On Christmas Eve, 2014, the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) issued a press release stating that they had given an ESPN reporter, Paula Lavigne, over 300 police reports of incidents involving 360 Florida State University athletes. In the press release, TPD Chief of Police Michael DeLeo stated, “We are committed to ensuring that every citizen of this community, including our university students, know that we take every report of possible criminal activity seriously. We also have an obligation, under state law, to respond to national media requests such as this and have done so professionally and with a commitment to openness.”
Such fine sounding words, especially by a department accused of favoritism and collusion with Florida State University to cover up criminal acts committed by University athletes and to protect them from arrest and prosecution. True or not? Let’s look at the facts.
Bang Bang, Boys Behaving Badly
In November 2012, TPD officers responded to multiple reports of men in a red SUV firing a pellet gun at people on the street adjacent to the FSUcampus. The attack resulted in property damage and at least one person said she feared for her safety. Shortly thereafter, a TPD officer stopped a red Mercury SUV containing three FSU football players, Marvin Bracy, Chris Casher (Jamies Winston’s roommate) and Kenneth Williams. The players identified themselves as FSU players to the officers.
During a search of their vehicle, officers found a semi-automatic pistol BB gun hidden under a rug in the back of the car. Routine police procedure in a similar situations would be to briefly detain the suspects and transport witnesses to the scene to positively identify them; however, in this case officers returned the gun to the players and released them without any further investigation, stating that it wasn’t possible to identify them as the suspects. No charges were filed.
Pellet guns, the BB gun’s big brother, fire a .17 caliber lead projectile with a muzzle velocity that can approach that of a .22 bullet. The CDC reports that each year, approximately 30,000 people, most of them children, are treated in hospital emergency rooms for BB and pellet gun injuries, and that pellet guns can “cause tissue damage similar to that inflicted by powder-charged bullets. Injuries associated with the use of these guns can result in permanent disability or death.”
On November 25, 2012, TPD received a report of two men near campus carrying a long-barreled semi-automatic pistol. Officers responded and took the men down at gunpoint. They were handcuffed and detained. The men turned out to be Casher and Jameis Winston, FSU quarterback, carrying a pellet gun. When questioned, they maintained that they were “hunting squirrels.” The gun was confiscated and the pair was released. No charges were filed.
Five hours later, police were called to a Tallahassee apartment complex where Winston and four other FSU football players were involved in an on-going pellet gun battle. Property damage to the complex amounted to $4200. Criminal mischief resulting in this level of damage is a felony and FSU regulations mandate that players charged with felonies cannot participate in athletic activities. The apartment manager and three other tenants asked to press charges, but then changed their minds after Monk Bonasorte, FSU associate athletic director assured them that they would be recompensed for any damage. Even though TPD general orders state that a decision to arrest or prosecute an individual will not depend on whether the victim is willing to press charges, the players were released without being charged. The University took no disciplinary action against the players.
In June of this year, another pellet gun incident surfaced involving FSU players. Believing at first that real firearms were involved,TPD officers swarmed to an apartment complex on a report of shots fired. A helicopter was scrambled to search for suspects. “Whatever they were using, these weren’t toys you get at Wal-Mart, they had some power behind them,” said Cameron Manning, whose apartment overlooks the scene. “It looked like a drug deal gone bad.” Investigators soon determined that the shootings involved three FSU football players, Devon Cook, Trey Marshall, and wide receiver, Jesus Wilson.
The lead investigator, Scott Cherry, stated in his report that his superiors, when learning the suspects were FSU players, he was “instructed that the issue would have to be round-tabled with the division chiefs” before charges were filed. The chiefs determined that even though the aggregate damages amounted to more than $1000 on that particular day and although the crime could be classified as a misdemeanor, Criminal Mischief, the players would instead be charged with Disorderly Conduct, a less serious charge. The players were not interviewed until September 2, 2014. They finally appeared in court on October 2, 2014 and against the TPD recommendation were charged with Criminal Mischief.
In October of this year, unlike FSU, North Carolina State suspended seven players for a BB gun incident that occurred off campus.
Boys Playing with Real Guns
In the Christmas Eve report release by TPD, it was learned that Cook, the leading FSU rusher, had been named as an associate in a report of two men brandishing a firearm in July 2014. The term ‘associate’ is not defined in the report or in the available TPD General Orders; however, according to the FBI, the term is most often used when a person is involved or associates with criminal gang members.
Crash Bang, Boys Riding in Cars
Also in June, Wilson, the wide receiver, was involved in a motor scooter accident. Funny as it seems, the scooter was stolen. Wilson claimed that he borrowed the scooter from a person whose name he couldn’t remember. The officer noted in his report that Wilson was an FSU football player and had a good attitude and because of these facts, did not arrest him. The owner later said that a TPD investigator suggested that perhaps he had indeed loaned the scooter to Wilson, whom he had never met, and just had forgotten about it. The owner stated that this was not true. Later, Wilson sent an email to TPD confessing to the crime. He pleaded no contest, served community services and paid a $1000 fine. He was suspended from the team but has now been reinstated.
On October 5, 2014, FSU starting cornerback P.J. Williams was involved in an accident at 2:30 a.m. Williams and his passenger, FSUcornerback, Ronald Darby, fled the scene on foot. A while later, Williams and the other passengers returned to the scene. Initially the accident was reported as a hit and run, but Williams was merely cited for two minor traffic violations. In early morning hit and run cases, drivers are routinely given field sobriety tests. This was not done in this instance. In an interview with the New York Times, Elijah Stiers , an attorney, who helped update the hit and run statute said, “Two-thirty in the morning, people fleeing on foot — at the very least you’ve got to charge them with hit and run. You don’t get out of it just because you come back to the scene.” Just as disturbing, is that although TPD notified the FSU administration and its police department, no police report was filed. Responding to accusations of favoritism by TPB towards the players, the department stated that the failure to file a report was merely a “technical error.”
Crab Legs, Boys Stealing Stuff
In a video gone viral, Winston is seen shoplifting crab legs from a local grocery store on April 30, 2014. Winston told Leon County deputies that he had forgotten to pay. He was issued a noncriminal citation for shoplifting not by TDP, but instead by Leon County Sheriff’s Deputies and he was sentenced to at least 20 hours of community service. Other than a slight slap on the hand from the baseball program, the FSU athletic department reinstated Winston without further penalty.
In July 2012, Winston was also accused of taking a soda from a local Burger King without paying. The franchise manager declined to prosecute and Winston was not charged, nor did the University take any disciplinary action against the player.
On December 7, 2012, an FSU co-ed called police to report that an unknown assailant had raped her that morning after drinking at Potbelly’s, a local college hangout. No progress was made on the case until the victim contacted the lead investigator, Scott Angulo on January 10, 2014, and told him that she had recognized her attacker, Jameis Winston. Angulo did not interview Winston until January 23. On February 11, Angulo closed his case. He did not obtain DNA evidence or phone records from Winston. One witness to the rape, Casher, had recorded the incident, but that recording was never seized as evidence. TPD dropped the case, alleging that the victim refused to cooperate, an allegation she denies.
The victim asserts that the Tallahassee Police Department pressured her to drop the charges. According to Patricia Carroll, the victim’s attorney, Angulo advised her that Tallahassee is a “big football town” and that the woman should reconsider accusing Winston because “she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.”
A fun fact: the investigator, Angulo, receives payment for working off-duty for the Seminole Boosters, the primary financier of FSU athletics.
