Though their case ended with the suspect dead of an apparent suicide, Howard County police defended their investigation of Justin Fashanu for an alleged sexual assault on a 17-year-old Columbia boy.
Fashanu, a flamboyant British ex-soccer star known more in recent years for his off-field antics than his on-field play, was found dead Saturday in London. Police sources there said he appeared to have hanged himself.
Sgt. Morris Carroll, spokesman for the Howard County Police Department, declined to comment on the death yesterday, saying the department had yet to receive official notification. But he denied that a delay in attempting to arrest Fashanu or in notifying international authorities of charges against him contributed to the failure to catch the suspect.
"Quite honestly, we acted quickly," said Carroll. "It sometimes takes time to gather hard evidence and interview witnesses."
The alleged assault occurred March 25. Carroll said Fashanu was interviewed -- but not detained -- the next day. When police returned March 27, it appeared that Fashanu had fled.
"He denied the allegations," Carroll said. "We have to put together an investigation and determine exactly what did happen."
Fashanu was formally charged April 3 with second-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault and second-degree assault. If convicted, he would have faced a maximum 20-year sentence for the sex offense, Carroll said.
Though detectives had "no idea" where or when Fashanu fled, police did not alert federal and international agencies until last week, when they were about to go public with their search for the fugitive, Carroll said.
"We don't automatically" notify those agencies, Carroll said. "He probably didn't even know there was a warrant for his arrest."
Fashanu's death came after the warrant was publicized in this country and in England. British authorities said preliminary autopsy results were inconclusive and it would take a few days before the cause of death is known.
The 37-year-old Briton was living in Ellicott City when the alleged incident occurred and was planning to coach the Maryland Mania, a minor league soccer team scheduled to begin play next spring.
The 17-year-old alleged victim and five others were partying at Fashanu's apartment March 24, according to court records.
That night, the alleged victim, who admitted smoking marijuana and drinking, fell asleep on the living room couch and awoke the next morning with Fashanu performing a sexual act on him, according to court documents.
A medical examination that afternoon revealed evidence of sexual assault, the documents state.
The youth notified police, who escorted him to the hospital. Detectives questioned him and other witnesses that afternoon, Carroll said.
The next afternoon, detectives questioned Fashanu at his apartment, where he denied any sexual contact with the victim, according to court records. But when detectives returned March 27 to search the apartment, Fashanu had packed his bags and fled, Carroll said.
The alleged victim and his family told The Sun that police acted appropriately but possibly not quickly enough to keep Fashanu from fleeing.
When Fashanu was 17 years old, he was a highly rated striker in English soccer with the Norwich City team and appeared destined for the top of the soccer world. In 1981, he moved to the First Division team Nottingham Forest for about $1.67 million.
But Fashanu found himself rapidly disappearing from the limelight. From the glory of the First Division, now the Premiership, he found himself relegated to the less refined surroundings of Third Division Torquay United.
A knee injury kept him out of the game for six years in the 1980s. Attempts to salvage his career with spells at Manchester City, West Ham, Leyton Orient and Newcastle between 1989 and 1991 failed. He played on teams in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.
An embittered Fashanu, who admitted he was gay in 1990, blamed his demise on what he described as a deep-seated prejudice in the English game.
The story of his death and life was splashed across the British tabloids yesterday.
Pub Date: 5/05/98