Advertisement

UPDATE: Former Marshall football player sentenced in battery case

(WSAZ)
Published: May. 6, 2015 at 11:02 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
UPDATE 9/25/17 @ 2:25 p.m.

HUNTINGTON. W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A former Marshall football player will spend time in jail after hitting a gay man in downtown Huntington.

Steward Butler was sentenced Monday to six months in jail by Judge Paul T. Farrell.

Butler pleaded guilty in July to two counts of misdemeanor battery.

The former Marshall running back faced up to one year in prison for each count and up to a $500 fine.

The incident happened in April 2015 after Butler hit a man with his fist while he was kissing his partner on 5th Avenue.

Butler was sentenced to six month for each charge. The sentences will run concurrently.


UPDATE 7/31/17 @ 3:15 p.m.

HUNTINGTON. W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Marshall football player Steward Butler has pleaded guilty to battery charges.

Butler was in a Cabell County courtroom Monday afternoon.

Butler pleaded guilty to two counts of battery after striking two homosexual men with his fist.

According to court documents, Butler was scheduled to be in court Tuesday.

The former Marshall running back faces up to one year in prison for each count and up to a $500 fine.

Butler told a judge that he would fail a drug test because of marijuana use.

Butler is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 25.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.


UPDATE 5/9/17 @ 4:15 p.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has affirmed a circuit court's ruling that felony rights violations should be dismissed in the case of former Marshall football player Steward Butler.

The 3-2 decision was released Tuesday afternoon by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Butler is accused of assaulting two gay men after seeing them kiss on a Huntington street in April 2015.

He was originally indicted on two felony civil rights violations and two counts of misdemeanor battery, but a Cabell County Circuit Court judge dropped the hate crime charges, citing violence or violent threats based solely on a victim's sexual orientation aren't considered a hate crime under West Virginia law.

The Cabell County Prosecutor's office appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, arguing the term "sexual orientation" falls within the realm of "sex."

According to court documents the Supreme Court determined the word "sex" in the West Virginia Code "is unambiguous and clearly imparts being male or female, and does not include “sexual orientation."

According to court documents, the Supreme Court says It is imperative to remember that “[i]t is not for this Court arbitrarily to read into a statute that which it does not say. Just as courts are not to eliminate through judicial interpretation words that were purposely included, we are obliged not to add to statutes something the Legislature purposely omitted.”

Cabell County Prosecutor Corky Hammers says Butler remains charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery in the case.

A court date has not been set for those charges.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.


UPDATE 4/25/17 @ 6 p.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the criminal case against Steward Butler, a former Marshall University football player accused of assaulting two gay men.

Now it is up to West Virginia Supreme Court justices to decide whether or not Butler's actions will be considered a hate crime.

Butler is accused of assaulting two gay men after seeing them kiss on a Huntington street in April 2015.

The Cabell County Prosecutor's Office is appealing Circuit Court Judge Paul Farrell's ruling that violence or violent threats based solely on a victim's sexual orientation aren't considered a hate crime under West Virginia law.

The law states, "All persons within the boundaries of the state of West Virginia have the right to be free from any violence, or intimidation by threat of violence, committed against their persons or property because of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation or sex."

The Cabell County Prosecutor's Office is arguing that the term "sexual orientation" falls within the realm of "sex."

Both the West Virginia Attorney General's Office and Butler's defense disagree with that interpretation of the law's language.

"We are not suggesting that it would be a good or a bad policy," Solicitor General Elbert Lin said. "All we are saying is that under separations of powers and under principles of fundamental fairness this court can not import that category into the plain language of the statute," Lin added.

The West Virginia Supreme Court will decide how they wish to interpret the law.

They have an undetermined amount of time to do so.

Keep checking WSAZ and WSAZ Mobile for the latest information.


UPDATE 4/25/17 @ 7 a.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the criminal case against Steward Butler, a former Marshall University football player accused of assaulting two gay men.

The hearing will begin at 10 Tuesday morning.

Butler is accused of assaulting two gay men after seeing them kiss on a Huntington street in April 2015.

