A person identified as a Florida State Highway Patrol trooper close to former South Florida coach Jim Leavitt says Leavitt did not mistreat former walk-on Joel Miller, according to a document obtained by CBSSports.com.
Leavitt attorney Will Florin says the document contains information that was "suppressed" by South Florida officials after they interviewed the trooper during an investigation into Leavitt's conduct.
A statement signed by what Florin says is Florida Highway Patrol trooper Benny Perez states that at halftime of the Nov. 21 game against Louisville, "Coach Leavitt did not grab Miller's neck nor did he choke or strike Miller."
Leavitt was fired with cause on Jan. 8 following a three-week investigation by the school. Leavitt was released not only for laying hands on Miller but also impeding the subsequent investigation into the matter, the school said.
Perez would be the third person, though, who has said Leavitt did not mistreat the player since the school's investigation began.
A message for a trooper Benny Perez who works out of the Tampa FHP Troop C office was not immediately returned. There is a Benny Perez who worked a security game-day detail protecting Leavitt.
Through a spokesman, South Florida officials had no comment on Perez's statement.
"We stand by our decision regarding Coach Leavitt," the spokesman said.
Perez's latest statement seems to clarify comments he gave to South Florida officials during their investigation into Leavitt. In the 61-page report released last month, Perez' recollections of the Nov. 21 halftime are summarized in a couple of sentences. Perez was in the locker room at the time Leavitt was alleged to have struck and choked Miller. Perez did "recall Leavitt grabbing someone by the collar or jersey during this particular halftime, but he couldn't recall who the player was," according to the report.
In his latest statement Perez says he has "never witnessed [Leavitt] choke or strike any student-athlete." Perez also said that as a law enforcement officer he has investigated a "multitude" of criminal offenses and conducted "hundreds" of investigations and witness interviews.
"If I had seen an assault or battery upon Miller ... I would have had a duty as a law enforcement officer to do something ..." Perez said in the statement. "However, nothing of the sort occurred."
"It's not fair to suppress the account of an on-duty law enforcement officer," Florin said.
Previous to Perez, the father of walk-on defensive end Cody Durakovic told the Tampa Tribune shortly after Leavitt's firing that he did not see the coach strike Miller. Strength coach Ronnie McKeefery told school officials in the school's report that Leavitt popped Miller's shoulder pads twice and grabbed his jersey, but that there was no slap.
Fanhouse.com broke the Miller-Leavitt story in mid-December, using information from seven sources, including Miller's father and high school coach.
Shortly after the Fanhouse.com story broke, Miller told ESPN that the incident never happened. Miller later said he was only trying to protect Leavitt and changed his story again. In January he demanded an apology from the coach. Leavitt has maintained his innocence throughout the process.
Lawyers for Leavitt and South Florida are currently in mediation talks.