NCAA

Penn St. riot ends aspiring Army officer's dream

Penn St. riot ends aspiring Army officer's dream

By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
Associated Press

Stints in jail. Hefty fines and restitution. Clouded futures. The consequences of their bad behavior have been steep for the Penn State students who took to the streets and rioted in the chaotic aftermath of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno's firing last November.

Perhaps none have learned a harder lesson than Justin Strine, a young man from central Pennsylvania whose planned career as an Army officer is over before it began -- the casualty of his own split-second decision to put his hands on a news van, and a judicial system that considered him as guilty as classmates who did far worse that dark night in State College.

As the fall semester gets under way Monday, Strine has returned to campus, along with 15 other students found to have taken part in a nationally televised riot that caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage and embarrassed Penn State.

As he resumes his studies, nothing's the same for the 21-year-old from Hummelstown. He spent part of his summer in jail. Far worse: He's been kicked out of ROTC, his dream of carrying on his family's proud military tradition now out of reach.

"I'm losing everything I worked my entire life for," Strine said.

Strine's father, a career soldier, questions whether that's a just result.

"I had to stand by and watch my son plead guilty to something he didn't do," said Jim Strine.

Penn State sanctioned 32 students for their involvement in the riot, suspending 10 of them from one to three semesters and giving probation to the rest, university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. Dozens of students were criminally charged, as well, and the guilty pleas have piled up over the last several months.

An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 people poured into downtown State College on Nov. 9 after the Penn State board of trustees abruptly and unexpectedly fired Paterno -- the beloved football coach who led Penn State for nearly 46 seasons -- and removed President Graham Spanier over the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.

What began as a peaceful protest of Paterno's unceremonious dismissal quickly turned ugly as a "riotous mob," as State College police would later call it, threw bottles and rocks, damaged cars, and tore down light posts and street signs.

Strine was in his off-campus apartment when he learned of Paterno's firing. He and a few friends decided to head downtown.

It was a rare misstep in what had been a slow, steady climb toward the officer ranks.

Strine's father is a helicopter pilot and instructor whose 28-year career has taken him to Iraq and Afghanistan. His grandfather is a retired Air Force flight surgeon. His brother and sister, aunt and uncle, cousins -- all serve or have served. So it wasn't a surprise when Strine began plotting his own military career as an adolescent, reading the autobiographies of famed Army officers like Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell.

At Penn State, Strine threw himself into ROTC as well as his studies, making the dean's list and spending the summer at Fort Benning, Ga., learning to jump out of airplanes. His goal: to be a pilot like his father.

"He was a good cadet," Jim Strine said.

A good cadet who made a bad decision the night of Nov. 9.

Strine had driven himself and a couple friends to the State College commercial district, where they joined thousands of other protesters. At one point Strine and his friend, Christina Assainte, found themselves in a large crowd moving toward a WTAJ-TV news van, where vandals were pelting it with rocks.

To the rippling chants of "Flip it! Flip it!" two young men approached the side of the van, motioning others to join them, a video recording shows. That set off a frenzied rush toward the van, and within seconds a large group started to push.

A second wave of spectators then pressed toward the front of the van, perhaps to get a better view. Strine and Assainte were in the front of that group.

With the vehicle already on two wheels and going over, Strine placed his palms on the hood. Four seconds later, the van was on its side. But that's all it took for police and prosecutors to charge him with felony counts of riot and criminal mischief -- the same charges filed against students who did the actual pushing.

"I always felt I was on a good path, and all the sudden I'm being made into a criminal. It was shocking to me they wouldn't even hear me out and let me explain that yes, I was there and shouldn't have been, but I wasn't this person they are making me out to be," Strine said. "No one ever looked at me as an individual. They looked at me as 5,000 Penn State rioters."

Terrified of being branded a felon, Strine agreed to plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. He served 30 days in jail -- getting out Aug. 4 -- and will either be on parole or probation until 2015.

The consequences didn't end there. Penn State suspended Strine for a semester, and he was booted from ROTC and will have to repay every dime of his scholarship money, a total of 34,000. He also owes 8,500 in court costs, fines and restitution.

Strine said he knows he never should have left his apartment that night, never should have been in the vicinity of the van, never should have laid a finger on its hood.

"The van was already going over. It was so crazy, it was mayhem, and in that moment you stop thinking," Strine said. "I know I wasn't completely blameless. I was there, I touched the van and that was wrong. That's why I was happy to do community service for Penn State. But the criminal justice system went overboard."

His father said he's not seeking to minimize or excuse Justin's involvement, but contended the district attorney's office was far too aggressive -- and his son's punishment far too severe.

"He owns something in this," Jim Strine said. "He just doesn't own what he's got."

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller did not return multiple calls and emails seeking information about her office's handling of Strine's case or the other riot cases.

Messages left with State College police Chief Tom King were not returned.

Lt. Col. Ken Weiland, commander of Penn State's Army ROTC program, declined to comment Monday on Strine's removal from the program but cited military regulations that list a multitude of reasons why a cadet could be kicked out.

Powers, the Penn State spokeswoman, said any student who goes through the university disciplinary process can contest the charges or sanctions.

"Justin accepted responsibility and the sanctions in the disciplinary conference, and did not contest them through either avenue that was afforded to him," she said, adding that Penn State carefully assessed each student's culpability, the impact of the crime on the community, and other factors before imposing punishment.

Strine said he didn't contest the charges because he wouldn't have been permitted an attorney, and his testimony before the school could have been used against him in the criminal courts. He didn't challenge the sanctions because Penn State warned him that if he did, he could wind up being penalized more severely. And he said he was never told that a suspension would cost him his spot in ROTC.

Assainte, who was with Strine during the riot, said he had no criminal intent that night. She said he got a raw deal.

"I remember him saying, All I wanted to do was serve my country, and now I can't because of one little mistake that was caught on tape.' One lapse of judgment and he gets all this thrown at him? I felt so awful," she said. "I just think what happened was really, really unfair."

Jackson, Peoples lead No. 13 Hokies past ODU, 38-0

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Jackson, Peoples lead No. 13 Hokies past ODU, 38-0

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Steven Peoples had scored three career touchdowns for No. 13 Virginia Tech heading into Saturday's game against Old Dominion.

Now he's scored six, including a right-place-at-the-right-time deflection that turned his good day into a career day.

On the play, Peoples ran a wheel route and was a few steps behind Hokies start receiver Cam Phillips. Both were well covered, but quarterback Josh Jackson let fly from near midfield as the four players approached the end zone. The ball went to Phillips, but in the scramble with the defender, it bounced away, right into Peoples' arms for a 43-yard touchdown.

"I sat back and was waiting for Cam to catch it," Peoples said, noting Phillips' reputation for catching the ball in traffic. "As soon as it bounced off him, I caught the ball and I was like, `Man, that was a big-time catch.'"

On the sideline, while teammates celebrated, Jackson got a talking-to from coach Justin Fuente.

"Not for public consumption," Fuente said what asked what he told the redshirt freshman. "Not happy. We got lucky on that one so I made sure he knew about it. He's smart. He's tough. He understands stuff and he's still young."

Said Jackson: "That was the first touchdown I've ever felt bad after throwing."

Jackson threw for two more scores -- a 17-yard screen pass to Peoples and a diving 5-yarder to C.J. Carroll -- as the Hokies (4-0) finished their non-conference schedule unbeaten for the first time since 2011. Peoples also scored on a 1-yard run.

Virginia Tech started slowly for the second consecutive game, leading just 3-0 after the first quarter, but scored on four consecutive drives after getting untracked. The Hokies have scored 95 consecutive points since falling behind 17-7 at East Carolina last week.

The Monarchs (2-2), playing an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent for the second week in a row, fell to 0-9 against Power Five schools.

The game was the first meeting between the schools and featured the first career start for 17-year-old Old Dominion quarterback Steven Williams Jr. He showed a nifty ability to escape the Hokies' pass rush, getting sacked just once, but completed just 8 of 26 for 85 yards. Monarchs receivers didn't help by dropping several balls, including one that Travis Fulgham could have taken 75 yards for a touchdown.

"He didn't get a lot of help out there today," coach Bobby Wilder said after his team barely made it across midfield all game. "There were four of five times where we needed to make a catch, we needed to make a play, and we didn't."

Williams took it in stride.

"It's just part of the game. We know we need to clean that up," he said. "We have to be more aggressive. If we find our run game, we're going to be fine."

Jackson was 20 for 30 for 298 yards and has now thrown for 11 touchdowns. He did throw his first interception of the season against the Monarchs, but the Hokies took the ball away three plays later, leading to their first touchdown midway through the second quarter.

Hypocrisy of NCAA loud and clear with Maryland Football promotion

Hypocrisy of NCAA loud and clear with Maryland Football promotion

The NCAA is a dumb and monumentally stupid organization with rules that often don't make sense for the student-athletes they govern. One of those is paying, or more specifically not paying, athletes.

In an incredible twist of irony, Maryland will give one lucky regular student (that isn't an athlete) $10,000 for something an athlete (not a regular student) could potentially perform on the football field.

This is a highly specific play that will have to happen in order for one lucky student (again, not an athlete) to win the money, but the hypocrisy is incredible and this entire situation is so backward.

A student-athlete could score a touchdown (while not being paid) for the university and while scoring said touchdown will be helping make money for the university (money they will never see a dime from). The university will then turn around and give money to a student who did nothing to earn it, except decide to stay around in the second half for a game that is expected to be lightly attended, thanks to the achievement of a student-athlete who is incapable of receiving said money. 

That makes sense. Totally.

This comes on the heels of a report earlier this week that Division 1 coaches were "spooked" and against new rules that would allow students who met a minimum GPA to transfer and have immediate eligibility.

This is all totally fine.

Anyway, I can't believe someone didn't see the irony here and think "eh, we just had one of the biggest upsets of the weekend and should have a better way to capitalize on our momentum with something cool to entice people to stick around against Towson?"

I guess not.

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