Cabell County Prosecutor Sean "Corky" Hammers is appealing Circuit Court Judge Paul Farrell's ruling that violence or violent threats based solely on a victim's sexual orientation aren't considered a hate crime under West Virginia law.

Farrell's ruling allowed the hate crime charges against Butler to be dropped, saying that state lawmakers haven't included sexual orientation protections in state law.

The state supreme court previously decline to hear Farrell's question whether protections extend to sexual orientation.

Hammers is appealing the circuit court's ruling to the supreme court that state law does not extend to create a criminal offense for violation of someone's rights based on their sexual orientation, as well as contending that the circuit court improperly dismissed portions of the indictment against Butler based on the court's refusal to hear Farrell's question.

UPDATE 5/17/16 @ 11:30 a.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Cabell County Prosecutor Sean "Corky" Hammers says he'll appeal a judge's ruling that violence or violent threats based solely on a victim's sexual orientation aren't considered a hate crime under West Virginia law.

Hammers says he will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Judge Paul Farrell's decision Friday allows hate crime charges to be dropped against ex-Marshall University football player Steward Butler. He's accused of assaulting two gay men after seeing them kiss on a city street in April 2015.

Farrell ruled that state lawmakers haven't included sexual orientation protections in state law.

Butler pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony civil rights violations and two counts of misdemeanor battery.

The state Supreme Court previously declined to hear Farrell's question whether protections extend to sexual orientation.


UPDATE 5/13/16 @ 1 p.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Two civil rights violations filed against a former Marshall University football player could soon be dismissed.

Steward Butler is charged with two felony civil rights violations and two misdemeanor batter counts. The alleged incident happened in April 2015, when Butler was accused of hitting two men who were kissing on a Huntington street.

In December the case was sent to the West Virginia Supreme Court to decide whether state code protects an individual's civil rights if the crime is based solely upon the victim's sexual orientation. Prosecutors contended the violation is based on the victim's sex, not sexual orientation. The high court abstained on the question and sent the case back to Cabell County.

Friday, Judge Paul Farrell released an order saying in the United States, "there are two distinct categories of potential discrimination: discrimination based on sex and discrimination based on sexual orientation."

He says in West Virginia, sexual orientation is not protected against discrimination.

Farrell says the West Virginia Legislature could have included sexual orientation as an area of protection but chose not to.

He also says the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia declined to consider the specific issue as of this time.

"Accordingly, this Court is bound to apply the law as it stands," Farrell writes in the order.

Due to this, he says the civil rights violation charges shall be dismissed in 60 days if an appeal is not filed by the state.

Butler is still charged with the two counts of battery. His trial is set for August 16.

Click the link to read the full order.


UPDATE 2/29/16

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Marshall University football player Steward Butler was back in a Cabell County courtroom Monday.

Butler is charged with two felony civil rights violations and two misdemeanor battery counts. The alleged incident happened back in April 2015.

In December, the case was sent to the West Virginia Supreme Court to decide whether state code protects an individual's civil rights if the crime is based solely upon the victim's sexual orientation.

Prosecutors contend the violation is based on the victim's sex, not sexual orientation.

This month, the Supreme Court abstained on the question of civil rights and sexual orientation, placing Steward Butler's case back in the Cabell County Court system.

Monday, Judge Paul Farrell gave both sides 20 days to file briefs on the case. He will examine those briefs and Butler will be back in court on March 21 for a trial date to be set.

Butler was dismissed from the team and no longer attends Marshall.


UPDATE 2/23/16

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The West Virginia Supreme Court has decided not to rule on whether a former Marshall University football player accused of assaulting two gay men after he saw them kissing on a city street can be charged with a hate crime.

Steward Butler is charged with two felony civil rights violations and two misdemeanor battery counts. The alleged incident happened back in April 2015.

In December, the court was asked to decide whether state code protects an individual's civil rights if the crime is based solely upon the victim's sexual orientation.

Prosecutors contend the violation is based on the victim's sex, not sexual orientation.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court abstained on the question of civil rights and sexual orientation, placing Steward Butler's case back in the Cabell County Court system.

Cabell County Prosecutor Corky Hammers tells WSAZ Butler's case will be back on the docket and the indictment will proceed as usual. A new court date for Butler has not been set at this time.

Butler was dismissed from the team and no longer attends Marshall.


UPDATE 9/30/15

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - A former Marshall University running back will face trial on Jan. 26 on charges of hitting a gay couple.

A Cabell County circuit judge set the tentative trial date during a status conference Tuesday for 24-year-old Steward Butler of Lakeland, Florida.

Indictments unsealed in late May charge Butler with two felony civil rights violations and two misdemeanor battery counts.

Butler is accused of striking two men who were kissing on a Huntington street on April 5. He was dismissed from the team and no longer attends Marshall.

The civil rights violation relates to the men's gender. Butler's attorney Raymond Nolan and Cabell County Assistant Prosecutor Lauren Plymale agreed to submit questions to the state Supreme Court concerning whether hate crime statutes include protection for sexual orientation.


UPDATE 6/9/15

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - A former Marshall University football player has pleaded not guilty to charges of hitting a gay couple.

Media outlets report that 23-year-old Steward Butler of Lakeland, Florida, entered the plea on Tuesday during an arraignment in Cabell County Circuit Court.

Indictments unsealed in late May charge the former Marshall running back with two felony civil rights violations and two misdemeanor battery counts.

Butler is accused of striking two men after he saw them kissing on a Huntington street on April 5.

He was dismissed from the team and is no longer a student.


UPDATE 5/29/15 @ 9:40 p.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Former Marshall University football running back Steward Butler has been indicted on felony state charges of violating the civil rights of two men Butler allegedly assaulted in April.

Those charges come in addition to two misdemeanor battery charges he already faced.

The two counts of prohibiting violations of an individual's civil rights were among grand jury indictments released Friday in Cabell County.

Cell phone video from April shows about 20 seconds of an alleged attack against gay couple Zackary Johnson and Casey Williams along 5th Avenue in downtown Huntington. Both men say they were punched and were the target of derogatory comments.

Earlier this month, there were allegations that Marshall University officials may have attempted to stall the investigation.

Butler was dismissed from Marshall's football team early this month.

No arraignment date has been set yet on the new charges.

The couple on Friday released this statement that they had shared with Marshall University leaders:

"My partner, Casey Williams, and I politely and respectfully ask the officials at Marshall University responsible for making the decision as to the future status of Mr. Stuard Butler to continue their support of diversity, inclusion, and acceptance and refuse – wholeheartedly – his appeal to reinstated as a student.

"While Casey and I believe that everyone makes mistakes and they should ultimately be forgiven for those mistakes. We also believe that actions have consequences and, in this case, the consequences should be severe. Aside from the physical assault that occurred that night, Mr. Butler’s actions were nothing less than a hate crime acutely focused on Casey and I solely because of our sexual orientation. His actions were completely unprovoked. Casey and I were minding our own business and said nothing to Mr. Butler at all. His actions were based on, at best, his homophobia and – at its worst - his intolerance, lack of acceptance, and personal hatred of those different from himself.

"During a walk back to our hotel in Huntington that night, Casey and I shared a brief and simple kiss on the street. Mr. Butler, witnessing that act from a passing car, shouted anti-gay slurs before having the driver stop the vehicle so that he could exit the car to attack us. He both physically and verbally abused both Casey and I again solely because we are gay. We were both punched in the face and were fearful for our collective safety. Had Mr. Butler’s friends not convinced him to get back into the car, I believe the beatings would have continued and been even worse than they were. Both Casey and I are appreciative that at least Mr. Butler’s friends were aware that his actions were horribly wrong and they, in the end, convinced him to stop and move on.

"As an adult gay man, I am saddened to admit this is not the first time I have experienced this kind of hate. It is, perhaps, because of my past experiences that I almost instinctively began to record the attack on my cell phone. Had I not had the presence of mind to do that, I’m not sure anyone would believe what occurred that night on the streets of Huntington, West Virginia.

