roethlisberger has strongly denied that accusation.

Steelers President Art Rooney II issued a statement Monday saying the team is closely monitoring the current allegations against Roethlisberger.

“All of us in the Steelers family are concerned about the recent incident involving Ben Roethlisberger in Georgia,” the statement read. “We cannot comment on any of the specifics until law enforcement’s investigation is concluded.”

Georgia College spokeswoman Judy Bailey issued a statement late Friday, saying the university isn’t commenting on the situation. Bailey said Georgia College is being kept updated about the investigation by law enforcement. She said counseling services are being offered to any student who needs them.

The media frenzy over the allegations, which includes coverage from Atlanta and Pittsburgh media as well as national media such as ESPN, CNN and TMZ.com, have caused ripples in what is usually a fairly quiet college town.

Many students and residents said they have grown tired of the barrage of coverage over the weekend and have stopped talking to the media.

Others are lashing out against what they consider to be unfair portrayals of the city and the Georgia College student population.

Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley said Monday the media focus is “not necessarily attention we expected or wanted.”

“We feel this incident could have happened to anyone in any town,” he said. “There’s some novelty because of who (Roethlisberger) is and that it happened in a small town. If this had happened in downtown Atlanta, would it have the same kind of attention?”

Jon Joiner, the co-owner of the downtown Amici’s Cafe, said some reports have misidentified his business as being one of several Roethlisberger and his party went to that night.

“I hate to see Milledgeville get this sort of attention,” he said. “I love this town, and I love the nightlife. We don’t know what happened. There’s no telling what took place.”

Fritz Wirt, general manager of Buffington’s, said the quarterback and his party were there for about half an hour that night and “all of them were really well-behaved.”

Wirt said he doesn’t think Milledgeville is atypical of any other college town when it comes to college students and night life.

Several Georgia College students said they discussed the situation in their Monday classes.

Gator Parker, a senior who is majoring in health and physical education, said he doesn’t think people will ever know what really happened.

“The sad thing is, it’s probably been blown out of proportion,” he said of the incident. “I used to work at Capital City, and there’s no way someone wouldn’t have seen (an assault) going on.”

But a 20-year-old sophomore Georgia College nursing student, who said she is a former sorority sister of the alleged victim, said she’s upset by the portrayal of the female student as someone who is seeking attention by accusing Roethlisberger of a crime.

“She doesn’t have the reputation for being that kind of girl,” the student said. “She’s a nice girl. ... If she’s making this up, why wouldn’t she say who she is to get attention?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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