Friday, September 16, 2016

Nearly two months later, Pullman police make arrests in brawl involving WSU football players

Posted By on Fri, Sep 16, 2016 at 5:48 PM

click to enlarge Nearly two months later, Pullman police make arrests in brawl involving WSU football players
Young Kwak
Mike Leach made headlines this week when he accused police of targeting his players when making arrests

Earlier this week, Washington State University head football coach Mike Leach accused the police and media of targeting his team following two arrests of his players. 

"Unless we are supposed to believe that these football players fought themselves, then there are numerous other guilty parties. That is clearly the case. If any of these allegations are true, I have not read anyone else's name in the newspaper," Leach said, calling it a "double standard" to only focus on football players, "then drag their name through the newspaper with a bunch of irresponsible comments." 

Today, Pullman police announced that they'd be recommending charges against four people involved in a brawl at a party in July; two of those people are football players. Lineman Robert Barber and defensive end Toso Fehoko were arrested on suspicion of second-degree assault, a felony, and then released today. Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said the police were recommending charges of disorderly conduct for two other people involved; Dylan Rollins and Pedro Diaz. 

But it wasn't the police, nor the football team, who first handed down discipline following this fight. It was WSU's Office of Student Conduct earlier this week, making the decision to expel Barber. The Spokesman-Review has reported that Barber will continue to practice while he appeals the expulsion. 

Jenkins says police interviewed more than 60 witnesses before making the arrests. More than 20 of those were football players, though not all were at the party during the altercation. 

We wrote about this brawl, and how victims wanted the players held accountable, weeks after it happened. Alex Rodriguez, who suffered a broken jaw during the fight, said that the fight started when he tried to kick everyone out — between 80 and 100 people — after a group of football players kept lighting fireworks. Rodriguez says he saw his roommate, Jackson Raney, get knocked down by a man with a sleeve tattoo, red shorts and a black sleeveless shirt. That was captured on cellphone video used by police in their investigation.

Raney briefly went unconscious and awoke with EMTs standing over him. Police say Barber was the one who hit him. Diaz saw this as well, and told the Inlander in August that he fought back as people were "throwing fists everywhere." Police say Diaz and Rollins provoked the fight. 

Meanwhile, Rodriguez was punched in the head by Fehoko, police say, knocking Rodriguez to the ground. Rodriguez was then hit by "unknown subjects" while on the ground, according to police. Rodriguez had to have wires in his jaw for weeks, and will have metal plates keeping it together for the rest of his life. 

In August, Leach said the whole situation was "overblown," that the stories coming out were "ridiculously inaccurate reflections of the events that night," and asserted that "nobody does a better job of addressing, taking care of players and using team discipline than our staff."

Leach accused police of targeting football players earlier this week following the arrests of linebacker Logan Tago, on suspicion of robbery and assault, and safety Shalom Luani, who was arrested on suspicion of felony assault.

It set off a national debate: Do Pullman police target football players?

Many who closely followed WSU football say it's been an issue for years. TV reporters who have covered the team say coaches have previously complained about it off the record, and that Leach is just the first to go public.

A KXLY reporter claimed that "people in Eastern Washington who have been here a long time or went to WSU are not really disagreeing with what he said." She posed the question to local sports personality Dennis Patchin, who said "there's a feeling on that campus that the police are looking for things that are involving college students at Washington State University." A KIRO TV reporter in Seattle said "no one close to WSU football program will deny the overbearing, sometimes unfair, nature of Pullman Police on team." The controversy has made headlines in USA Today, FOX Sports, and others. It's been a talking point on ESPN and ESPN's Outside The Lines program. 

Athletic Director Bill Moos, WSU President Kirk Schulz and Pullman Police Chief Jenkins met yesterday to discuss the tension. Driving the controversy is a statistic that 31 football players had been arrested in the last five years, the most of any college football program.

At the bottom of a story yesterday, the Seattle Times said a website called "breaks down the facts behind WSU's 31 arrests in the last five years." The Seattle Times wrote that the number looks worse than it really is.

The post on began by stating that of the arrests, "nearly 50 percent (14 of 31) were for broken tail lights, snow balls and the like" — a statement that is, at best, misleading. In fact, nobody was arrested for a broken tail light, according to our review of the arrests. A broken tail light may have been why a player was pulled over before being handed charges of DUI, MIP, or giving false information, which are all actual charges police arrested players on.

The post is correct, however, in stating that it appears none of the arrests — including several for felony assault — resulted in a felony conviction. 

Jenkins, in a press conference Friday, says that since the arrival of Leach in 2012, he has "seen improvment in athlete behavior in the community." 

"I applaud them for the work they have done," Jenkins says. 

Moos says he does not think police were targeting football players. 

"We expect them to behave in a manner representative of the uniform they wear," Moos says. 

The athletic department's policy is that any student athlete charged with a felony cannot represent WSU in competition until it's been resolved in court. So far, none of the four players arrested in recent weeks have been charged by prosecutors. Moos said all players should be considered innocent until proven guilty. As for whether they'll play in the game against the University of Idaho on Saturday, Moos says he'll leave that to Leach. 

"We're talking about a couple people out of a pretty large population of student athletes," Moos says. "We've got fabulous coaches who are disciplinarians, and I think we have good character for the most part." 

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Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione is the Inlander’s news editor. Aside from writing and editing investigative news stories, he enjoys hiking, watching basketball and spending time with his wife and cat.