Grand jury clears ex-BU athletic official in alleged assault

Heath Nielsen. (File photo)
Heath Nielsen. (File photo)(KWTX)
Published: Feb. 15, 2017 at 1:05 PM CST
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The McLennan County Grand Jury Wednesday declined to indict former Baylor Associate Athletic Director Heath Nielsen, 47, who was arrested in November on a misdemeanor assault warrant.

The warrant stemmed from an incident on Nov. 5, 2016 in which a sportswriter alleged that he was grabbed by the throat and pushed away from a player after the Bears’ 62-22 loss to TCU.

The confrontation was captured by a camera that’s part of the video system in McLane Stadium and grand jurors viewed the video Wednesday morning.

“We are not surprised, but we are grateful that the video evidence revealed the truth and innocence of Heath Nielsen regarding the recent accusations made against him,” Nielsen’s attorney, Michelle Tuegel said in a brief statement.

“Mr. Nielsen’s case is an example of the power of a false accusation and the importance of the presumption of innocence.”

McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna took the unusual step of presenting the misdemeanor case to the grand jury, which ordinarily reviews only felony cases.

Nielsen’s 16-year career at the university ended on Feb. 3, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

Nielsen’s twitter account is no longer associated with Baylor athletics, and he’s been removed from the Baylor website.

The victim of the Nov. 5 attack, James McBride had received permission from a football player to take a photograph, but after the picture was taken “Nielsen walked up to McBride on the right, grabbed McBride by the throat with his right hand, squeezed and pushed him away from the football player,’ according to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by KWTX in November.

When McBride and the player asked Nielsen what the problem was, he replied, “He’s abusing his privileges,” ‘the affidavit said.

“McBride had visible scratches and complained of pain around his throat.”

The injuries were photographed, the affidavit says.

McBride was writing for Texas Blaze News, a community newspaper in Keller.

He later told KWTX that Nielsen told him, “You’ll never f****** work in this business again. You’re abusing your privileges on the field.”

A spokesperson for the newspaper said stadium cameras recorded the incident.

KWTX has requested the video, but the university declined to release it.

After the arrest, Nielsen’s attorney, Tuegel, issued a brief statement in which she said Nielsen denied attacking McBride.

“The one-sided version of events released by the complainant are not true or accurate. Mr. Nielsen maintains that he intervened to stop the interview, but he did not grab the complainant’s throat,” she said in the statement.

Nielsen returned to work after his arrest in a much less visible role, but sources said was punished at some point.

Since 2012, Nielsen had been responsible for management of the football program's public image.

Before that, Nielsen spent six years as the school’s director of athletic media relations and six years as assistant athletic director of communications.

He joined the Baylor staff in 2000 after two years as assistant athletics director for media relations at New Mexico State University.

Before that, he was assistant director of athletic media relations at Mississippi State University.

He’s a 1994 graduate of Utah State University.