Judge sends assault charge against Vols safety Jaylen McCollough to grand jury to investigate
Tennessee safety Jaylen McCollough got to tell his side of the story about the incident that caused him to miss key games for the Vols' football program, telling a judge he punched a drunken man who trespassed into his apartment.
McCollough appeared Thursday in Knox County Court for a preliminary hearing into the evidence against him stemming from the October arrest on an aggravated assault charge.
In the end, Judge Andrew Jackson VI determined there is probable cause to believe McCollough committed a crime and sent his case to a grand jury to review. The grand jury will recommend whether the case should proceed.
The 22-year-old has been charged with felony aggravated assault and faces a potential sentence of 3 to 15 years after the Oct. 9 incident in which police say he punched the other man in the face.
After his arrest, McCollough missed games against Alabama and UT Martin before he was cleared to play against Kentucky. He was never subject to university sanctions after a UT student conduct board investigated and found he did not violate the university's code of conduct.
The man and McCullough described the exchange quite differently.
What the man told police happened
At about 3:30 p.m. Oct. 9, Knoxville police responded to a call to a Fort Sanders apartment and found a man with a bloody, swollen mouth and multiple broken and missing teeth.
The man testified Thursday he had been drinking mimosas at a restaurant and then was driven to a friend's apartment in a complex near the University of Tennessee campus. He said he later had a "swig" from a pint of vodka inside the apartment before going to the parking lot to retrieve a second bottle of vodka.
The man, who admitted to having been intoxicated, said he couldn't find the car and then couldn't remember which apartment building he needed to return to.
He testified he knocked on the door to McCollough's apartment but no one answered, so he opened the unlocked door and started to walk in. When he realized he was at the wrong apartment, he said he apologized and started to leave.
The man said McCollough came to the door and was "foreboding and aggressive," telling him to go. McCollough disputed this account, and many of the other things the man said.
"I said, 'You don’t have to be a dick about it' as I'm walking away," the man said, adding that he got about 30 feet away when he heard McCollough running up behind him.
The man said as he began to turn, McCollough smashed his face and he fell backward down the stairs, losing consciousness.
McCollough's defense attorney, Chloe Akers, sought to discredit the man's testimony, asking him about the amount of alcohol he had consumed, as well as inconsistencies in his statements and memory lapses after police were called.
"I was discombobulated," the man responded. "I just smacked my head and had my teeth punched out."
McCollough, roommate say man was incoherent and aggressive
McCollough's hearing was moved up a week at the request of Akers, who wrote in court filings that McCullough acted in self-defense,and said Knoxville Police Department officers did not interview witnesses before arresting him.
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Warren Burrell, McCollough's roommate and a teammate, testified the man who entered their apartment was repeatedly asked to leave, "was not making much sense" and appeared drunk.
"Jaylen was just telling him to get out, I don’t care, get out," Burrell said, characterizing McCollough as annoyed rather than angry.
"I just wanted him out of my house," McCollough said.
Both McCollough and Burrell testified the man initially left after McCollough backed him out of the apartment and then shut the door. The man then became more aggressive and belligerent and threatened to come back inside, the roommates said.
McCollough and Burrell testified McCollough punched the man in the face one time. They were nowhere near the stairs, they both said, contradicting the man's account that he was knocked unconscious when he fell down the stairs after McCollough punched him.
McCollough said the man never became physical or threatened violence. McCollough said he did not call 911 after he punched the man because he felt the situation had been handled. He left his apartment afterwards, he said, because he had gashed his hand and needed to get stitches. He said the police were at his apartment when he returned and he was arrested before officers asked him what happened.
McCollough's attorney claims punch was reasonable use of force
Akers has asserted McCollough's “complete innocence” and in her argument cited the Tennessee legal provision that allows the use of force against someone "who is unlawfully and forcibly entering a residence."
The judge noted there were two indisputable facts: the man was intoxicated, and McCollough hit him. Beyond that, however, he said he had concerns over why McCollough chose to punch the man instead of simply going back inside and locking the door.
The question of whether McCullough acted in justifiable self-defense will be up to a grand jury to decide, Jackson said.
McCollough has been out of custody on a $2,500 bond.
Liz Kellar is a public safety reporter for Knox News. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.