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Emily Welker, Published October 02 2013

‘No red flags’ popped up for VCSU football player charged with murder

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – A star college football player here is suspected in a fatal shooting outside a club in Minneapolis last weekend, a player a Valley City State University spokesman said raised “no red flags” despite a juvenile record including two incidents first charged out as felony vehicle theft.

Cedric Chappell Jr., 21, is charged in Hennepin County District Court with second-degree murder and attempted murder after a witness picked him out of a lineup as the man who fatally shot a 22-year-old St. Paul man in a shootout outside the bar and restaurant early Saturday, court records say.

Chappell, who is initially from Minneapolis, was arrested Tuesday and is awaiting extradition at the Barnes County Jail. He was arrested during football practice, according to a fellow player.

Court documents filed in the case state Minneapolis police responded to reports of shots fired just after 2 a.m. Saturday outside the Blue Nile Nightclub at 2027 E. Franklin Ave., an Ethiopian restaurant and bar.

Authorities found one man dead from a single gunshot wound to the chest. Police identified him as 22-year-old Willie James Smith III, court records say.

Police claim in court records that an investigation revealed there was a fight inside the Blue Nile between two groups of people which, after spilling out into the nearby parking lot, ended in gunfire. Cars in the parking lot were left with bullet holes and casings littered the ground, according to court records.

Another man, the criminal complaint alleges, was shot in the leg, and managed to limp to a nearby fire station. He is not identified in the complaint.

A witness told police he was personally familiar with Chappell and picked him out of a six-person lineup as the shooter.

The complaint alleges that when police contacted Chappell, he admitted being present at the scene and hearing gunshots, and to wearing similar clothes as the shooter, who the report describes as a black man in a red shirt.

Chappell, a standout two-sport athlete in high school in Minneapolis, was a wide receiver on the VCSU football team who was leading the Vikings through four games in both receiving yards and touchdowns, with 232 yards and five scores.

The charges came as a surprise to the close-knit Valley City State University community, said VCSU spokesman Greg Vanney, adding that there were “no red flags” in Chappell’s time at the university.

Nor did Chappell cause any issues while at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, Vanney said. Chappell was at NDSCS for about two years before transferring to VCSU in January to study health science and play for the Vikings, he said.

Vanney said both college presidents conferred about the situation in the wake of Chappell’s arrest.

“Our coaches are experienced coaches. … They do their homework, they talk to people,” said Vanney, of the university’s vetting of potential student athletes.

That process includes an application all potential students are required to fill out which ask applicants to list any felony or violent misdemeanor criminal history as well as sex offender status. It’s required by the state university system, Vanney said.

Vanney said he did not know whether anyone at VCSU was aware of Chappell’s juvenile criminal history. Chappell was charged with felony motor vehicle theft in January of 2010 and again with felony motor vehicle theft and receiving stolen property in March of the same year.

Both cases were pleaded down to lesser charges. Court records show he pleaded guilty to two gross misdemeanors – motor vehicle theft and receiving stolen property – in March 2010 and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation.

The current vetting system relies on self-reporting by a potential student, and Vanney said he did not think VCSU would change that approach, since it was based on a statewide requirement.

“But we’re not going to forget this, either,” he said.

Vanney said Chappell had been suspended from the school and the team per student handbook rules that allow university officials to do so if they believe there is an immediate danger to other students.

More permanent removal of a student requires a hearing, he said, and university officials were waiting to see how the legal case played out before taking that step.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541