There are serious questions raised this week as to whether a star football player from Florida State was given preferential treatment not only by university police but Tallahasee police after a hit-and-run where two cars were totaled. At the heart of the controversy, is starting cornerback P. J. Williams who was allegedly driving the car that slammed into an oncoming vehicle. A second starting cornerback, Ronald Darby, also reportedly fled the scene at 2:30 am. However, neither was charged and the incident was not written up by the university police — as if it never happened. Just a couple of minor tickets for the “Noles.” It is a new meaning to nolo contendere. It usually means a defendant not contending a charge. In this case, Nole contendere is used by police to say “I do not wish to contend” a criminal charge against a FSU player. [For full disclosure, my wife is an FSU graduate and a “Nole”].
A teenager, Ian Keith, was returning form a job at an Olive Garden when Williams reportedly drove into the opposing lane and hit the car. Williams then left his wrecked vehicle in the street and fled into the darkness along with his two passengers. One of the passengers was allegedly Darby, the team’s other starting cornerback.
The FSU campus police were called to the scene even though it was off campus. So was the FSU athletic department. Thus, it was clear that the matter was viewed as potentially troubling for the FSU football program. It was only after the New York Times published an account that anyone seemed willing to acknowledge the incident. There was not even a mention that the airbag had deployed and Keith was slightly injured. After all, Keith just works at an Olive Garden. He is no Nole.
The Times detailed how Williams was driving with a suspended license but was let go with two minor traffic tickets even though the incident was initially classified as a hit and run. So, let’s recap. A man driving on a suspended license slams into another car and could have killed the other driver. He then flees the scene. The police call in the FSU police and the entire matter is dropped with just a couple traffic tickets. Worse yet, due to an alleged “technical error,” even the downgraded incident was not put into the police call database.
To his credit, Williams did return though it is not clear what happened in the interim. While Williams eventually returned to the scene, he was not tested for alcohol — a standard response to such accidents (particularly after the driver and passenger flee the scene). Indeed, there is no evidence that they were even asked if they had been drinking despite that fact that this was 2:30 in the morning. It was apparently relevant that they were FSU players given the call to the campus police and the athletic program, but not whether they were drunk.
The University police not only arrived at the scene but they two ranking officers — including the shift commander. Yet they also omitted any report of the incident.
The university has given conflicting responses after the incident was made public, including the apparently false statement that the police were required to call in campus police under a “mutual aid agreement.” The Tallahassee police said that that is news to them and that no such policy exists. The University also said that William drove his car home. I wonder where they got that information?
If this was the standard approach to people who return to a scene, I would be less troubled. However, the incident has been compared to the response to a minor accident at low speed when another young man left a scene and did not call police for 30 minutes. He was charged with a hit-and-run.
We recently discussed an equally troubling case of an officer who left the scene of an accident without charges, though he claimed it was dangerous to remain on the road. We have had other such cases.
For Williams, he was able to have his license reinstated just two days later with the payment of overdue fines. However, with the fines on the recent accident unpaid, the license was again suspended.
Academics continues to struggle with disclosures of special treatment given to athletes like those at the University of North Carolina. The corrosive effect of the big money from college sports, particularly football and basketball, has continued to impact schools and their integrity. University presidents are often accused of running schools like businesses and these teams gradually become the dominant element at schools as reflected by absurd coach salaries and low academic standards. However, this controversy is far, far more serious since it involves alleged criminal conduct and the involvement of local police.
The burden remains on the university faculty to demand answers not only for the conduct of university officials but the allegedly false information released in the aftermath of the disclosure.
By the way, the Noles are 10-0 this season . . . though that may just be the success on the criminal docket.
Source: NY Times