Roughriders' GM charged with sexual assault

Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Eric Tillman said Tuesday that people should wait for the full story behind his being charged with sexual assault before reaching any conclusions.

Tillman says he's been 'completely co-operative' and 'told the truth from day one'

Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Eric Tillman said Tuesday that people should wait for the full story behind his being charged with sexual assault before reaching any conclusions.

"I ask you to judge it as it goes forward and the facts and the truth are told," Tillman said at a late afternoon news conference.

Earlier in the day, Regina police confirmed that the 51-year-old veteran CFL executive and former broadcaster had been formally charged on Jan. 27, although details of what is alleged to have happened haven't been disclosed.

Tillman has been general manager and vice-president of football operations for the team since mid-2006. Police told CBC News on Tuesday that the charge related to an alleged incident on Aug. 6, 2008, in Regina.

The complainant, a 16-year-old girl, made her allegation three days later on Aug. 9, police spokeswoman Elizabeth Popowich told CBC News.

"It was investigated thoroughly," Popowich said.  "And only when investigators are confident they have gathered all the information necessary and in a case where there is evidence to support a charge, then a charge is laid and it proceeds."

Shortly after 5 p.m. CT, Tillman provided a brief statement to reporters at a news conference at a downtown Regina Hotel.

"I've been absolutely, totally and completely co-operative," Tillman said, adding that he had "told the truth from day one."

Tillman said he had been scheduled to fly out of the country earlier in the day but canceled his plan in order to speak to the media.

"As you might imagine, this is not fun," Tillman said, flanked by his lawyer, Aaron Fox, a prominent defence counsel in Regina.

Tillman said he wanted to say more, "but out of respect to the individuals that are involved, many of whom I have profound respect for, I'll simply say that I've told the truth, [and] the process will unfold."

At a separate news conference earlier in the day at the team's offices at Mosaic Stadium, Riders club president Jim Hopson said he was "stunned" when he heard over the noon hour that Tillman was charged but added that Tillman is presumed innocent until it's proved otherwise.

He confirmed Tillman remains as general manager but has been put on paid leave and will not be involved in team operations. Head coach Ken Miller will take over some of his duties, Hopson said.

"The club is going to continue to operate on a daily basis," said Hopson, who conceded that business as usual will not be easy.

"It's going to be an emotional time for a lot of folks."

Fans, players shocked

Although Tillman was charged a week ago, Hopson said he didn't have any trouble with the fact that he didn't find out until Tuesday.

"I don't have a right as president of the club to have immediate information like that," Hopson said, adding he had known about the investigation into the allegations since September.

During Tillman's news conference, lawyer Aaron Fox told reporters that he was not even sure if the matter will go before a judge.

"I don't know that the Crown is proceeding," Fox said when asked about the next step in the judicial process. "I expect there could be a lot of developments between now and Feb. 24," the date set for Tillman to appear in provincial court in Regina.

One member of the Roughriders who didn't want to be identified said the players are shocked.

Fans of the team were similarly taken aback by the news.

"It's pretty shocking," Jason Weinkauf told CBC News at the Regina sports bar he manages.

"I thought, 'Wow'," said Weinkauf's wife, Mia, adding that she hoped the allegations were false.

"After all the Roughriders have achieved and accomplished … [and given Tillman's] age and his credibility, I was quite amazed, like, quite disappointed," Mia Weinkauf said, noting that the team had overcome other scandals with players facing charges. 

Arriving in Regina midway through the 2006 season, Tillman has been popular with fans. In 2007, the Riders won their first Grey Cup championship since 1989.

Tillman was also general manager of the B.C. Lions when they won the Grey Cup in 1994.

During Tillman's tenure with Saskatchewan, the team adopted a code of conduct requiring players to obey the law, act with honesty and integrity, respect others and take responsibility for their actions.

Plans for the code came about following several high-profile conflicts with the law involving players. One player, Trevis Smith, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2007 after being convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault.