Story, photo and video by Megan Cole / Assistant News Editor
Kevin Martin walked into the courtroom on the sixth floor of the Rutherford County Judicial Center wearing faded gray jeans, a purple T-shirt, black Nike’s and a black hooded coat. While waiting for his case to be called, he repeatedly looked down at his smartphone and back up at the judge. His nervousness was apparent. Martin bit his lip and frequently pushed his glasses up on his nose until he heard the bailiff call out his name and case number. The day was Nov. 20, 2018. The case of State of Tennessee vs. Kevin Martin was just beginning.
But, in many ways, Martin’s life had come to an end months before when he was escorted by police out of the student media newsroom at Middle Tennessee State University. The reason was simple: He wasn’t a student. Non-students can’t participate in student media. He was told not to come back to the place that for the better part of two years had been the place he spent the majority of his college career.
On top of that development are his real legal problems, the reason his name is on the court docket: He’s been charged with four counts of sexual battery. He met a woman on a dating app in February of 2018. There was one date and, according to court documents, it went badly.
The police report stated, “Kevin Martin, a guy she had met on a dating app, groped her under her shirt, and inappropriately touched her outside of her pants. When she dropped him off at his apartment, she stated during their date Mr. Martin was very ‘touchy feely,’ to which she told Mr. Martin to not be that way on numerous occasions throughout the date.”
The woman’s friend, who accompanied her on the date, witnessed her denying Martin’s advances.
Martin grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated from Antioch High School in 2016 and enrolled at MTSU, majoring in Media Arts with a concentration in video production. Soon after arriving in the fall of 2016, he joined MT10. He could often be found in the student media newsroom before and after newscasts. Sometimes he would stay in the newsroom all day.
“Kevin spent a lot of time in the CIM (Center for Innovation in Media). He would spend the night in there sometimes,” said Perry Burton, MT10’s assistant news director.
Martin, 20, has bushy dark hair and a younger looking face, framed by dark, thick-rimmed glasses. The sexual battery allegation stunned student media members and faculty.
“I was shocked,” said David Janes, one of Martin’s close friends.
Janes is a journalism student at MTSU and has spent a lot of time with Martin.
“It’s a weird situation to talk about him now that he’s not here. I think for the other students that don’t know him, they’re freaked out about him too because this guy had a sexual battery charge and he was on our campus,” Janes said.
Martin was accused of sexual battery after going on a date last February with a woman he met on Bumble, a dating app. The woman, whose name is withheld because Sidelines doesn’t identify those who present themselves to police as victims of a sex crime, filed a complaint against Martin several days after their date.
In an October interview, Martin said the charges were false.
“I know the truth, and I know that I’m innocent,” Martin told Sidelines.
He described his intimate encounter with the woman on Feb. 12, 2018 as consensual.
The victim declined to comment to Sidelines but said she felt threatened enough to ask for an order of protection against Martin. That order of protection remains in effect.
Martin told Sidelines that he messaged both his accuser and a friend of hers after the date. He said he wanted to make sure everything was OK after he had not heard from her, but he received no response. Ten days later, on Feb. 22, 2018, Kelvin Jones, a Murfreesboro Police detective, called Martin in to discuss the situation.
Martin acknowledged that he wrote the victim a letter of apology after he was called in by Jones.
He was asked again to report to the Murfreesboro Police Department and was charged on Feb. 27, 2018.
Although a local news site wrote a short article about the charges, this news was not covered by student media. After several months, Martin told a few friends in student media about the charges, but his pending case was not a widely known fact.
Many of Martin’s friends and acquaintances said he helped them throughout his time in the Media and Entertainment program at MTSU.
Former Sidelines Sports Editor Tyler Lamb described how Martin helped him during their trip to the 2017 NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Martin was a videographer and assisted with graphics for Sidelines.
“At the NCAA Tournament, you pull all-nighters. Kevin would stay up all night with me when he didn’t have to while I was working on things just to keep me company. That’s just the type of guy he was,” Lamb said.
As it turns out, however, Martin had a secret. He wasn’t a student.
Martin began taking classes at MTSU in fall 2016 and became involved with the student organization, MT10 News. But after his first year at MTSU, Martin said he dropped out due to monetary issues after the fall of 2017.
Despite this, Martin remained heavily involved with MT10 News. For nearly a year, Martin portrayed himself as a student to gain swipe access to the Bragg Building after normal hours. He told other students and faculty that he was taking all online classes in order to create more time for student media. The last time he was enrolled in classes, according to university records, was fall of 2017, but he remained on campus and involved in student organizations for nearly 10 months after that.
Martin said that he remained at the university even though he was no longer taking classes or receiving any benefits because, “When I started with MT10 back during my freshman year, that was my happy place.”
At this point in his interview with Sidelines, Martin began to cry.
“That’s where I felt at home, because home wasn’t home,” Martin said. “My home was there (the CIM). Whenever I found out I wasn’t a student here anymore, it was after a lot of people had built up their trust with me, a reliance with me, and I didn’t want to let them down. And when I was told that I couldn’t come back, it was the worst day of my life.”
Martin continued to work with MT10 News and Media Arts, even though these programs are designated for students.
“At the end of the day, I just liked being around everybody because that’s what brought me out of my depression and anxiety,” Martin said.
The university became aware of this when he worked a Media Arts Production shoot for the first home football game of the year on Sept. 8, 2018. Cable networks such as ESPN often use the satellite truck operated by the College of Media and Entertainment to transmit coverage of MTSU sporting events. Student workers man positions in the truck and at camera posts on the football field. An extra handheld camera operator was needed, for which Martin stepped in to help. After signing the required paperwork to be paid, officials in the College of Media and Entertainment learned Martin was not a student.
Numerous faculty members informed Martin that he was no longer allowed to participate in any student program, but Martin continued to show up. Mike Forbes, the assistant director of technical systems for the Media Arts Department, told Martin that if he kept coming to meetings for MT10, he would be escorted out of the building.
“We have very strict rules about who can use our facilities, so in order to use our facilities, you have to be an enrolled student,” Forbes said.
Martin continued to show up to meetings and was removed from the Bragg Building on Sept. 27, 2018, by campus police after Madison Stewart, MT10’s general manager, put in a call.
Martin’s face became engulfed with anger during his interview with Sidelines.
“I had an attorney – notice the word ‘had’ – because I can no longer afford an attorney,” Martin said. “That’s also why I can’t afford school. That’s why I can’t be here, because I can’t afford to go to MTSU. I have been kicked out of the one place that kept me happy.”
Martin questioned the university’s action of removing him, asking, “If you know I’m not causing any harm or doing anything wrong, why remove me?”
Martin’s court date was on Nov. 20, 2018, but his plea hearing was rescheduled for Jan. 4, 2019. He is now represented by a public defender.
During his interview, Martin said he lost his lease at his apartment because he had been charged with sexual assault. The apartment complex did not respond for comment. Martin said he is homeless.
As Martin wiped away his tears with the sleeve of his jacket, he paused.
“I didn’t want it to go away, I didn’t want my life to just go away,” Martin said of his time working in student media. “I don’t care what happens to me. I just want other people to have fun and feel at home too … And that’s why I was doing what I was doing.”
See below for an interactive timeline of the events recounted in the above story.
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