See more of the story

Two University of Minnesota wrestlers had their suspensions from the team lifted Friday after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said they wouldn’t be charged in a sexual assault case.

Freeman said at a morning news conference that there was “inadequate evidence” to prosecute Gable Steveson and teammate Dylan Martinez, and there were conflicting accounts of the alleged incident.

In a written statement, the U’s athletic department said: “We became aware today of the Hennepin County Attorney’s decision to bring no charges against two of our student-athletes. In accordance with our Student-Athlete Code of Conduct, we have decided to lift the suspension of the student-athletes involved. They are immediately eligible to rejoin team activities.”

Steveson made his season debut in Friday night’s Gophers victory at South Dakota State University in Brookings, earning a 21-8 major decision at heavyweight over Blake Wolters. The team will travel to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a tournament on Dec. 29-30.

The two wrestlers were arrested in June on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. They were booked and released from jail pending the investigation. The U did not name the wrestlers when news of the alleged incident broke but issued a statement noting that two athletes had been suspended from team activity.

Lee Hutton, Steveson’s lawyer, said the wrestler’s family was “relieved and pleased that after 100-plus days this event is over. Gable has missed matches and has not been able to participate in the sport he is so passionate about.”

This was to be a big year for Steveson, a national star in the sport, and the Gophers wrestling team. The U is playing host to the NCAA wrestling championships next year at U.S. Bank Stadium, and Steveson was expected to contend for a national title.

Instead, Steveson’s image was scrubbed from team promotional materials. Both he and Martinez were banned from practicing or competing with the team, though they were allowed to go to classes and confer with their coach.

Steveson competed elsewhere and recently qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials, where he is a legitimate contender for a spot on the U.S. team that will go to the 2020 games in Japan next summer.

Freeman said at the news conference that he wouldn’t release details of the alleged incident because his office doesn’t believe in “re-victimizing the victim.”

He added: “We appreciate her bravery in reporting this incident to the police.”

Like all criminal prosecutions, sexual assaults must meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction, Freeman said.

“There are often conflicting versions of what happened, and this case is no exception. In the interest of justice, there is inadequate evidence to fairly charge and prosecute this case,” he said.

Legal constraints

A St. Paul man called 911 in June and reported that his friend had been assaulted. St. Paul referred the call to Minneapolis, where the alleged incident occurred.

The allegations have not been made public, though Freeman said five witnesses were involved in the investigation. Evidence included police reports, interviews with the participants, DNA and “other forensics,” Freeman said.

He tied alcohol to the case, mentioning that Wisconsin has passed legislation giving prosecutors broad discretion to charge suspects who know or should know that one’s drinking can impair their ability to give consent.

He pointedly noted that his office, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and others have pushed Minnesota lawmakers, “so far unsuccessfully,” to adopt a similar law.

“Given Minnesota current laws regarding intoxication and a victim’s ability to give consent, we were working under some significant constraints,” Freeman said of the investigation into the wrestlers.

Steveson’s criminal defense attorney, Christa Groshek, said her office conducted its own investigation and didn’t believe the outcome would have been affected by legislation such as Wisconsin’s.

“He’s 100 percent innocent,” she said of Steveson. “He’s been forthright with the police. He didn’t hide anything.”

It was unclear whether Martinez had legal representation.

Hutton said Steveson was especially excited to be able to return for the Big Ten season opener on Jan. 10 against Wisconsin at Maturi Pavilion.

Steveson was a Minnesota wrestling star long before he arrived at the U. He won four straight high school wrestling championships and compiled a 212-3 record for Apple Valley. As a freshman at the U, he was 35-2 for the Gophers and finished third at the 2019 NCAA Championships.

Martinez has two years of eligibility remaining with the U after not wrestling last year. Before joining the Gophers, he wrestled for Fresno City College and was a two-time California Community College champion. He wrestled for Clovis (Calif.) High School and contributed to its 91 consecutive dual meet victories.

chao.xiong@startribune.com 612-270-4708 • Twitter: @ChaoStrib raolson@startribune.com 612-673-1747