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Campus police make second arrest in UNT basketball case

Brian Emmerson Johnson, a University of North Texas student, was arrested on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity and possession of marijuana weighing less than 2 ounces on Wednesday.

Johnson
Johnson

Johnson served as a manager with the North Texas men's basketball program last season. He is the second person to be arrested in connection with an ongoing investigation of organized criminal activity, promotion of prostitution and drug possession involving members of the UNT basketball team, university spokesman Deborah Leliaert said.

Johnson was booked into Denton City Jail on Wednesday and was later released.

Ramona Rosborough, a UNT police officer, said in a sworn affidavit  that Johnson and another student engaged in organized criminal activity by asking two separate female victims to have sex with other people for money. 

UNT has hired Bond, Schoeneck & King, a national law firm, to conduct an independent review and "ensure that there are no cultural or climate issues within the basketball program," UNT President Neal Smatresk said. 

Rickey Brice Jr.Denton County Jail
Rickey Brice Jr.
Denton County Jail

Critics of Baylor University and other college athletic programs say coaches and administrators have turned a blind eye to questionable player conduct because they are too focused on winning games. The law firm hired by UNT will be looking into those issues. 

The criminal investigation by UNT police is progressing on a separate track.

"We have high expectations of all of our student-athletes and even one incident of misconduct is one too many," UNT athletic director Wren Baker said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "The decision by President Smatresk and me to initiate an independent review is a necessary step for our men's basketball program to ensure that there are no additional issues that need to be addressed. Coach [Grant] McCasland and I are committed to building a championship culture on and off the court and will not tolerate anything less than a safe, respectful, and welcoming environment where all of our students can learn, grow, and thrive."

Police interviewed Johnson on April 25 about the alleged incidents, according to Rosborough's affidavit. Johnson admitted to arranging for "clients" to participate in sexual acts for money, the affidavit states. The affidavit does not say what the acts were, but one victim confirmed to police that she was solicited by Johnson and went with another man to an unnamed location where "she performed sexual acts in exchange for money."

Johnson and another student arranged for the sexual acts, the affidavit states.  The Denton Record-Chronicle has not named the second student because that person has yet to be arrested or charged with a crime. The second student has an active warrant for arrest in connection with organized criminal activity.

An investigation by campus police was triggered March 30 when a residence hall assistant reported through an online system that Johnson and the unnamed student allegedly engaged in sexual assault and prostitution at their off-campus apartment. 

The portal was established because of the Clery Act, a 1990 law that requires universities to release information about sexual assaults, violence and crime annually. 

The resident assistant was with the assault victim a few days later when Johnson and another student called the victim. The resident assistant heard the two soliciting her to engage in sex for money, the affidavit states.

"[They] explained to the victim the amount of money that could be charged, as well as their ability to find professional clientele," the affidavit states.

Two days after the observed phone call, April 6, police searched Johnson's apartment, which he shares with Rickey Brice Jr. Officers found marijuana, leading to the arrest warrants for Brice and Johnson, authorities said.

Police arrested Brice, a junior who played for the Mean Green last season, Monday on a marijuana possession charge.  He posted $1,000 bail and was released the same day, jail records show.

Smatresk sent an e-mail to the university community  Tuesday saying the campus police department had obtained arrest warrants for three students.

A fourth person not affiliated with the university is also the subject of an arrest warrant, but Leliaert said UNT would not say what alleged offense triggered the warrant.

Smatresk's  email to the UNT community indicated the case began March 30 when the university received a report about an alleged sexual assault with a reference to prostitution. UNT Police Chief Ed Reynolds launched an investigation and then briefed Smatresk on April 26, according to UNT sources.

Leliaert, a vice president and spokeswoman for the university, said UNT police's criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing. The university's police department will continue to lead the investigation, she said.

School officials would not comment on the investigation because it is an ongoing case.

The three students are all still enrolled at the university full time, said Kelley Reese, a spokeswoman for UNT. However, they are all banned from campus at this time.

The news of an investigation into the program was a shock to the UNT community.

"It's very sad," said Gayle Strange, the former chairwoman of the UNT Board of Regents and a UNT booster. "We are always upset when anything like that happens to our students or athletic programs.

"I am very confident the university will handle it in a transparent and fair manner."

UNT is entering its first season under McCasland. The former Arkansas State coach took over UNT's program March 13. 

McCasland replaced Tony Benford, who was fired March 5 following his fifth season at UNT.

"The alleged misconduct of former members of our basketball program is not reflective of the program that we are building or the young men who represent our university the right way," McCasland said in a prepared statement. "I support the decision to engage an outside review of our program and welcome it, as it can only help us as we begin a new era of UNT basketball. We cannot allow the actions of a few define the great work of so many."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889.