Woman who accused former Ohio State, NFL player Gareon Conley of 2017 rape must pay him $300 for malicious prosecution, jury finds

Gareon Conley

Oakland Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley walks on the field during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)AP

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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- More than five years after a woman accused former Ohio State University football standout Gareon Conley of raping her in a downtown Cleveland hotel room, a civil jury this month found her liable for malicious prosecution.

The woman’s accusation came weeks before the 2017 NFL Draft, where Conley was projected to be a high first-round pick. She filed a lawsuit a year later, accusing him of assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress after a grand jury declined to indict him. Conley sued her in a counterclaim, accusing her of malicious prosecution.

After a 10-day trial in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court earlier this month, jurors sided with Conley and found the woman failed to show that Conley assaulted her. Conley’s attorneys convinced the jury that the woman pursued criminal charges against him without probable cause that he committed a crime.

The jury ordered the woman to pay Conley $300, including $100 in punitive damages, as well as attorney fees.

Conley’s attorney, John Camillus, presented jurors with testimony from a former NFL general manager that the accusations cost Conley a higher selection in the draft and likely shaved more than $2 million off of Conley’s rookie contract. But Conley only asked the jury to award him $300.

“It was never about the money. It was always about clearing his name and restoring his reputation,” Camillus said.

Conley, a defensive back who was the 26th overall pick, is currently a free agent while rehabbing from a 2020 injury.

Camillus said the accusations have weighed on Conley for the last five years.

“Nobody wants to be accused of a crime they did not commit,” Camillus said. “All the more so when it’s a crime as serious and as vile as rape and all the more so when you are in the public spotlight as Gareon is.”

The woman’s attorney, Patrick Thomas, did not respond to a request for comment.

The woman, who was 23 years old at the time of the incident, testified at trial that she did not know who Conley was until after she had already gone to police, according to a transcript of her testimony. She said detectives told her Conley’s name days later because reporters had learned of the accusations and were going to publish stories.

The incident happened about 3:30 a.m. April 9, 2017, at the Westin Hotel. She and a group of her co-workers went to Barley House earlier that night. When the bar closed, her group was going to go to the Westin where one of the members had a hotel room.

She testified that Conley, whose agent had booked him a hotel room at the same hotel, came up to her outside the bar and said, “We’re going to the Westin.” She said she went with him because she thought he was a friend of one of her friends.

She said when they got to the hotel, Conley invited her up to his room to grab a bottle of Crown Royal to bring to her friend’s room. She said she became uncomfortable in his room when another couple began having sex in the bathroom and Conley tried to pull her onto him on the bed.

She said Conley later forced her to perform oral sex. She said that she decided to go along with Conley because she was afraid of what would happen if she tried to fight.

She said Conley then raped her. They were interrupted when someone knocked at the door and the other man in the room answered the door. She said she then began arguing with Conley and the other man. She and the woman then went downstairs, and called police.

On cross-examination, Camillus pointed to previous statements the woman had given to police that differed from her testimony.

She told police two days after the incident that Conley came up to her at Barley House and told her she was beautiful and invited her to his room for a drink. She also said that he told her he played football at Ohio State, and his agent booked him the room. She said that she and Conley held hands on the way back to the hotel.

The woman maintained that she had told Conley she didn’t want to have sex with him. She said when Conley pulled her onto the bed, she got up and told him that she wanted to watch the other two people in the bathroom. Conley said they were going to “make our own fun” on the bed. She said, “no we’re not.”

Camillus pointed out that after she made that comment, she discussed engaging in other sexual acts with Conley.

She acknowledged that Conley may have believed that the encounter was consensual.

The woman testified that she has suffered constant panic attacks since the incident, and seeing references to Ohio State can trigger them. She also said that before the encounter, she had planned to move to Miami to start her career but that dream died.

Camillus called Mark Dominik, the former general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to testify that Conley could have been taken as high as the 11th pick in the NFL Draft and been given a $12.9 million contract. Dominick said that the accusations likely caused teams to pass on Conley until the Oakland Raiders took him with the 26th, and he received a $10.5 million contract.

The Raiders traded Conley after the 2019 season to the Houston Texans, who released him after he spent the entire 2020 season on the injured reserve list with an ankle injury that required surgery.

Camillus said that Conley is rehabbing the injury and plans to return to the NFL.

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