Constitutional Law, Crime, Football, Police, Sports

Whoa Eagle: Auburn Football May Need a Serious Timeout

How does someone find themselves on trial for armed robbery with almost no attention paid to due process? If you answered, by playing football for Auburn, it looks like you’re right.

There are two things I know about Auburn football. First, the school boasts some really great fans. I met a number of them when I went to the BCS National Championship game three years ago to watch Auburn eke by Oregon on a last second field goal. Most everyone was reasonably nice, which made them very different than, say, Ohio State fans.

Second, Auburn cheats like it’s its goddamned job. Historically, it’s not even very savvy about it. In 2006, the school got busted handing out ‘A’s to players for classes that didn’t exist, a scandal that came to light when the school overdid it and NCAA reports revealed Auburn had better students than any program but Stanford, Navy, and Boston College. Oops.

Then there was the whole Cam Newton thing.

But I can say without hyperbole that these new allegations are a million times worse…

As a legal publication, our focus is on the constitutional and criminal allegations, but it’s worth noting that Auburn is also accused of run-of-the-mill NCAA violations, from academic fraud to “unmarked envelope” payments to players, to covering up failed drug tests.

There’s also a healthy dose of RACEISM in the allegations, with allegations that Auburn’s now-fired coach Gene Chizik demanded players crop off their dreadlocks and singled out players for more stringent drug testing:

[Defensive End Antoine] Carter says he was tested at least 100 times and, yes, did fail a test. “If you were black and had dreadlocks and tattoos, you were somehow tested more in what was called random testing,” says Carter. “It was ridiculous. Everyone noticed it.”

But what goes beyond the standard “SEC means never having to say you’re sorry,” level of cheating was the alleged involvement of those outside the program in this project:

Players describe police as part of the program of surveillance. “We were targeted by police,” says Antoine Carter, Auburn’s former star defensive end. “You’d get harassed. They would pull you over for nothing as a way to keep track of you.” McNeil remembers turning right on red, a legal move, but finding police lights behind him. He says police drew their guns on him over a traffic stop.

According to the report, Auburn football fostered a cozy relationship with the police force and used them to not only monitor the behavior of its (especially African-American) players, raising a gaggle of constitutional concerns in its own right, but also established a new reading of Miranda for players on the program: “You have the right to have your coach decide if you will have an attorney.”

Enter former Safety Mike McNeil, currently on trial for armed robbery:

How did Mike McNeil end up with a trial date on such severe charges? Was he afforded due process? Did police follow proper procedure? Have authorities relied on testimony from five victims that night or their changing accounts months later? For nearly 14 hours after they were first detained at around 12:25 a.m. on March 11, McNeil, Goodwin, Mosley and Kitchens spent most of their time in a holding cell, sometimes sleeping, other times talking to authorities. “They said, ‘We’re not booking y’all,” recalls Mike. “They said, ‘We’re waiting for the coaches.’”

The answer to these questions appears to be: “because Gene Chizik apparently said so,” “no,” “no,” and “that night.” McNeil testifies that he was not read any Miranda rights. He was not permitted to speak with his family or an attorney until Auburn coaches arrived and passed on his fate. As troubling as that is legally, Gene Chizik can’t be trusted to make the right call on 1st and inches, let alone in a criminal case.

Focusing on the due process concerns, let’s revisit the night of the arrest:

In the darkness of that early morning, the dashboard video of an Auburn city police car reveals grainy images of four players — one white male, three black males — being asked to emerge from a silver Chrysler 300 on a dirt road. The car owner was McNeil but Mosley was in the driver’s seat. With hands raised, they stepped from the vehicle. Within minutes, the five victims, who had not identified their intruders with detail on the 911 call, were brought by police to see the suspects standing in the dark in handcuffs. Show-up lineups are controversial because of their suggestive nature and Hand filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing the traffic stop was illegal and identification was inadmissible. Judge Hughes denied the motion.

Show-up lineups are indeed controversial, but under Neil v. Biggers, there’s at least a test requiring attention be paid to the confidence of the witnesses in the identification. In this case, the witnesses were given different statements within hours of the show-up. But Judge Hughes, an Auburn alum and football referee, apparently dismissed this lack of confidence because, whatever.

Even his supposed accomplices have not testified that McNeil was in on anything. And prosecutors have tried some wild tactics:

According to [Ben] Hand, McNeil’s former attorney, prosecutors intend to put a gun in McNeil’s hand during trial even though it contradicts early witness statements and the original release by police. “All of the descriptions have, let’s say, evolved,” says Hand.

That sounds… prejudicial?

Mike McNeil continues to fight the charges against him, with no help from the university that milked his talent for wads of cash a few years earlier. Meanwhile, Gene Chizik is gone, a victim of the fact that he couldn’t coach his way out of a paper bag without the help of a smart offensive coordinator and the biggest recruiting violation coup ever in the form of Cam Newton.

There are now calls to blackball Chizik, he has denied all the charges.

Interestingly, while every article describes widespread involvement of “the coaches” in the alleged wrongdoing, I haven’t seen any articles singling out then-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. This is a curious fact since Malzahn is now the Auburn head coach and his involvement or lack thereof would directly implicate the future of the program.

Hopefully, Malzahn was not involved with anything crazy (other than his wife), because Auburn fans deserve better than a program that puts them through the mud every few years.

Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory [Roopstigo]
Top Grades and No Class Time for Auburn Players [NY Times]
Auburn Football Scandal: Gene Chizik Must Be Blackballed If Allegations Are True [Bleacher Report]
Gene Chizik Responds to Allegations [ESPN]

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