State's Keatts discusses Markell Johnson suspension

NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts discusses the effects of the suspension of guard Markell Johnson and the Pack's upcoming ACC opener at Clemson during a press conference Dec. 28, 2017.
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NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts discusses the effects of the suspension of guard Markell Johnson and the Pack's upcoming ACC opener at Clemson during a press conference Dec. 28, 2017.
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NC State

Coach Kevin Keatts says NCSU ‘acted appropriately’ to Markell Johnson’s indictment

By Chip Alexander And Steve Wiseman

calexander@newsobserver.com, swiseman@heraldsun.com

December 28, 2017 12:46 PM

The felony assault case against suspended N.C. State basketball player Markell Johnson has been continued until Jan. 8, according to his attorney’s office.

Johnson and three other defendants were in court Thursday morning for a pretrial conference at the Cuyahoga (Ohio) County Justice Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The four are charged with assaulting Michael Blackwell, 37, in Cleveland in early October.

Johnson, Demarious Green, Michael Melton and Johnnie Pullum were indicted on Dec. 5. Each was jailed on Dec. 20, ordered to supply a DNA sample and released on $5,000 bond.

According to the Oct. 8 Cleveland police report, Blackwell said he got into a verbal altercation with Johnson. Blackwell said Johnson struck him in the face “about 10 times” before he fought back. In the police report, Blackwell also says that Green, Melton and Pullum threw punches and grabbed his neck before Blackwell bit one of his attackers.

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Blackwell later that night sought medical attention and later told police his eye socket was fractured and he suffered a concussion. Blackwell also received stitches, according to the police report.

Johnson, 19, and his attorney, John Paris, have not responded to requests for comment. Neither Pullum’s attorney, Andy Petropouleas, nor Green’s attorney, Lisa Rankin, could be reached Thursday for comment. Melton’s attorney, Thomas Shaughnessy, declined to comment.

Blackwell posted a photo of himself, bloodied, on Facebook on Oct. 8. When contacted Thursday in Cleveland, Blackwell declined to comment.

A screen grab from Michael Blackwell’s Facebook account shows him bloodied.

Johnson, who was N.C. State’s starting guard for the first 10 games this season, was indicted in Cuyahoga County on Dec. 5. He played four days later – on Dec. 9 – against Missouri-Kansas City in the game at Reynolds Coliseum. However, the structure of the Ohio court system might have caused a delay of when Johnson was notified of the charges against him.

Cuyahoga County sent a certified letter to Johnson’s Cleveland address on Dec. 5 to notify Johnson of the charges and his court date. Johnson wasn’t in Ohio on Dec. 11, when the letter was signed for at the home address.

Debbie Yow, N.C. State’s athletic director, said Thursday the school did not learn of Johnson’s indictment until Dec. 14. Johnson was suspended the same day. The school then announced on Dec. 16, prior to N.C. State’s game against UNC Greensboro, that Johnson had been suspended indefinitely for violating the school’s student-athlete code of conduct. Johnson sat on the sideline, not in uniform, that day.

“We acted appropriately as soon as we found out about it,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said Thursday.

Keatts said he has had contact with Johnson but did not comment on what was said between the two. Johnson was not at the Wolfpack’s games against Robert Morris on Dec. 19 or against Jacksonville on Dec. 22.

In Ohio, a felonious assault is defined as “knowingly causing serious physical harm to another person” and is a second-degree felony unless the victim is a law-enforcement officer. In the North Carolina court system, Johnson would have been arrested and taken before a magistrate to determine bond conditions on the same day he was indicted.

The felony charge would have triggered the automatic suspension under N.C. State athletic department’s rules.

According to the school’s student-athlete code of conduct, a student-athlete charged with a felony crime will be immediately and indefinitely suspended from athletics participation, pending the final disposition of all charges.

N.C. State faces Clemson on Saturday in its ACC opener and plays Notre Dame (Jan. 3) and Duke (Jan. 6) before Johnson’s next pretrial hearing.

Wolfpack junior Torin Dorn said the players are not aware of all the details of Johnson’s case.

“We don’t know a lot that’s going on, either,” Dorn said Thursday. “We’re just hoping for the best for him in his situation and praying for him. We hope his situation gets figured out, and he’ll be back with us, hopefully.”

Staff writer Joe Giglio contributed to this report.

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip