Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins responded to WSU football coach Mike Leach's allegation that the police have unfairly targeted members of the football team in a series of recent assault incidents

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Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins denied Wednesday that his department was unfairly targeting Washington State football players, one day after coach Mike Leach made that accusation.

Leach said Tuesday he thought there had been a double standard in the way three assault incidents allegedly involving WSU football players over the last three months had been reported. He alleged that police “comments to the media have distorted the facts and already condemned football players in the court of public opinion.”

In an interview with The Seattle Times Wednesday, Jenkins made it a point to say that he believes there has been “a lot of improvement in student-athlete conduct in the community” since Leach, men’s basketball coach Ernie Kent and athletic director Bill Moos took their current positions at WSU, but added that he disagreed with Leach’s most recent allegations.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Leach. We have a really good working relationship, and I have no reason to think it won’t continue,” Jenkins said. “But I disagree with the characterization that our staff is targeting football players.”

This perceived friction between the football program and Pullman Police stems from how Cougars’ players have been implicated in three assault cases over the last three months.

In his statement Tuesday night, Leach went through each case and pointed out what he thought was unfair about the way it had been reported, finishing by saying, “the system has to be checked if, with the number of people involved in these incidents, the only ones accused are football players.

“If that’s the case, then something is seriously wrong, which goes far deeper than whatever has even been alleged. And whatever has even been alleged is only fractionally accurate.”

Jenkins said Wednesday that he’s been clear with his staff from the beginning about how “there’s no double standard in Pullman.”

“They treat everyone the same with the same dignity and respect, regardless of who they are, and we conduct thorough investigations,” Jenkins said. “Part of the double standard I don’t allow is targeting people for what they are. That includes race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or whether they are student-athletes, council members or residents.

“I’ve been monitoring these cases from inception, and I’m confident there has been no targeting and no double standard involved here.”

Jenkins provided an update and some additional detail on each of the three cases that Leach referred to in his statement from Tuesday night.

Case #1: July 23 – A fight breaks out at an off-campus party in which one WSU student had his jaw broken, and another suffers a concussion. Witnesses accused WSU football players of assaulting the two victims.

Leach’s take: If this was a brawl at a large party and multiple people are going at it, why is it that the only people accused of any wrong doing are football players?

Jenkins’ take: “He’s right, there was a lot going on and there were other assaults occurring,” Jenkins said, adding that there were definitely other people who “engaged in unlawful activity.”

However, “Two of the most serious injuries were a broken jaw to one person and a person who was knocked unconscious and received a concussion,” Jenkins said. “Based on our investigation, the people who delivered these injuries were football players.”

Jenkins said the department’s investigation into this party assault case will “definitely be done this week.”

The investigation took a while because Jenkins said police identified over 60 potential witnesses and had to track down, identify and interview all of them.

“That’s why it’s taken so long. But we wanted to be thorough and talk to everyone with information who can shed light on what occurred,” Jenkins said. “We’re wrapping it up and giving it to prosecutors this week.”

The police chief declined to elaborate on how many parties would be charged, or whether the parties who might be charged were all football players.

Case #2: August 24 – WSU safety Shalom Luani is arrested for allegedly assaulting another WSU student outside a Domino’s Pizza. Police said Luani got agitated when his pizza order took too long. The crowd in Domino’s asked him to leave. Once outside, Luani allegedly punched a WSU student in the face, breaking his nose.

Leach’s take: The coach said Luani was “jumped by five to six people” and had his shirt ripped off as he was leaving the pizza joint.

Jenkins’ take: The best evidence police had for this case was the security video from inside Domino’s Pizza that showed Luani getting upset because his order was taking too long, and things getting a little heated in the restaurant as the crowd tried to calm him down and some “pushing and shoving” began. However, that’s when Luani allegedly “violently pushed the victim’s head back from under the chin,” Jenkins said. “That’s criminal assault.”

Thereafter, things moved outside the pizza place and because there was no external surveillance video, Jenkins says it’s more difficult to determine what happened outside.

The video from inside Domino’s showed that six males including the victim exited the store at the same time that Luani did.

“Exactly what happened then, we’re not sure. We know the victim ended up with a broken nose,” Jenkins said. “Everything we heard about outside was from witnesses, and most of the witnesses we contacted there were affiliated with the victim.”

Jenkins said that as far as police could tell, Luani was on his own while in the pizza restaurant. According to Jenkins, Luani told police that “six people held him and hit him and caused him a concussion.”

Luani, a senior, has also since signed a waiver to allow police to access his medical records, Jenkins said.

“He cannot articulate exactly what happened when people jumped him, and claims he cannot identify who struck him, so as far as someone assault him, there’s not much we can do with filing charges there,” Jenkins said.

The police were, however, approached by one witness who refused to identify himself, but “corroborated what Luani said. They walked up to an officer at the scene, gave a couple of sentences and walked off,” Jenkins said.

The police have not been able to identify or contact this witness since but “I know the detectives were working on trying to locate additional witnesses to that incident,” Jenkins said. “We’re particularly interested in those who weren’t related to the victim with the broken nose. To get an unbiased opinion.”

Luani did not have a shirt on when he spoke to police officers outside the Domino’s Pizza later that night, which appears to align with Leach’s comments about the case.

Case #3 – June 4 – Arrest made this week. WSU linebacker Logan Tago is accused of assaulting a man and stealing his case of beer. He was arrested Monday on suspicion of felony assault and robbery.

Leach’s take: “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know any of the details. It happened four months ago. Why didn’t this surface four months ago?” Leach said Tuesday.

Jenkins’ take: Police received the incident report in June but did not have any suspects identified at the time. Shortly after, they identified Tago as a suspect, but in an initial interview, “Tago admitted to being there, but denied any criminal involvement,” Jenkins said.

The case took a while to unfold. Jenkins said his department informed Leach’s football staff of the investigation early on, though he did not know if the football staff had informed Leach of the situation.

Changes in protocol to be made

Jenkins said he intends to keep all three cases listed as “open” until the prosecuting attorney has had a chance to review the cases and let the police know if any further investigation is needed.

This means the cases will not be subject to public records requests until the prosecutor agrees that the investigation has been concluded.

“These cases have brought up some issues for me with how we’re processing these and when they’re available to the public. I think we’re going to put together a more consistent protocol on this,” Jenkins said, adding that in the past, there have been instances where details have been released to the media as soon as a case was referred to the prosecutor’s office. “In most cases, it’s not an issue because we’re not getting requests for details of the cases, but in cases involving athletics, there’s lots more interest.

“I want to make sure we protect the integrity of the investigations until we know they’re completely done.”

WSU declined any further comment on these incidents when contacted Wednesday afternoon, but released a statement from Moos, who will be meeting with Jenkins as early as Thursday, according to ESPN.com.

“We are well aware of recent incidents involving Washington State football, including many details associated with each incident that have not been reported,” Moos said in the statement. “We take such allegations very seriously and, as always, we will fully cooperate with local authorities. We intend to respect the legal process and all the rights guaranteed to everyone involved.

“Until the full legal process has reached completion, WSU Athletics will have no further comment on these matters. We believe such a position is most fair to all parties and best protects the integrity of the legal process.”

Despite recent events, Jenkins believes the behavior of WSU athletes has improved since  Moos, Leach and men’s basketball coach Ernie Kent arrived in Pullman during the past few years. Jenkins believes  “these latest incidents are an anomaly and exception to the rule.”

“It looks bad because there’s so many incidents in a short time, but I still respect what they’ve done,” Jenkins said. “I think they’ve done a lot to make those improvements.”