Prosecutors won't charge man who yelled racial epithets at Utah basketball team

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COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — More than a month after members of the University of Utah women's basketball team were subjected to racial epithets shouted their way en route to a team dinner, Coeur d'Alene prosecutors have declined to charge an 18-year-old high school student who confessed to the incident.

Prosecutors for the city said the Post Falls High student admitted to police after a three-week investigation that he shouted the N-word and a specific sex act toward members of the team and traveling party who are Black.

The student told police he intended for the yelling to "be funny," according to a statement by chief deputy city attorney Ryan Hunter.

Despite the "rank absurdity of that claim and the abjectly disgusting thought process required to believe it would be humorous to say something that abhorrent," Hunter said the actions, which amounted to protected speech based on Idaho law, did not amount to criminal conduct.

Hunter said prosecutors reviewed whether the 18-year-old's actions could be deemed disturbing the peace under its criminal code, but found that there would be "no way to establish" that his shouting was either "loud or unusual" at that time of the night.

At that time of night, Hunter said multiple "loud engines/exhaust" were driving in that area and that it came "against a backdrop of general business and pedestrian noise that is common for that main thoroughfare and that time of evening."

"What has been clear from the very outset of this incident is that it was not when or where or how (the student) made the grotesque racial statement that caused the justifiable outrage in this case; it was the grotesque racial statement itself.

"Thus, any attempt to prosecute (him) for either disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct would inevitably rely on the content of what he said to establish either crime, which would clearly violate (his) free speech rights as contemplated under both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and … the Idaho Constitution."

The incident in question occurred on March 21 in Coeur d'Alene as approximately 100 members of the women's basketball team, band, cheerleading team and administrative staff walked to Crafted Tap House + Kitchen for an end-of-season dinner.

During the walk, several members of the party said someone in a white truck revved the engine as it passed by them and yelled the N-word at the party before speeding off. After the dinner, which lasted about two hours, members of the party said the N-word was shouted toward the group again, but this time with multiple trucks having their engines revved.

Coeur d'Alene police gathered surveillance video from the area and had five "credible eyewitness statements" that confirmed someone yelled the N-word, corroborating audio of the incident after the team left the restaurant.

Police said audio and video of the night could not corroborate, however, anything being said before the team arrived at the restaurant, though there were three different trucks that drove past the restaurant and that "all three trucks appeared modified with lift kits and each made significant noise while accelerating."

"Although that same surveillance video captured multiple instances of loud engine and muffler noise during the following hour, there is no audio evidence captured indicating any vehicles were "revving" their engines. ... Further, there is no audio evidence that the occupants of any of those three trucks — or any other vehicle — shouted the N-word — or anything else — during the time frame in which the U of U contingent was walking to Crafted," Hunter said in the statement.

Coeur d'Alene Mayor Jim Hammond told the Spokesman-Review that he was "disappointed" in the outcome and hopes the student's parents will help him understand his actions.

"I'm disappointed that there isn't some kind of accountability," Hammond said. "I'm not going to second-guess the prosecutor who made that decision, but I'm disappointed there's not some form of community service that child can perform to be held accountable."

Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP, state conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah disagreed with the decision, saying, "There is a huge difference between freedom of speech and hate speech."

"There needs to be consequences for these actions," she said. "If not, it will happen again. It is my hope that the NCAA will take into consideration of cities that are known to have radical groups to not hold their tournaments in these places."

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer covering University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s and women's basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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