Former UM football player enters plea in assault

Strong pleaded no contest, convicted on misdemeanor charge

IAN SMAY, Evergreen reporter

The former University of Montana football player who allegedly assaulted a WSU track and field athlete in 2017 pleaded no contest in Whitman County Superior Court on Friday.

Justin Strong, a 22-year-old who played his final season with the Grizzlies last year, faced a second-degree felony assault charge for allegedly hitting WSU track and field athlete Wyatt Meyring twice in the head, fracturing Meyring’s skull, Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy said.

“The state’s witnesses at trial would have testified that they saw Strong hit Meyring twice,” Tracy said. “Once that knocked him down and the second time as Meyring was getting up. [His] head hit the ground when he was knocked down and that fractured his skull and he got a serious condition from that.”

Although the incident injured Meyring, he was still able to compete in his senior season and performed well for the Cougars, Tracy said.

Strong accepted a deal that saw him enter a no contest plea, also known as an Alford plea, in exchange for Tracy to reduce the second-degree felony assault charge to fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor in Washington, Tracy said. An Alford plea means the defendant is not admitting guilt but concedes that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict, he said.

As part of his plea deal, Strong will remain on probation for a year and pay $400 in restitution, Tracy said. Strong received credit for his time served on the weekend the incident happened.

While Strong had originally claimed he acted out of self-defense, Tracy said the prosecution had witnesses saying Meyring put his hands up in a gesture showing he didn’t want to fight.

A civil lawsuit was settled between the two parties and Tracy took Meyring’s wishes into consideration when deciding whether to offer Strong a plea deal, he said.

“He was in support [of reducing the charge] as long as Mr. Strong entered an Alford plea,” Tracy said. “As long as Mr. Strong ended up with a conviction, that’s what Mr. Meyring wanted to see.”