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Cornhuskers' Heisman hopeful Phillips, teammate arrested for allegedly assaulting women

(c) 1995 Copyright The News and Observer Publishing Co.
(c) 1995 Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (Sep 11, 1995 - 17:42 EDT) -- Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, one of the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy, and his top backup have been arrested for allegedly assaulting women.

Phillips was thrown off the team Sunday, hours after he was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor third-degree assault and a day after he rushed for four touchdowns against Michigan State.

"Lawrence Phillips was involved in an incident early Sunday morning in which he injured a young woman," said Tom Osborne, coach of the defending national champion and second-ranked Cornhuskers. "We have told all our players that abusive behavior such as this will not be tolerated."

Still unknown Monday was the status of No. 2 running back Damon Benning, who was arrested early Saturday morning on suspicion of misdemeanor assault.

Lincoln police said a 19-year-old woman went to Benning's residence to retrieve some personal belongings and was confronted by Benning. She told police a verbal confrontation turned physical and Benning allegedly grabbed her around the throat and pushed her around. Police say the woman had redness on her neck and complained of pain in her right arm.

Benning missed Saturday's game at Michigan State because of a pulled hamstring. He rushed for 62 yards in Nebraska's first game against Oklahoma State.

The arrests were stunning news in a state where radio broadcasts of football games are piped into grocery stores, the Huskers have sold out games since 1962 and Lincoln becomes a sea of Big Red fans on Saturdays.

Phillips was the nation's third-leading rusher last year with 1,722 yards, and is No. 6 on Nebraska's career rushing list with 2,589 yards. In his first two games this year, the junior tailback from West Covina, Calif., rushed for 359 yards and seven touchdowns.

"We will do everything we can to help him get his life back together, but he is dismissed from the football team, effective immediately," Osborne said.

Police said Phillips allegedly attacked a 20-year-old woman early Sunday at a Lincoln apartment. Lt. Kent Woodhead said the incident was reported at about 4:45 a.m. Phillips surrendered to police about 15 1/2 hours later and was released 45 minutes later on 10 percent of a $1,000 bond, or $100.

He is scheduled to be arraigned 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, said his attorney, Hal Anderson.

Woodhead said Phillips allegedly hit the woman inside and outside her apartment. The woman was not hospitalized or seriously injured. Woodhead said she had bruises, scrapes and cuts and was treated at a hospital.

"Allegedly, he was dragging her and hitting her in the apartment or hallway," Woodhead said.

Woodhead said the woman was scared and did not want her name released. "She's very frightened," he said.

Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey said the woman was Phillip's ex-girlfriend and that the incident happened at the apartment of Nebraska football player Scott Frost, a transfer quarterback from Stanford. Police Chief Tom Casady said the woman is out of state for her own protection.

Anderson said Phillips would plead innocent to the assault charge.

"This young guy loves to run with the football, and he won't be doing it for a while," Anderson said. "He is very upset. He is very upset to be in this situation. He is very upset to be in the criminal system. ...."

ESPN Radio reported that Phillips was to meet with Osborne Monday. The player told ESPN he has been instructed to withhold comment.

University officials also were examining Phillips' status as a student.

Senior wingback Clester Johnson said Phillips' arrest is upsetting to his teammates.

"The only thing that I want to say is that we have had a lot of things happen, and this doesn't help anything," Johnson said.

Phillips' arrest follows a judge's decision Friday to order teammate Riley Washington to stand trial on a charge of attempted second-degree murder. The reserve receiver allegedly was involved in the Aug. 2 shooting outside a Lincoln convenience store.

Phillips had been the target of an NCAA investigation. He was cleared to play earlier in the season after the NCAA determined a lunch Phillips had with an employee of California sports agent Steve Feldman would not affect his eligibility.

Osborne said: "Lawrence has been under a great deal of pressure recently with the NCAA investigation and with the public scrutiny of his childhood and this may or may not have had some bearing on his actions."

The NCAA continued to investigate two other issues involving Phillips, including a 1995 Mustang convertible the player had been driving. The NCAA also has asked Nebraska to provide information about Phillips' relationship with officials of a West Covina group home where he lived as a teen-ager.

The home's owners have said they leased the car for Phillips and gave him spending money. School officials contend the relationship is similar to that of a legal guardian and any other student-athlete.

It was the first time in three years a Nebraska football player has been dismissed for disciplinary reasons.