GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida Gators backup quarterback Jalen Kitna bonded out of jail Thursday evening after he was arrested Wednesday on two charges of distribution of child exploitation material and three charges of possession of child pornography.
The day after his arrest, Kitna, 19, appeared in court from the Alachua County jail via closed-circuit television. He seemed visibly shaken when he appeared before a judge and was brought into court wearing a green suicide prevention vest, but deputies offered no explanation as to why.
Thursday’s court proceedings moved from a first appearance to a bond hearing where his defense attorneys argued why the judge should release him on his own recognizance, telling the judge that he would cooperate, and until now, has an unblemished history.
His parents, Jennifer and retired NFL quarterback Jon Kitna, testified that if he was released, they would take their son to their home in Texas as he awaits future court proceedings.
Around 12:15 p.m., Judge Meshon Rawls set Kitna’s bond at $80,000 after hearing arguments from the defense and prosecutors, saying Kitna cannot access the internet as he awaits trial and cannot have any unsupervised contact with minors. His defense argued for internet access so that the University of Florida student-athlete could finish exams.
“He’s got a great family. He’s got good family support. He’s going to be well taken care of,” one of Kitna’s attorneys, Caleb Kenyon, said outside the courthouse.
About six hours later, News4JAX confirmed that Kitna had bonded out.
“I’ve seen bonds higher in some cases, I’ve seen bonds lower,” said attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case.
Nichols said lawyers on both sides will have to look at the facts.
“The lawyers are going to have to look at the photos, look at the evidence,” he said. “They’re going to have to see whether or not this person did actually send photos back and forth.”
Kitna is also being represented by Gainesville attorney Ron Kozlowski and well-known Jacksonville attorney Hank Coxe, ESPN reports.
The Gainesville Police Department on Wednesday afternoon announced the arrest in a news release and said the investigation was initiated when the department received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in June. The tip indicated that a Discord user distributed an image of child sexual abuse through its chat platform.
Further investigation by a detective showed two images were shared via Kitna’s Discord account at his apartment in Gainesville, police said. A detective contacted Kitna at his residence and interviewed him. Kitna said that he remembered sharing the two images but believed them to be “legal” since he found them online and that his Discord account was later deactivated because of a violation of the terms of service, according to police.
“Discord has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual abuse, which does not have a place on our platform or anywhere in society,” a Discord spokesperson said in a statement released to The Associated Press. “We work relentlessly to find and remove this abhorrent content and take action including banning the users responsible and engaging with the proper authorities.”
According to the eight-page arrest report that News4JAX obtained Thursday detailing the allegations against Kitna, in one image, a girl appears pre-pubescent and the words “so young” are typed on the photo, among other things, and the other image shows a girl around puberty age.
Detectives said they searched his phone with his permission and found three images of young girls saved. In the arrest report, investigators documented an interview they did with the football player:
- Kitna said he used to be in Kik groups that distributed child sexual abuse material, the report states.
- When asked how he would have accidentally downloaded child sex abuse material, he said he might have accidentally clicked on a link he shouldn’t have, the report shows.
- He said he doesn’t prefer anyone younger than 16 years old, the report states.
Two of the five arresting charges, which still need to be formalized by the state attorney’s office, are second-degree felonies. The other three are third-degree felonies.
News4JAX visited Kitna’s off-campus apartment complex and spoke with Adarsha Bala, Kitna’s neighbor and classmate.
“It was nuts. I’ve never seen someone get in trouble for that specific thing,” Bala said. “I’ve seen college students get in trouble for things like DUIs and speeding.”
Nick Silvestro is a UF student, who said word of the arrest spread quickly around campus.
“Stories have been spreading a lot. People sharing the news stories. And it’s just disgusting because it’s such a terrible thing,” Silvestro said.
The Gators suspended the signal-caller indefinitely about an hour after his arrest.
“We are shocked and saddened to hear of the news involving Jalen Kitna,” the school’s athletic department, formally called the University Athletic Association, said in a statement. “These are extremely serious charges and the University of Florida and the UAA have zero tolerance for such behavior.
“Jalen has been suspended indefinitely from the football program.”
Kitna, a redshirt freshman, has appeared in four games this season. He made his college debut in the Gators’ 52-17 win at home over Eastern Washington on Oct. 2, backing up starting quarterback Anthony Richardson. He completed 10 of his 14 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.
Kitna’s father played 14 seasons in the NFL with Seattle, Cincinnati, Detroit and Dallas. He started 124 games and now is a high school coach in Burleson, Texas, just south of Fort Worth.
To report information about a missing or exploited child, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s 24-Hour Call Center at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Report child sexual exploitation online at CyberTipline.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.