Friday, January 11, 2008

Will NMSU whiff on the latest?

It's difficult to sum up the various legal transgressions surrounding the New Mexico State men's basketball squad with some all-encompassing framework but were going to try anyway.

It begins last season with Tyrone Nelson being charged in August 2006 with robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery (he also struck a pizza deliverer) and later on also being indicted for bribery (trying to get someone else to admit to the charges). Nelson eventually pleaded guilty in July 2007.

Neither the New Mexico State school administration, the NMSU Athletic Director, nor the coach at the time chose to impose any sort of penalty on Nelson -- stating he was innocent until proven guilty -- until a final outcome took place with the legal system. Let's just say that this is not the usual policy for an NCAA institution for such serious charges.

Some say other team members were aware of Nelson's guilt from the get-go. Others say he was somehow covering for his brother. The truth is known only to a few people and they aren't talking.

However, McKinley Boston, the NMSU Athletic Director, testified in court as a character witness for Nelson and offered this proposal: a provisional discharge for Nelson which would have allowed him to continue playing basketball at NMSU under a behavior contract.

Boston offered that being able to continue playing basketball would have provided motivation for Nelson to continue in school and graduate.

While never being the eye-for-eye type and quite open to second chances in the appropriate circumstances, Nelson admitted he chose to strike someone and then steal from that person. Hey, we didn't just fall off the turnip truck. If banishment from being an Aggie basketball player reduced or eliminated his motivation to continue in school, well, we're not hauling out the tissue to dab our eyes or his.

Plus, it's scarlet-colored embarrassing for a school administrator to offer such a weak proposition. It might be different if Nelson had immediately copped to his actions but, again, he chose not to do so, wishing to play out the string so he could stay on the basketball court for his junior season.

We wish him no harm nor ill will but his actions eliminated his opportunities to represent a state educational institution. Additionally, nowhere in all of the various media reports is any apology to the person he harmed.

On to Herb Pope. He was arrested in late December and charged with DUI, underage drinking, and reckless endangerment. This after the NCAA still taking its own sweet time in determining if Hope is eligible to play or not this rapidly concluding season. One of the issues here is that Pope's scrape with the law took place with the Tyrone Nelson matter still fairly fresh in people's minds -- rather than an empty vacuum.

The charges aren't ultra-serious although Pope should consider himself blessed for not having killed or injured someone while behind the wheel. Pope was found unconscious in a car sitting in a driving lane -- Business Route 60.

If found guilty (it sure seems like the outcome), he is deserving of a second chance as would anyone in his situation as a first offender. But a second chance based on counseling and some sort of a monetary fine plus a suspension of his driving privilege for a period of time.

Pope has been suspended indefinitely for violation of university and team rules.

Then NMSU starting center Hatila Passos and reserve guard Paris Carter were suspended around December 21, 2007 for violations of undisclosed team rules. Supposedly both these suspensions have to do with academics and not civil/criminal legal infractions so are certainly not in the same league as Nelson's and Pope's circumstances. But they get a similar mention -- right or wrong -- when player woes in Las Cruces are discussed.

Most recently, Aggie players Chris Cole and Jahmar Young were arrested on separate issues.

Cole failed to be at a December 7 court appearance scheduled to determine why he had failed to pay off fines incurred for driving without a license and without headlights -- hence a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Obviously this is not any sort of a major offense, more thoughtlessness and possibly stuidity on his part. But again, the recent history regarding the negativity that actions of members of the New Mexico State University men's basketball team have cast over the program catches him rightly or wrongly in its clutches.

It is different for Young.

He is accused of exposing himself to a woman in July 2007 and offering a sum of money to her if she would perform a sex act on him. The woman apparently filed the complaint in September but more is not yet known regarding the delay between July and September. Young was give a November 28 court date but failed to appear and then became the subject of a bench warrant.

This is a far, far serious charge than Cole's situation and one that, if convicted, could possibly result with Young having to register as a sex offender. This is also a situation that won't sit well with a number of the members -- faculty and students -- in a college environment as the event is described as having taken place on the NMSU campus.