"I would hope that the officials at Marshall University, in full recognition and acceptance of the heinous nature of this crime - a crime currently being investigated by the US Department of Justice’s Hate Crime Division - would join Casey and I in deploring this kind of behavior. Actions such as this are not indicative of the student body as a whole and, we believe, it is critically important that a message be sent that behavior such as this is simply not accepted and the consequences for anyone engaging in such will be both swift and severe.

"Very much like many of you I suppose, I wish that none of this had happened and that Mr. Butler’s and our paths had not cross that night. The reality is, our paths did, in fact, cross and it has scarred both my partner and I more than you can imagine.

"Simply put, Casey and I respectfully ask that you deny Mr. Butler’s appeal in an effort to clearly demonstrate your support of the LGBTQ community and send a message to the Marshall student body that hate crimes of any kind will not be taken lightly regardless of one’s position within the University."


UPDATE 5/8/15 @ 5:14 p.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- An online article suggests Marshall University officials may have stonewalled investigators as they looked into the Steward Butler case.

But Huntington Police and Marshall officials said there's been no difficulty.

A spokesperson from both agencies told WSAZ the online article is not accurate.

While not all the specifics are being released, the timeline into the investigation is also becoming a bit more clear.

Cell phone video shows about 20 seconds of an alleged attack against gay couple Zackary Johnson and Casey Williams in Huntington last month.

The suspect: former Marshall running back Steward Butler.

An online article published Thursday on the website The Daily Beast seems to suggest Huntington Police faced difficulty when investigating the football player's involvement.

One line quotes a detective who said football program officials "definitely could tell who it was, but they wouldn't tell me."

Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli disputed any stonewalling by any university officials whatsoever.

"We knew independently, without any contact from Marshall or with Marshall, that Steward Butler was involved in that case. Marshall was cooperative, as they've always been with making arrangements for us to speak with Mr. Butler about the investigation," he told WSAZ.

We asked the writer of the article, M.L. Nestel, for his take on the claims it's not accurate. In an email, he told us, "Thanks for reaching out. We stand by our original reporting. I have no further comment at this time."

Marshall University Interim President Gary White said an internal review is now underway about the chain of events.

In a statement, White said. "Any confirmed coverup or stonewalling of an investigation by any Marshall University official would be considered an egregious breach of conduct."

He added, if found to be true, the penalties could even mean dismissal.

Detectives told WSAZ two football officials were shown screenshots of the video and identified Butler in mid-to-late April.

They said getting the full video to investigators and school officials took time because of technical setbacks.

We asked school leaders why no disciplinary action or suspension was put in place after they were aware.

According to a timeline released by school officials, the Marshall University police chief was the first to see the full video on May 5, and the very next day, the athletic director saw the video and dismissed Butler.

It's unclear if there was any wrongdoing by coaches in the handling of the case, but the internal review could shed more light on any possible missteps.

We also reached out to Steward Butler's attorney to, once again, ask for his side of the story. Those calls have not been returned. We'll keep trying.

We also reached out to several Marshall officials for clarity on the situation and were told they had no further comment beyond their last statement.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.


UPDATE 5/7/15 @ 11:51 p.m.

JACKSON COUNTY, W.Va (WSAZ) -- A gay couple allegedly attacked by dismissed Marshall University football running back Steward Butler is speaking out.

They shared a video one of them recorded of the confrontation using his cell phone.

In the video, there are a slew of slurs and derogatory terms levied against the couple.

The couple is also punched at least once.

Now, they said they're healed from the encounter and are moving on.

They also said their story has exploded in ways they never expected.

The couple said they've been recognized across social media and watched as their story has gained global attention.

As news outlets from around the world pick up the story, the couple hopes the story brings about change and understanding.

In a span of minutes, Zackary Johnson and Casey Williams said a trip to visit friends changed their lives forever.

After a night of dinner and barhopping in downtown Huntington, the unthinkable happened.

"We were on our way back to the hotel," said Williams.

