Daniel Holtzclaw at Eastern Michigan

ENID, Okla — Innocent until proven guilty. It’s a phrase that keeps resonating in my mind in the wake of the startling news that former Enid High School and Eastern Michigan football standout Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer, was arrested Thursday on multiple counts of alleged sexual assaults while on duty.

The other phrase that keeps being repeated by those, like myself, who have known Holtzclaw for several years is “not the Daniel Holtzlcaw I know.” Because, it’s not. Even more, it doesn’t seem even remotely fathomable the young man I watched at Eastern Michigan University for four years while covering the team could possibly be capable of such acts.

During his time at Eastern Michigan, the 2004 Enid High School graduate was considered the consummate teammate. He never missed a workout, led by example on the field and in the weight room. For people in Michigan, most who had never heard of Enid, Okla., he was the perfect ambassador of Oklahoma values.

His play on the field was stellar. In his freshman year, he racked up 107 tackles and four interceptions, earning first-team Freshman All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America. By the time he finished at EMU in 2008, he had 437 career tackles to rank among the all-time leaders at EMU, the Mid-American Conference and the NCAA.

He had hoped to land in the NFL, but was not selected in the 2009 NFL draft, considered undersized by NFL standards. He had an invitation with the Detroit Lions, but did not stick with the team.

But football and numbers are a very small part of why the news of his arrest, jailing and being held on an astonishingly high $5 million bond is so shocking.

While his play on the field was stellar, he was exemplary off the field, as well. He had the respect of teammates, coaches and writers. He was a bright spot on a team that had very few bright spots.

His head coach at the time, Jeff Genyk, called him the hardest-working player he had been around and said nobody deserved success more than Holtzclaw.

That respect still is evident today with former teammate Darren Matthews’ posting on Facebook, “This is unreal. Daniel is a man of integrity!”

I had the opportunity on many occasions to interview Holtzclaw and talk with him informally. Our paths seemed inextricably linked, and I will freely admit I came to like him and respect him, and so, yes, this news is personally upsetting.

After leaving EMU, Holtzclaw returned home to Enid where I had taken a job with the Enid News & Eagle. My first story was covering him at home on NFL draft day. I talked to him several times since then and interviewed him shortly after he joined the OKC Police Department. It was a job he embraced enthusiastically.

He went into law enforcement after obtaining his criminal justice degree from EMU.

People from EMU to Enid who have known him are having a difficult time connecting Holtzclaw to his alleged crimes. The phrase “not the Daniel I know” is repeated with heaviness and disbelief in their voices. After all, this is a young man, 27 years old, who likely has never so much as skipped a class, let alone committed a crime.

To say the allegations against him are out of character, would be a massive understatement.

The news of his arrest has gone national as we as a nation seem transfixed especially now by stories of alleged misdeeds of cops. What makes it even more enticing to the national press is the fact his accusers are all black females, making a racial angle hard to ignore in their eyes. Never mind Holtzclaw is partially of Asian descent.

As the story has gone national, the comments online have gotten ugly. Too many people willing to assume guilt. Too many willing to cast aside due process.

Some of the Facebook posts on our site have been ugly as well. It is sad to see Enidites so willing to throw a young man under the bus. Yes, the allegations are troubling, and if true, should be dealt with harshly as sexual assault and rape are horrific crimes, but we do not know the whole story yet. Folks making such comments need to remember this young man has family members here in town who are trying to come to grips with this awful situation.

He is to be charged sometime next week and hopefully more will be known. We have only heard one side so far.

It is impossible for me to reconcile these allegations to the young man I have known now for the past nine years. Indeed, as so many others have been saying, it is not the Daniel Holtzclaw I know, and unless proven otherwise, I refuse to believe differently. While many rush to convict him in the court of public opinion, I will extend to him the presumption of innocence. Hopefully others can do the same.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.

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