Here's Coach Marvin Menzies on Young's charge: "...At that point, if it goes further or if it disappears, we will take the next step. If it disappears, I don't have anything to judge J.Y. on. If it becomes a court issue and a social misconduct issue, then there will be some discipline put forth. From talking to J.Y., I'm interested to see where this thing goes."

These players were recruited to the university by former Coach Reggie Theus -- not that this absolves Menzies from his responsibilities in playing a role in determining whatever punishments, if any, are ultimately determined by the school in each player's situation. But there is a question of how much authority Menzies has in these matters.

The one constant in all of these legal cases is McKinley Boston. His behavior in the Tyrone Nelson situation goes beyond the worst in enabling. There is no excuse for his actions there -- they were flat out wrong.

Let's see how he handles the Herb Pope situation, albeit one far less serious than Nelson's.

With Passos and Carter, it is entirely an internal matter and should be included along with the others -- at least with what is currently known.

Cole's situation in and of itself is again not anything serious. That is, unless one looks at a particular pattern forming.

As for Young, obviously the truth needs to be determined. It may be an extremely serious matter , be a 'he said-she said' or be bogus. But an arraignment indicates the district attorney in Las Cruces isn't taking the matter lightly.

What the powers-that-be at New Mexico State University do, or not, if the case is pursued by authorities will be quite telling. If indeed that is the scenario, will it be Tyrone Nelson part deux or an adherence to a greater integrity?


Anonymous said...

You have some fair points in here, but also some subjective banter that you clearly know nothing about. I know this is simply a blog, but for you to come across credible, I would have hoped you could at least get the players names right. The story of Chris COLE is mildly accurate, but again...there's that name thing. What you forgot to leave out is that the guy is paying his own way through school (is not on scholarship), and couldn't afford to pay his ticket. How many college kids do you know that are hurting for $$. I can recall a few that may be in the same predicament from my days had they been in the same situation.

Anonymous said...

While overall, your article is fair and balanced, I take issue with a few points. Tyrone Nelson was never charged with striking anyone in the pizza incident -- that would have made it assault. Nelson denied the charges until his 11th hour plea bargain -- he initially denied the charges to Theus and Boston, went before a student-faculty discipline board and did so again resulting in a recommendation to Boston that he be allowed to play. There are those in the know, including an ex-assistant coach under Theus who to this day claim Nelson was innocent of the charges. While Boston justifiablly got criticism and was embarrassed over the final outcome, the situation was not as black and white as you portray.

Kevin McCarthy said...

Nelson may not have been charged with striking someone but here's an AP account -- note the fifth paragraph:

Nelson pleads no contest, dismissed from team
Associated Press
August 1, 2007

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- New Mexico State senior forward Tyrone Nelson has been dismissed from the team after pleading no contest to charges stemming from an August 2006 robbery of a pizza delivery man.

Nelson, 21, was set to be tried this week on charges of robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and bribery. Under a plea deal with prosecutors, he avoided a trial and possible jail time.

"I have made some bad decisions that I am saddened that I have to live with," Nelson told state District Judge Stephen Bridgforth as he entered his plea Tuesday. "I'm asking for a chance to further my career as a student at New Mexico State."

Bridgforth ordered Nelson to serve four years' probation and perform 100 hours of community service. Nelson would have faced more than seven years in prison had he been tried and found guilty of the charges.

Nelson was arrested days after a Domino's Pizza delivery man was struck on the side of the head and robbed of a pizza and hot wings on Aug. 22, 2006 at an apartment complex near the NMSU campus.

NMSU athletics director McKinley Boston testified Tuesday as a character witness on Nelson's behalf, but the court decided not to accept a proposal for Nelson's conditional discharge, which would have allowed him to participate on the team under a behavior contract.

Disappointed with the decision, Boston said he believes basketball would have provided the motivation for Nelson to complete the academic credits he needs to graduate.

NMSU officials said Nelson was dismissed from the team because he violated the student-athlete code of conduct, which calls for permanent dismissal from the team following a conviction, a guilty plea or a no contest plea to a violent felony or serious drug offense.

"Tyrone's no contest plea was not an admission of guilt but it does identify him as a convicted felon and as athletic department policy states he will not be a member of the New Mexico State University basketball team," Boston said.