Police said dismissed Marshall running back Steward Butler pulled up in a car.

"I had pulled him in for a kiss and they happened to see it, so we just kind of ignored it at first," said Williams.

The couple said Butler shouted several gay slurs and the rest was all caught on cell phone video.

"He punched Zack in the head, and then right after that he punched me in the head," Williams told WSAZ's Dan Griffin.

"I thought it was going to be the normal case of someone rolling their windows down, yelling some words, and just keep on going, I mean that happens a lot," said Johnson.

The couple said the alleged attack spoiled an otherwise, pleasant getaway weekend from their home in Jackson County, West Virginia.

"We had a fun night, you know, up until that point," Williams said.

Both told us they were still shocked it happened.

Butler claims the confrontation was in self-defense, but the couple said that's hardly the case.

"We didn't know who they were or what they were capable of," said Williams.

The victims said they were both punched in the face, but not seriously injured.

"He had some swelling on his face, I think he got punched probably harder than I did," said Williams.

What hurts worse than punches for this couple: West Virginia's hate crime laws don't protect people based on sexual orientation.

"It's not going to impact our relationship," Williams said.

A relationship that is strong, and a fight to change a law, this couple said, needs to be even stronger.

The couple said it's taken some time, as they've worked with investigators to get the case together.

They said they used the cell phone video to highlight the license plate of a getaway car.

Both men said their story is reaching people across the nation and world, and they've already been asked to speak at one LGBT conference about their expereince.

Right now, Steward Butler is out on bond.

Investigators said it's unclear if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol the night of the fight.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for more on this story.


UPDATE 5/7/15 @ 4:20 p.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has released a statement regarding the arrest of former Marshall running back Steward Butler.

Butler, 23, is charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery, accused of hitting a man who was kissing his partner on the side of the street.

Following his arrest, he was dismissed from the team.

Mayor Williams released the following statement:

"The Huntington Police Department is engaged in an investigation regarding an alleged attack of two gay males in Huntington. Certainly, I trust the professionalism of the Huntington Police Department and await the details of their investigation. In the meantime, we must be clear that intolerance will not be tolerated in Huntington. It does not reflect the values of our community. Violent attacks will not be tolerated. Bigoted behavior has no place in our community. The City of Huntington, Huntington Police Department, Marshall University and the Marshall University Athletic Department have developed a cooperative and trusting relationship with one another. In the two and a half years I have been mayor, I have never experienced or observed a lack of cooperation, stonewalling or obstruction of any investigation. I would trust that if any concerns of this nature were true, they would be brought to the police chief, who would, in turn, bring it to my attention."

Read more on this case in the stories below.


UPDATE 5/6/15 @ 6:33 p.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Marshall football player has been dismissed from the team after police said he attacked a gay couple.

They said he punched them in the face in Huntington last month as they walked down the street.

Many people have spoken out against the alleged attacks, including Marshall University officials who called them "bigoted" and "violent" and said they won't be tolerated.

In a tweet late Wednesday afternoon, Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said, "Coach Holliday and I have decided to dismiss Steward Butler from our program in light of additional information regarding his charges."

This came just hours after they first put him on indefinite suspension.

Investigators said much of the confrontation was caught on camera, because one of the victims started recording it all on his cell phone, even catching the getaway car's license plate.

Now, the couple said they fear retaliation, after this unexpected attack in a city they were only visiting for the weekend.

It was near the intersection of 5th Avenue and 9th Street in Huntington where police said Marshall running back Steward Butler attacked two gay men.

According to court documents, it happened April 5.

Investigators said the couple involved, Zackery Johnson and his partner, Casey Williams, were walking down the street, when Butler spotted them embracing and kissing and began yelling slurs and punched them.

Huntington Police said Butler was, at first, in a car with two other Marshall football players.

"He was traveling in the vehicle, he saw this, saw these two individuals walking, saw them give each other a kiss. He had the driver stop the car, he gets out, confronts him and said some choice, some bad choice words," HPD Detective Chris Sperry said.

The couple tells us they were in town visiting friends, and were headed to their hotel after dinner and a few bars.

Investigators said after Butler punched the two men, in an apparent hate crime, the other two Marshall players told him to stop and leave.

Huntington Police said Butler claimed the attack was out of self-defense and that none of the men in the confrontation knew each other.

Detectives said they're looking into the self-defense claims because Butler stopped and got out of a moving car.

We also asked investigators if he was suspected of using drugs or alcohol, but they said that was unknown.

A quick look at court records show Butler doesn't seem to have much of a criminal history in West Virginia.

However, in his home state of Florida, in Polk County, we tracked a handful of arrests, including one charge for battery of a police officer in 2009, just before he turned 18.

Though police said they believe this case is a hate crime, they said state statutes don't protect sexual orientation as a civil right.

Supporters of the LGBT community said that's a problem needing attention.

They said they hoped this alleged attack would shed light on the issue.

"You're protected on race, religion, natural origin, I think even political affiliation, so somebody wants to beat you up because of those things, you have certain protections, beyond just a regular violent crime, but if it's coming at you because of your sexual orientation, you don't have those protections," said Justin Murdock of LGBT group Fairness West Virginia.

Now, police said they're exploring federal charges with the FBI, which do protect sexual orientation.

The couple involved said, though they weren't seriously injured, they're healing from the alleged attack and hope something will change and justice will be served.

WSAZ received several statements late Wednesday regarding the charges against Butler.

Mayor Steve Williams' LGBT Advisory Committee shared this statement:

"We were shocked and saddened to learn of the arrest of Steward Butler for the assault of two men on April 5. Butler allegedly targeted the two men after he witnessed them kissing. Behavior of this sort does not represent the values of this community and we will stand up against it. Mayor Williams has made it clear to this committee many times that intolerance will not be tolerated in Huntington. We are a vibrant and prospering city that embraces diversity and all of us must play a role in keeping it that way. We are pleased with the response of the Huntington Police Department and its recognition that, since LGBT residents of West Virginia are not protected by state hate crime laws, the incident may fall under federal civil rights laws. We trust that they will continue to seek justice. Further, we commend Marshall University's Interim President, Gary White, for his swift denunciation of the "violent, bigoted behavior." Our community must stand up to intolerance in all forms so we may continue working together for a stronger, brighter future for all Huntington residents and visitors."

Fairness West Virginia, a group supporting the LGBT community also shared this statement:

"As the facts emerge out of Huntington on the alleged assault of two gay men by Marshall University running back, Steward Butler, Fairness West Virginia supports the swift actions of Marshall University and the Marshall University Athletic Department. We hope that this reprehensible behavior can ultimately lead to greater education, understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.

By nature, hate crimes target innocent victims simply because of the color of their skin, their religious views, or in this case, the sex of the person they love. Hate-based violence fosters anxiety and mistrust and ultimately brings fear to whole neighborhoods, communities and towns.

There is no place for violence or intolerance in any community in West Virginia. Huntington like so many communities in the Mountain State has actively worked to ensure all of her citizens feel welcome and safe. Unfortunately, the alleged actions of Butler undermine the strides taken by both the City of Huntington and by Marshall University to become inclusive communities.

With the passage of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and Huntington’s adoption an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in 2013, it is abundantly clear that West Virginia and the nation as a whole have taken huge steps toward the acceptance and fair treatment of LGBT people. However, there is still work to be done."

For more on how this story has developed, read earlier entries below.

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.


UPDATE 5/6/15 @ 3:45 p.m.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Marshall running back Steward Butler has been dismissed from the football team, following his arrest Wednesday morning.

Butler, 23, is charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery, accused of hitting a man who was kissing his partner on the side of the street.

In a tweet late Wednesday afternoon, Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said, "Coach Holliday and I have decided to dismiss Steward Butler from our program in light of additional information regarding his charges."

This announcement came two hours after Hamrick announced Butler had been suspended from the team.

Read more details on this case in the story below.


ORIGINAL STORY

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A Marshall University football player has been arrested on battery charges, after allegedly hitting a man who was kissing his partner on the side of the street.

Steward Butler, 23, is charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery. He was arrested Wednesday morning in Huntington.

According to the criminal complaint, on April 5, a man and his partner were walking in the area of 9th Street and 5th Avenue when they kissed.

Butler, who was riding in a vehicle in the area, allegedly got out of the vehicle and "approached the two men, shouting derogatory words toward their sexual orientation. "

He is then accused of punching the victim in the face with a closed fist.

Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick announced Wednesday afternoon that Butler has been suspended indefinitely from all team-related activities as a result of the charges and arrest.

“We take all accusations against our student-athletes seriously, especially those of such a sensitive nature. We hold all of our 350+ student-athletes to a high standard, on and off the playing surface, as ambassadors of Marshall University, “said Hamrick.

Huntington Police Detective Chris Sperry tells WSAZ one of the victims recorded the whole incident on his cell phone.

Sperry says the couple had been in a similar situation previously and said if they ever were in that situation again, they would video it for proof.

"If it wasn't for the video, it would have been his word against theirs and we wouldn't have had anything. But luckily, they videoed it and that's why we're here today," Sperry said.

According to Sperry, in the video, you can hear Steward using derogatory comments to the couple. "It's not a pleasant thing to watch," he said.

Sperry tells WSAZ Steward claimed self defense. "Originally he said he felt threatened, that they were approaching his vehicle and he felt threatened," Sperry said.

"Huntington is a good place, but you've got a few bad people that do things like that. It's just a shame that you can't enjoy life and freedom," Sperry told WSAZ.

If convicted on the charges, Butler faces two years behind bars, or a $1000 fine. He was released on a $10,000 recognizance bond. His attorney was with him throughout the hearing.

Huntington Police say there were two other Marshall football players in the vehicle when the incident happened. Sperry says neither of them are facing charges and that one of the players urged Steward, "Let's go. Let's get out of here."

Sperry tells WSAZ the case is being forwarded to the US Attorney's Office and the FBI to determine if there is a civil rights violation. He says due to a change in wording in the code, they cannot file a civil rights violation on the county level.

According to Huntington Police, an administrator in the football office has seen the video.

The Marshall University Athletic Department released the following statement shorty after Butler was arrested:

"We are aware of the situation involving Marshall running back Steward Butler and are currently in the process of gathering all available information. We will handle the matter internally and appropriately."

Later, Marshall University Interim President Gary G. White issued this statement:

“The entire university community is shocked and disappointed to learn the details surrounding the alleged actions that led to Mr. Butler’s arrest this morning.

“The type of violent, bigoted behavior reported to have been perpetrated by this student is not tolerated at Marshall University. Period. This is an extremely serious matter.

“We will allow the legal process to run its course and will act swiftly and appropriately within our Student Conduct System and according to the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities as more details become clear.”

Andrew Schneider, Fairness West Virginia Executive Director, issued the following statement today regarding the alleged assault of two gay men in Huntington:

"As the facts emerge out of Huntington on the alleged assault of two gay men by Marshall University running back, Steward Butler, Fairness West Virginia supports the swift actions of Marshall University and the Marshall University Athletic Department. We hope that this reprehensible behavior can ultimately lead to greater education, understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.

By nature, hate crimes target innocent victims simply because of the color of their skin, their religious views, or in this case, the sex of the person they love. Hate-based violence fosters anxiety and mistrust and ultimately brings fear to whole neighborhoods, communities and towns.

There is no place for violence or intolerance in any community in West Virginia. Huntington like so many communities in the Mountain State has actively worked to ensure all of her citizens feel welcome and safe.

Unfortunately, the alleged actions of Butler undermine the strides taken by both the City of Huntington and by Marshall University to become inclusive communities.

With the passage of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 and Huntington’s adoption an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in 2013, it is abundantly clear that West Virginia and the nation as a whole have taken huge steps toward the acceptance and fair treatment of LGBT people. However, there is still work to be done."

Keep clicking on WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.