Fox Sports alleges that the Florida State University administration and TPD colluded to hamper the rape investigation. On November 8, 2013, the FSU police chief, David Perry, obtained copies of the rape investigation reports and forwarded them to Bonasorte, the FSU associate athletic director. In an e-mail to Perry, Bonasorte said, “You will let me know when it (the report) gets released? I will talk to Jimbo, if released or not … Is TPD legal trying to block it?” The reports shortly thereafter passed into the possession of Winston’s attorney. This happened before the reports were given to State Attorney Willie Meggs, who was responsible for prosecuting the case. Because of this, two critical witnesses discussed the case with Winston’s attorney before being interviewed by Meggs and signed affidavits at the attorney’s behest backing Winston’s claims. Also, vital DNA evidence was not processed until November 2014, almost two years after the initial complaint.
Meggs was unable to proceed with the prosecution and faulted TPD for their handling of the case. “There was a whole long litany of things that we would have done … you don’t call the defendant to make an appointment to talk about putting him in jail,” Meggs told FOX Sports. “That’s a bass-ackwards way of doing things.”
Winston was never charged with sexual battery and most recently, a student disciplinary court cleared Winston of wrong-doing to which the victim’s attorney said, “The fix was in.”
Federal law mandates that universities promptly investigate allegations of sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into FSU’s handling of the rape allegation.
More fun facts:
Winston’s compassion for women is evident. February 2014: Winston posted a video clip on his Instagram page where he and a teammate sang, ”She said she wants to take it slow, I’m not that type of guy I’ll letcha know, when I see the red light all I know is go.” The lyrics are a line from IceJJFish, rap “On the Floor” which celebrates men not taking “no” for an answer from a woman.
In September, Winston jumped on a table in the FSU student union and yelled to the students there, “Blank her right in the blank.” For that he was suspended for one half of a football game. The punishment was later pegged at one full game due to public outcry.
TPD states that they take special care not to reveal the names of sexual assault victims. Apparently, that doesn’t hold true for Winston’s attorney who posted the victim’s name on his twitter feed. She no longer attends FSU.
TPD also has demonstrated its compassion for the press. When it released the report named in the freedom of information request, it for some reason forgot to redact the ESPN reporter’s personal information in its release, revealing her name, phone number and e-mail. We can be sure Tomahawk Nation will be sure to get in touch. For an organization so intent on protecting FSU athletes, this is a curious omission.
Jameis Winston isn’t the only Seminole that has shown his disrespect for women. Receiver Gregory Dent was arrested for raping a childhood friend in June of 2013. He was eventually convicted of misdemeanor battery, not sexual battery, and FSU has not ruled out his return to the team.
Former FSU defensive tackle Devonte McCallister was accused of sexual assault in 2011. The victim was characterized in the press as a crack-smoking prostitute. Although the crime occurred in 2011, critical evidence, a cell phone, was not processed for DNA until three years later. Of course, no DNA evidence was recovered. No charges have been filed.
The FSU Band also showed its compassion for the victim with its rendition of “She’s a Hoe.“
Final fun fact, The Orlando Sentinel reported than in 1987, Monk Bonasorte, a former FSU player, was convicted of distribution of cocaine and sentenced to six months in prison. Yup, he’s the same guy that has his hands deep in the Winston affair.
Have TPD and FSU colluded to protect their players at the detriment of women, other students and citizens of Tallahassee? The facts speak for themselves.
As a police veteran of over 27 years, I, along with many fine men and women in police forces across the nation along with those serving with Tallahasee Police Department, subscribe to the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics which states:
I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor.
When specific police officers are unfairly accused of favoritism or bias, officers across the country are rightfully angry. When the accusations are true, that breaks their hearts.
Top Photo Courtesy of Tallahassee.com
Raised in the Central Oregon mill town of Prineville beneath deep blue skies and rim rock, I attended the University of Oregon and during my collegiate summers, I worked in a lumber mill and also fought range fires on the Oregon High Desert for the Bureau of Land Management. After graduating from college at the University of Oregon, I swung from being budding hippy to cop work. I’m still wondering about how that came about. I was a police officer with the Port of Portland and after leaving police work, I obtained an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Vermont College. I live in Portland, Oregon with my wife, my daughter and a spunky bichon frise named Pumpkin. I’ve had short stories publishing in two Main Street Press anthologies. Harkness is my first novel.
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