Nelson, who joined the Aggies for the 2005-06 season after transferring from Prairie View A&M, broke his right hand before last season and missed the first eight games. He came back to average 11.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

Here is the link:

Here is another article making mention of the delivery person being struck (sorry, no link available):

Nelson's attorney tags situation 'witch hunt'
Jose L. Medina
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES — The attorney for New Mexico State University basketball player Tyrone Nelson is firing back at prosecutors in response to his client's indictment on a third charge for his alleged involvement in a robbery last year.

"I feel the state will stop at nothing in their attempts to prosecute an innocent man," Mario Esparza said Friday in a letter to the Sun-News calling the new allegation "laughable and completely unfounded".

"This situation is analogous to a 'witch hunt' and I will not stand idly by any longer," Esparza wrote.

Nelson, 21, was indicted Thursday on a charge of bribery of a witness. The Aggie star allegedly tried to hire a man to take the blame for the robbery in exchange for money and drugs. Nelson was already under indictment on robbery and conspiracy charges for the Aug. 22, 2006 incident in which a Domino's Pizza delivery man was struck on the side of the head and stripped of a pizza and hot wings.

The charges could send Nelson to prison for up to 71/2 years if convicted.

"Mr. Nelson has refused all attempts to plea bargain with the state ... Because of his insistence on proceeding to trial, the state chose to seek an additional charge against Mr. Nelson," Esparza wrote.

Esparza also took aim at Joaquin Tomesky, the man Nelson allegedly tried to hire and on whose testimony the bribery charge is based. Court records show Tomesky, 18, is under indictment and has been held at the Doña Ana County Detention Center since April 10 on charges of unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, aggravated fleeing from an officer and burglary of a dwelling.

Esparza said he met with Tomesky at the start of Nelson's case.

"I interviewed Mr. Tomesky and found him to be completely uncredible and unbelievable. Because of this, I severed ties with Mr. Tomesky completely," Esparza said, explaining that Tomesky might be trying to curry favor and leniency in his own case by making up a story about his client.

Dona Ana County Chief Deputy District Attorney Susan Riedel said prosecutors have an obligation to only pursue cases that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and declined to comment on the credibility of witnesses.

"It is my belief that my commenting on the credibility of a witness is a violation of the ethical rules by any attorney," Riedel said. "We can only pursue cases supported by probable cause and that we believe that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt."

As Gary Parrish at CBSSportsline wrote:

The fact that Nelson was proved to be involved in the robbery of a pizza delivery man was hardly a surprise because though he repeatedly claimed his innocence, the evidence long ago made it clear he was part of the crime. How clear? Consider the following, written last August by someone named Gary Parrish.

I'm all about innocent until proven guilty. But unless another really tall and recognizable black man happened to rob a Domino's delivery person in Las Cruces last Tuesday, then Nelson is in trouble. ... The phone number that lured the delivery person to the location of the robbery had a "979" area code. That area code belongs to Hempstead, Texas, which happens to be Nelson's hometown. ... In other words, it doesn't look good for ol' Tyrone.

So if I realized Nelson was involved before last season, it's fair to assume NMSU officials must've realized Nelson was involved, too. Still, the school allowed him to play -- funny how 6-foot-9 guys always get the benefit of the doubt, isn't it? -- and the interesting thing is how the questionable (and by questionable, I mean shameful) decision might have cost the Aggies more than just their integrity.

Here's the link:

Kevin McCarthy said...

I do apologize for the mistake on his name -- there's no way around that. I will go back in and make the correction.

Do fill us in on what was not contained in describing his situation as I would rather be correct than "mildly accurate."

You do lose me on the last point, plus the phrase "what you forgot to leave out" is befuddling -- not sure what to make of that unless you meant "what I forgot to include."

Cole's offense is nothing major. However, if you decide to buy and own a car and drive it then a license is necessary and working lights are too. These are fundamental with the privilege of operating a motor vehicle-- unless you wish to chance a ticket for such glaring inadequacies.

And what about going to your coach or an assistant and asking them what to do? He acted like he assumed the charges would just go away rather than being proactive.

Being dirt poor and a university student is something I'm quite and painfully familiar with -- Cole made some poor choices and compounded those with yet another. Hopefully he has learned lesson here.

Do let me know if he sells the car and buys a bike.