April 16, 2015 / 9:29 PM / in 3 years

Rape accuser sues football star Jameis Winston in Florida court

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - College football star Jameis Winston, a contender for the top pick in the upcoming National Football League draft, was sued on Thursday in Florida court by a woman who claims he raped her in 2012, highlighting concerns about his off-the-field reputation.

The lawsuit seeks financial damages from the quarterback at a sensitive time for the NFL, which has come under scrutiny for its handling of allegations of rape and domestic violence by its players.

Winston did not face criminal charges in the alleged rape and was cleared of any conduct code violations as a student at Florida State University. Still, questions about the sexual encounter, which he has maintained was consensual, have attracted wide media attention.

The woman filed the lawsuit in a state court in Orlando, in part seeking to force Winston to answer questions under oath about what happened, said her attorney, John Clune.

“She wants Mr. Winston to be held accountable for what he did, and nobody else has seemed that motivated to do that so far,” Clune said.

He acknowledged the NFL draft, which starts on April 30, factored into the timing of the lawsuit, saying she did not want to be accused of protecting Winston until he secured a lucrative contract.

The accuser was a freshman at Florida State University at the time of the alleged rape in December 2012.

A representative for Winston could not immediately be reached for comment.

Many experts consider Winston, who in 2013 won the Heisman Trophy as the top U.S. college football player, a leading choice for the top NFL draft pick, held by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The suit accuses Winston of sexual battery and assault, according to a copy provided to Reuters by Clune.

In 2013, Winston was cleared by a Florida state attorney of possible sexual assault charges after authorities determined there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

Late last year, a student conduct code hearing looking into the charges also found insufficient evidence against Winston.

The rape allegations are the subject of a lawsuit against Florida State under Title IX, which requires colleges receiving federal funds to promptly investigate complaints of sexual abuse.

Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Sandra Maler and Mohammad Zargham

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